Moderation is a necessity for most qualitative projects, so it is important to select the best moderator to achieve success. Below are some tips for successfully choosing and preparing your moderator.
1) Moderator needs to have an appropriate background for your project.
It's very important to make sure when you are narrowing down your list of moderators for your project that you take into account the type of project and the type of subject matter for your project. Be sure to select a moderator that has experience in your client's industry. For example, if your client is a social media company, you wouldn't want to select a moderator that specializes in packaged goods but has no prior professional experience with social media. Your moderator should be well-versed in the industry and be able to speak to this prior experience. It is also very important, however, that your moderator be able to maintain neutrality despite his or her experience in the industry. It is key to be able to achieve this balance between experience and neutrality. This should help narrow down the moderator list for your project.
2) Moderator needs to be personable and able to make group feel comfortable sharing opinions.
This seems like an obvious next step – personality assessment. However, you'd be surprised how many people focus only on the background and prior experience of a moderator and ignore the moderator's personality and ability to connect with others. This is such an important part of moderating – he or she needs to be comfortable and confident, and help put the participants at ease and make them feel comfortable. After all, being in a room with strangers and knowing that you are being watched isn't exactly the most natural and comfortable environment.
3) Moderator needs to do his or her homework and come very prepared.
Once you have selected your moderator, it's very important to make sure the moderator is prepared for the project. This is partly your responsibility. You should make sure the moderator is briefed in detail on the project including the background, objectives, client expectations, and any materials required for the project. When possible, your moderator should have an opportunity to be exposed to any materials (concepts, storyboards, ads, respondent homework exercises, etc.) prior to the groups. You also need to make sure to send the moderator the discussion guide well in advance of the project date so he or she can study it and come prepared. You should also walk your moderator through the discussion guide and detail objectives of each section of your guide. You don't want your moderator to just be reading directly off of the guide – it should be a more natural interaction and less rehearsed. This will also help the moderator go off-guide, depending on how the conversation is naturally flowing, without missing any key sections of the guide.
4) Moderator needs to be flexible and accommodating.
We have all been there – you're in the backroom, and the client throws a huge curveball and wants to re-write half the guide in between groups. This happens all the time, and your moderator should be able to accommodate these client needs. It's imperative that your moderator is flexible and quick on his/her feet. The last thing you want is for your client to be nervous that changing anything about the guide will throw off your moderator and potentially the rest of the groups. A moderator that you are confident with is great, but one that can put the client at ease is priceless.
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