I run lots of focus groups (and other user research activities) as part of my job as a user experience consultant.
Over the years I've learned a lot about running focus groups. Here are my top 5 questions that I always seem to use during focus groups:
"How could we summarise the point you have just made"
Sometimes during a group discussion a participant makes an important but long-winded or convoluted point. This is sometimes because the participant is formulating their ideas on the fly. It can be really hard to distil what they have said down to the important bits. In this case, I always ask "how could we summarise the point you have just made". I find this works really well. Sounds simple but it really works to get the participant to rephrase what they have said.
My nieces and nephews all went through the "why?" stage when they were about 3 or 4 years old. Every question I asked them, they would reply with "why?". If I answered their "why?" question, they would ask me "why?" again. "Why?", "Why?", "Why?", "Why?", "Why?" it would go on.
In a focus group, I'm always the curious facilitator. I'm always asking participants "why?"...even when it might make me look a bit silly. Sometimes I might phrase the question as "this might sound like a silly question to you, but, why do you need to do that".
"I understand. Thanks [name]"
OK, so not a question, but still a phrase that I use very often in focus groups. I find it really important to avoid endorsing any particular comment. I never say something like "good point, Sarah" or "excellent idea, John". These kinds of comments from a facilitator can discourage rather than encourage the conversation (participants start to wonder if there is a right or wrong answer for the focus group questions).
Instead, I usually follow-up comments with "I understand, thanks Julie" or "sure, I hear what you are saying".
"How would you describe this to your friend's grandmother?"
Occasionally in a focus group I find it difficult to understand a participant's comments. This usually happens if the conversation goes into "subject matter expert" territory, where participants talk in a jargon that makes sense to them and those around them, but not to me. In this situation I will ask "if you had to describe this to your friend's grandmother, how would you do that". By the way, I would never ask "describe this to YOUR grandmother" because that would be assuming the participant knows their grandmother or that their grandmother is alive and well. That could make for an awkward situation.
"Can you give me an example..."
Sometimes participants make wide, open or general statements. These don't help me very much. So I'll always ask them to provide an example to illustrate their comments. I avoid seeming confrontational in this question by using a curious tone and facial expression.
What questions do you typically ask in focus groups or other types of meetings?