Facilitators of focus groups know that careful and detailed planning is critical to the success of the session. Some people hesitate to give their opinions, and others stray from the objective. The best way to come into a session is to do some groundwork first. Send each participant a follow-up to the initial invitation so they know what they are to discuss. The room should be set up before the group arrives.
Plan activities to relax the participants and help them feel comfortable. These activities can include questions that each person should answer truthfully. Questions can be general, such as how would they change their current job, or more specific, such as if they were marooned on a deserted island, what five things would they want to have with them. Another activity is to pair them off and have them interview their partners, then give an oral report to the group. A finish-the-sentence exercise will also get them talking. Some sentence openers could be "My favorite job was ..." or "If I could be anywhere, I'd be at ..."
After the focus group session has ended, each participant can review the discussion or products. Give each of them a card, and encourage them to write the main concepts, their favorite aspects and their least favorite aspects of the product.
Offer tickets to each participant for specific behaviors, such as participation, returning early from breaks or offering a new direction that is relevant to the discussion. After the session is over, have a drawing for a prize or coupons. Each time a person speaks, he or she should be acknowledged.
Why or Why Not
According to George Silverman, president and founder of Market Navigation Inc., asking why they use a product doesn't always elicit a correct answer because often people have no idea. Finding ways to get to the root of their opinions requires inviting the correct people to the group---those who thoroughly understand the topic and purpose of the discussion. Once they're in the group, encourage not only direct answers but afterthoughts that might bring out their true feelings. An informal playfulness often brings out the deepest thoughts and opinions on the topic, so keep it light and fun. Have people use first names and create the most natural environment possible rather than staging the setting. Make the people feel good about themselves, and encourage participation.
Sitting for long periods of time can be uncomfortable and cause participants to watch the clock. Offer short breaks with refreshments and an opportunity to use the restroom. When they come back, open with a short group exercise related to the last topic discussed. This can be verbal or written.