Moderator Skills

by Richard A. Krueger

Select the right moderator

  • Exercise mild unobtrusive control
  • Adequate knowledge of topic
  • Appears like the participants

Use an assistant moderator

  • Handles logistics
  • Takes careful notes
  • Monitors recording equipment

Be mentally prepared

  • Alert and free from distractions
  • Has the discipline of listening
  • Familiar with questioning route

Use purposeful small talk

  • Create warm and friendly environment
  • Observe the participants for seating arrangements

Make a smooth & snappy introduction
Standard introduction

  1. Welcome
  2. Overview of topic
  3. Ground rules
  4. First question

Use pauses and probes
5 second pause

  • “Would you explain further?”
  • “Would you give an example?”
  • “I don’t understand.”

Record the discussion

  • Tape recorders
  • Written notes

Control reactions to participants

  • Verbal and nonverbal
  • Head nodding
  • Short verbal responses
  • (avoid “that’s good”, “excellent”)

Use subtle group control

  • Experts
  • Dominant talkers
  • Shy participants
  • Ramblers

Use appropriate conclusion
Three Step Conclusion

  1. Summarize with confirmation,
  2. Review purpose and ask if anything has been missed,
  3. Thanks and dismissal

Bulleted Outline for Introducing a Focus Group


  • Introduce moderator and assistant

Our topic is …

  • The results will be used for …
  • Your were selected because …


  • No right or wrong answers, only differing points of view
  • We’re tape recording, one person speaking at a time
  • We’re on a first name basis
  • You don’t need to agree with others, but you must listen respectfully as others share their views
  • Rules for cellular phones and pagers if applicable. For example: We ask that your turn off your phones or pagers. If you cannot and if you must respond to a call, please do so as quietly as possible and rejoin us as quickly as you can.
  • My role as moderator will be to guide the discussion
  • Talk to each other

Opening question

Script for Beginning a Focus Group

The first few moments in focus group discussion are critical. In a brief time the moderator must create a thoughtful, permissive atmosphere, provide ground rules, and set the tone of the discussion. Much of the success of group interviewing can be attributed to the development of this open environment.

The recommended pattern for introducing the group discussion includes:
(1) Welcome, (2) Overview of the topic (3) Ground rules and (4) First question. Here is an example of a typical introduction:

Good evening and welcome to our session. Thanks for taking the time to join us to talk about educational programs in the county. My name is Dick Krueger and assisting me is Tom Olson. We’re both with the University of Minnesota. Sara Casey, who is with the local extension office, asked us to help the staff get some information from county residents about your perceptions of local extension efforts. They want to know what you like, what you don’t like, and how programs might be improved. We are having discussions like this with several groups around the county.

You were invited because you have participated in some extension programs, so you’re familiar with what extension does, and you all live in this section of the county.

There are no wrong answers but rather differing points of view. Please feel free to share your point of view even if it differs from what others have said. Keep in mind that we’re just as interested in negative comments as positive comments, and at times the negative comments are the most helpful.

You’ve probably noticed the microphone. We’re tape recording the session because we don’t want to miss any of your comments. People often say very helpful things in these discussions and we can’t write fast enough to get them all down. We will be on a first name basis tonight, and we won’t use any names in our reports. You may be assured of complete confidentiality. The reports will go back to the county extension staff to help them plan future programs.

Well, let’s begin. We’ve placed name cards on the table in front of you to help us remember each other’s names. Let’s find out some more about each other by going around the table. Tell us your name and where you live.

Recorder (Assistant Moderator) Skills

  • Help with equipment & refreshments
  • Arrange the room
  • Welcome participants as they arrive
  • Sit in designated location
  • Take notes throughout the discussion
  • Operate recording equipment
  • Do not participate in the discussion
  • Ask questions when invited
  • Give an oral summary
  • Debrief with moderator
  • Give feedback on analysis and reports


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