What Is A Focus Group? (And How to Become A Moderator)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 22, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Organizations organize focus groups to help them get feedback regarding products and services. If you want to build a marketing career and enjoy interacting with customers, you can consider being a focus group moderator. Understanding what a focus group is and the duties of a focus group moderator can help you decide if it's a viable career path for you. In this article, we answer the question, "What is a focus group?", explore its types, discuss what a focus group moderator is and what they do, examine how to become one, and review the necessary skills for a focus group moderator.

What is a focus group?

When exploring effective market research methods, you may wonder, "What is a focus group?" This data collection method involves assembling six to 10 people and asking them to provide feedback on a particular product, conduct, service, or marketing campaign. As a part of the research, a professional moderator conducts a session within the group for 30 to 90 minutes to get valuable information from the participants. The moderator conducts the session with a prepared list of approximately 10 questions.

The moderator distributes the list to the participants during the session to get thoughtful responses. The focus group aims to get the perspective of each participant, which allows the researcher to hear different ideas and opinions on the subject. Companies recruit focus group participants based on demographics, purchase history, behaviour, or psychographics. These participants typically don't know each other and arrive based on random selection. Companies sometimes conduct focus groups in various cities or provinces to get enough data.

Read more: A Guide to Marketing As a Career

Types of focus groups

Here's a list of the different types of focus groups:

  • Mini focus groups: Mini focus groups typically contain fewer participants, reducing the average number to four or five participants.

  • Online focus groups: In online focus groups, customers participate virtually by logging into a website and using a video chat.

  • Two-way focus groups: Participants in the two-way focus groups watch different groups and comment on what they see or hear while the moderators watch the participants from behind one-way glass.

  • Dual moderator focus group: Two moderators conduct this type of focus group, with one conducting the discussion session while the other makes notes.

  • Client participant focus groups: In this focus group, the participants are representatives of the company or institution that produces the subject of the discussion.

What is a focus group moderator?

Focus group moderators are market research experts that oversee and facilitate focus group sessions and discussions. The professionals are in charge of asking the focus group participants what they think about the product or service, the company's competitors, and the marketing efforts. A focus group moderator may be an employee of the company conducting the research or an independent contractor from a market research firm. Some of the responsibilities of a focus group moderator include:

  • Coordinating, planning, and running focus group meetings

  • Working with the research team to create relatable discussion points, develop relevant questions, and define the procedures for the sessions

  • Ensuring focus group participants share their honest opinions, ideas, and thoughts

  • Developing a system of approach that encourages participation and ensures the stakeholders and clients achieve their research goals

  • Gathering and sorting the data and ideas received from the participants

  • Summarizing their findings and the outcome of the sessions in reports

  • Sharing the results and reports of the focus groups with the clients or stakeholders

Related: How to Do Market Research With 6 Guided Steps (With Types)

How to become a focus group moderator

Here are the steps to follow to help you build a career as a focus group moderator:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

Employers typically look for moderators with an undergraduate degree in a relevant field. As it's a market researcher role, you can consider pursuing a degree in marketing, communications, psychology, business, or political science. You may consider seeking coursework related to customer behaviours, research methods, and statistics. Earning an undergraduate degree or completing relevant coursework provides a good foundation for your career and equips you with the necessary skills for any research role.

2. Gain professional experience

Professional experience can make you unique to other candidates during the employment process. As an undergraduate student or new graduate, you can register for internship programs in marketing companies. These roles may give you the opportunity to learn how to gather data and conduct different types of research, such as customer interviews and surveys. Your experiences may also help you become a better focus group moderator and give you a comprehensive understanding of the market research industry. Internship programs are an excellent way to start building a professional network that may help you secure better opportunities in the future.

3. Apply for full-time roles

After completing the undergraduate program and gaining relevant professional experience, you can apply to full-time entry-level jobs as a market researcher. In most cases, you may work in a market researching firm as a product analyst or market research analyst before working as a focus group moderator. In these roles, you gain experience in data analysis and research strategy development, which can help you better prepare for the moderator role. Some companies also conduct their market research internally, which may allow you to work as a focus group moderator.

4. Consider an advanced degree

If you want to advance your career, you can consider getting a graduate degree in any related field. An advanced degree, such as a master's degree, can help you learn new skills, develop old skills, and distinguish you from other candidates. You can pursue related degrees, including customer behaviour, market research, survey research, marketing analytics, and data science. It's advisable to conduct extensive research to find available programs that fit your needs and interests.

5. Earn more certification

Completing professional programs and earning extra certification is another way to advance your career and make you unique from others. These certifications can prove to your employers and clients that you understand the industry, possess the necessary skills, and have the know-how to provide solutions to business needs. For example, you can consider getting the Certified Marketing Research Professional (CMRP) certification. This certification program is available to post-graduate students and new or experienced practitioners.

Relevant skills for a focus group moderator

The relevant technical skills for focus group moderators may vary depending on the industry. Still, some of the general soft skills for focus moderators include:

Communication skills

The role of focus group moderator requires you to interact with different people. It may also be necessary for you to provide verbal and written instructions to the participants, build a rapport, and make them feel comfortable to provide honest feedback on the product or service. The role may require you to take clear and comprehensive notes that make up the reports for clients and stakeholders. It's also essential to understand other nonverbal forms of communication such as eye contact and body language. Having excellent communication skills allows you to create a comfortable environment for the participants to feel heard.

Read more: Guide to Verbal Communication Skills

Active listening and questioning skills

It's essential for moderators to listen attentively to the participants' opinions and comments and ask questions that encourages discussion. You can show your questioning skills by asking probing and open-ended questions that allow participants to elaborate on their answers. You can also use techniques such as recall and paraphrasing to help you get clarity on the participants' answers. Efficient questioning and active listening skills ensure moderators get accurate information that stakeholders and clients can use for their research.

Organizational and research skills

As a focus group moderator, it's essential to know how to identify the aims of a research project and ensure you achieve them within the allotted time. It's critical to keep the conversation focused on relevant talking points and maintain a steady flow for the session duration. The company may require you to conduct multiple focus group sessions. As a result, it's crucial for you to know how to keep each project organized to prevent confusion. The job description of a moderator includes conducting research, making it essential for you to focus on details and strive for accuracy.

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Focus group moderators typically prepare a list of questions before conducting every session, but in some cases, the situation may benefit from another approach. It's essential for you to be flexible and adapt to the characteristics of the unique participants or situation. Some participants may also deviate from the topic, and it may become your responsibility to move the conversation back to the plan according to the client's goals.

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