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Focus Group Moderating

Last modified at 2/2/2021 3:15 PM by Maren Johnson

Moderating: 10 key skills and qualities (SAQs) of an effective focus group moderator

Focus Groups are qualitative research tools used to explore/understand consumers’ perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes (POBAs)1 regarding a specific topic. A fundamental element of a focus group is the moderator. The skills and qualities (SAQs) of a moderator are keys to success for an effective group. Below are 10 key SAQs every moderator should practice2,3,4
  1. Build Rapport- smile, make eye contact, and allow introductions; create a warm, supportive, and comfortable environment.
  2. Be an Active Listener- focus on what is being said; use respondent comments as you paraphrase/summarize; nod your head; lean forward as you listen.
  3. Remain Neutral yet Involved- maintain objectivity both verbally and non-verbally; remember 80:20 rule- the participants talk 80% of the time and the moderator 20%.
  4. Be Flexible- adapt to the flow of the discussion; remain open to changes in the moderator’s guide; adjust to client’s requests during the group; change your physical behavior-sit, stand, or walk around the room.
  5. Use the “5-second Pause” and “Probe” Techniques- ask clear questions and pause for consumers’ responses; probe for more information/ clarity of comments- avoid asking why.
  6. Acknowledge and Respect- recognize each participant throughout the focus group session; respect various points of view, and emphasize respect among the group.
  7. Practice good Organization/Management Skills- practice the guide, prepare for the unexpected; keep the discussion moving, focused, and within the established timeframe.
  8. Have Knowledge of the Topic- basic information on the subject helps in probing areas for more in-depth discussion; demonstrate a degree of naïveté.
  9. Be Enthusiastic and Attentive- have a high energy level; pay attention to participants- recognize group dynamics.
  10. Have a Sense of Humor- laughter keeps the group relaxed, encourages sharing of information, and helps the moderator maintain a human connection.


1 Puchta, C. and Potter, J. (2004). Focus group practice. California: Sage Publications.
2 Krueger, R.A. and Casey, M. (2000). Focus groups, 3rd Edition. California: Sage Publications.
3 Henderson, N.R. Fundamentals of moderating. Maryland: RIVA Training Institute.
4 Edmunds, H. (1999). The focus group research handbook. Illinois: NTC Business Books.