How to Choose Focus Group Moderators

Selecting focus group moderators is a crucial step in achieving successful focus group or depth interview results.

The moderator has a major impact on the data produced in focus groups. The quality of the qualitative research results depends on the moderator.

You want a trained, experienced moderator with category experience. And someone who can manage, moderate, analyze and report.

Here is a moderator checklist.

Understands Qualitative Marketing Research Process

Skilled focus group moderators understand qualitative marketing research.

They should know how to:

Define Research Objectives

Effective professionals know how to define qualitative research objectives and purpose.

Research objectives are a critical first step in gaining relevant findings. Successful studies start with defining research objectives.

Manage Respondent Recruitment

Another crucial step is recruiting the right respondents for the group. Having the wrong people in a group dooms the session.

The screening survey selects suitable respondents. Professionals know how to write the screening survey.

Write the Moderator Guide

Professional focus group moderators write the moderator guide, with the input from managers.

The discussion guide contains the main topics of inquiry and questions. Professional moderators develop topics and questions stemming from research objectives.


Knowing what types of questions to ask and when to ask them is a moderator skill developed through study and practice.

Experienced professionals should know advanced moderating techniques including laddering and projective techniques.

They should be able to dig beyond top-of-mind answers. They should be able to draw out respondents' attitudes, opinions, beliefs, feelings, perceptions, and behaviors.

Analyze and Report

Professionals know how to analyze responses, raw data, and turn it into useful information and actionable findings – insights.

Focus group moderators know how to write clear, understandable reports, highlighting important findings and insights.

And here are other factors to consider when choosing a moderator.

Category Experience

Industry knowledge allows professionals to grasp management decision issues, aiding in effective research design.

Moderators with specific industry can be especially effective in moderating and interviewing groups of industry executives and experts, who have specialized knowledge and language. Industry knowledge helps to set up respondent rapport and directed discussions.

The more experience moderators have in a product category, the more they are able probe important topics, issues, and responses. Industry knowledge also lends credibility when reporting results to senior executives.

Additionally, moderators with specific industry knowledge can provide prescriptive consultation to clients. Professionals understand implications of findings and formulate relevant recommendations, when asked to do so.

Rapport and Trust

Professional moderators know to how to interact with people- complete strangers- and get them to talk about their feelings, beliefs, and experiences. They know how to establish rapport with respondents and encourage them to speak.

Professional moderators know how to guide group discussions, manage group dynamics, and draw out relevant information. They are adept at exploring and probing unexpected items as they arise during the discussion, yet still keep the discussion on track.

Beyond Top of Mind

Professional moderators probe beyond top of mind answers, digging deeper to uncover underlying feelings, values, emotions, and reasons behind top of mind answers.

Moderators probe for information without offending respondents. Moderators have tools and techniques to tease-out thoughts, perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and experiences.

Objective and Independent

Independent professional moderators strive to be objective. They can produce truthful findings, as they do not have a stake in the findings. They are not bound by organizational politics. They reveal truths.

Team Player

A moderator has the skills to become a temporary member of the client’s research and marketing team. As a team member, a moderator can guide the team in the qualitative marketing research.

Organizational and Project Management Skills

Good moderators have organizational and project management skills. They manage focus group logistics, overseeing respondent recruiting, focus group facilities rentals, and schedules.

Focus Group Moderator Training

Professional moderators are trained, skilled, and experienced in the art of moderating focus groups and depth interviews. They understand the principles of qualitative research and practice it.

Two premier training institutes for moderator training are the RIVA Training Institute and Burke Institute. Universities and colleges also offer training in qualitative research for the social science.

Research Standards and Ethics

Professional moderators adhere to research industry standards, guidelines and codes of conduct.

Professionals are typically members of research associations. Several associations have codes of conduct and require members to read them as a condition of membership.

Professional qualitative associations include the Qualitative Researchers Consultants Association (QRCA), the Marketing Research Association (MRA), and American Marketing Association (AMA).

Assessing Moderators

Talk to potential moderators and ask them about their methods, clients and testimonials.

And ask about their category experience.

Ask for a marketing research proposal.

Ask for non-proprietary sample reports. They reveal reporting skills.

Listen to a depth interview, or focus group, or watch a moderator in action. Good moderators have digital audio and video recordings of their work. Ask for them.

Get references and call them. Ask about the moderator’s overall strengths and weaknesses.

How to Find Focus Group Moderators

Here are some sources to find moderators.

Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA)

The QRCA is an association of professional focus group moderators. The QRCA offers publications about qualitative marketing research, including directories of moderators. QRCA lists almost 1,000 qualitative research consultants.

Find a moderator at QRCA

Quirk’s Marketing Research Review

Quirk’s is a magazine about marketing research. It publishes news, articles, events, webinars, discussion forums, and job postings. It lists 1,100 + moderators.

Find a moderator at Quirk's

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