Qual Moderator Tips & Tricks: Maximizing the Participant Experience to Gain Richer Insights

Qual Moderator Tips & Tricks: Maximizing the Participant Experience to Gain Richer Insights

As researchers, we rely on consumers’ willingness to share their personal thoughts, opinions, and experiences. Although they get compensated for their time, it’s important to take steps to ensure the participant experience is an overall enjoyable and positive one.

It’s our responsibility as moderators to create a safe, comfortable, and respectful environment which fosters genuine thoughts and opinions from participants. Not only do we rely on our training and experience; we must also trust our intuition to successfully navigate each sessions’ unique dynamics.

While each moderator may have their own signature style and approach, in order to enhance the participants’ experience we should focus on balancing three important roles:  leader, observer, and student.

  • Setting the Stage – Ready, Set, Action!

Create an inviting, open, and comfortable setting by providing clear expectations upfront.

As discussion leaders, moderators are responsible for setting the tone for the session. Making participants feel comfortable to open up is half the battle. Think about it like preparing for a production of some sort. You are in essence the director setting the stage and giving a pep talk to the performers to help them come to life!

Establishing ground rules and procedures at the start of each session is essential. Some participants have never taken part in a qualitative session after all. If participants clearly understand expectations, the flow of the session, and their role in all of it, they feel more at ease and more willing to freely share their thoughts and opinions. The best participants are not necessarily super articulate or eloquent, they just feel comfortable sharing whatever comes to mind in the moment.

  • Reading the Room – Stop, Look, and Listen

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. – Ferris Bueller

The moderator’s role is not only to listen to what participants are saying but to visually observe throughout the length of the session. Learning to interpret participants’ facial expressions, body language, and physical movement is not only essential to understanding true feelings and emotions behind verbal responses but also key in keeping the conversation focused and energized when needed.

Good listeners are in short supply these days, and the moderator’s role is much more complex than simply being a facilitator to a linear question-and-answer session. It’s essential to know the discussion guide inside and out, so as you actively listen, you have the freedom to pivot and adjust the direction of the conversation without losing sight of the needed outcome.

  • Learn from “the Experts” – You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Assume everyone has something to teach you.

Regardless of the subject matter at hand, moderators shouldn’t feel the need to play the “know-it-all” role in the discussion and should act more as the student. We conduct research to learn from participants’ unique experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds. It’s okay and often welcomed not to have all the answers or know the subject matter as well as they do and let them feel like “the expert.”

Be that curious kid in the backseat of the car who’s always asking questions. Allowing them to teach you about a product or service encourages respondents to be confident and detailed in their answers, resulting in rich, real-life insights.

Author: Karen Spruill - Qual Research Manager & Moderator 

Author: Karen Spruill – Qual Research Manager & Moderator


Karen is a Senior Researcher with 15 years of experience translating consumer behavior into meaningful insights. While Karen is adept at leading research across a wide range of methodologies, she is especially passionate about conducting qualitative research studies, both in-person and remotely. Karen began her research career at a boutique market research firm that focused on families and kids and has continued to build her knowledge with a variety of audiences and verticals.

Author: Patricia Lopez - Sr. Qual Analyst & Moderator

Author: Patricia Lopez – Sr. Qual Analyst & Moderator


Patricia is a market research professional with over 15 years of qualitative research experience. She quickly recognizes patterns, easily sees the “big picture” and provides the emotional intelligence required to make the very best business decision in today’s marketplace. She has conducted thousands of focus groups with both Gen Pop and Hispanic consumers and is specialized across industries, methodologies and demographics. Her curiosity and passion for research have provided her with the ability to connect with people enabling her to obtain deep, underlying thoughts and feelings that go beyond superficial reactions.

Qualitative Research at Touchstone

Touchstone Research is an award-winning research firm staffed with a team of curious research professionals who are passionate about bringing deep insights to our clients. We have over two decades of experience providing next-gen remote and face-to-face qualitative research services to the world’s largest brands, marketers, and agencies.