A Moderator’s Goals During Research

In market research, the Moderator is the ambassador of many, many aspects! They are much more than a friendly face for the focus group respondents. Moderators assist clients through the research process and help them achieve their business’ goals. They advise on segment(s), create the screening tool and discussion guide, and finally report on insights, all with the client team’s collaboration.  

An independent Moderator is often brought in so that someone without vested interests can discuss research topics with respondents without bias.  

So: what exactly are the goals of the moderator when during a research session?  


Create a Welcoming Research Environment 

The scientific word for the fear of public speaking is “glossophobia” and it ranks as the most prevalent fear among Americans (some claim even more so than death! 

Everyone has varying levels of comfort when speaking with unfamiliar individuals. While focus groups aim to recruit those that self-report feeling comfortable sharing their opinion, that can quickly be changed if they feel they are not able to openly share their perceptions without being “attacked.” To conduct a successful focus group, you must remove judgement from the space.  

Effective Moderators create a welcoming environment that encourages the free exchange of perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes (POBAs, thank you RIVA).  


Everyone Participates

When conducting focus groups, understanding human nature is critical. Humans have a tendance to be kind. Some people have lots to say, some people are more introverted. The POBAs of each respondent are equally valuable!  

At the start of the session, Moderators set “guidelines rules” and remind participants that “equal airtime” is important, and that everyone should have chances to respond. Throughout the session, Moderators may use non-verbal social cues, and eventually verbal reminders to ensure that every respondent has a chance to allow their opinions to be heard. 


Stay on Topic

In normal conversations, topics can veer wildly from their original focus. Typically, this is fine and normal, but during research it is a waste of precious time. While ensuring everyone speaks, Moderators also course correct to keep the respondents focused on the topic.  

Doing this too abruptly can “take the air out of the room” so to speak and can easily off-put respondents. To ease this, Moderators subtly guide the conversation back to its original focus. If gentle guidance is not effective, Moderators may refer to “guidelines” they set earlier or use other tools in their arsenal.  



Market research with moderator & focus group participants achieving business goals


Dig Deeper

Moderators are masters of active listening, concentrating entirely on what is being said rather than passively “hearing” it. While Moderators have a discussion guide, effective Moderators focus in on perceptions that could use more context. While moderators need to be cognizant of time, understanding important client objectives and digging for deeper insights can uncover the “ah-ha!” moment during your research. 


Understanding the Perspective

Moderators have numerous responsibilities throughout the research process, but nothing is quite as important as their ability to understand the respondent’s perspective. To truly empathize, Moderators actively focus on dismantling their own inherit judgements and biases to understand the story of the respondent.  

A seasoned Moderator can provide the insights needed to take your organization to the next level!  Listening to your target audience will help you achieve what they want!  

There’s much more to Moderating than that which meets the naked eye. 



Barbara Gassaway, Research Moderator and CEO of Observation Baltimore & The Research Group



Over 15 years of creative market research experience in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.  A differentiator appreciated by clients and colleagues is Barbara’s comprehensive understanding of strategic marketing principles along with current trends and practices in qualitative behavioral science.  She is expert in managing client teams, project priorities, and creatively implementing methodologies to discover intimate, underlying feelings from respondents.   


A loyal client refers to Barbara as, the rock star of moderators.

This entry was posted on Monday, July 31st, 2023 at 4:30 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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