From the desk of Laura Duguid
One of the most amazing things I learned as an improv performer is the prolific power of in-the-moment mindfulness. Improv is not about being quick-witted on the fly. Rather it’s all about concentrating on the moment at hand and working together to move a conversation forward. The ensuing repartee is the miraculous by-product of being 100 percent present and engaged in the here and now, rather than mentally mired in the past or future.
By experimenting with this technique in the context of qualitative research, I’ve discovered in-the-moment mindfulness paired with ethnography to be a winning combination. Ethnography by design is grounded in real-world interaction, and therefore a step closer to a consumer’s actual, experiential state of being. But you can inspire an even deeper, truer level of revelation about consumer motivations, needs, and emotions by incorporating some in-the-moment moderation techniques:
- Count Relay Icebreaker: Loosen up your respondents and get them grounded in the here and now with this quick, fun icebreaker. After introductions and sharing of typical upfront information, tell the respondent you two are going to play a quick game to help loosen each other up and set the stage for a great conversation. Then, count to 15 aloud in alternating sequence, as fast as you can, i.e. the moderator starts with “1” then respondent says “2” and so on, back and forth quickly until reaching 15. Then, repeat the exercise counting down backwards from 15. When it’s all said and done, you’ll both be energized, more relaxed due to certain mistakes and ensuing laughter, and fully present and engaged with each other.
- Maintain Moderator Mental Presence: Whether it’s keeping track of time, thinking about previous or forthcoming questions, or managing stimulus, distraction is an ever-present obstacle for moderators. One way to keep your mind in-the-now – and project that same state of focus on your respondent – is to physically orient yourself once you arrive at the interview. An easy way to do so is once you sit down, be aware of and feel how a specific part of your body is interacting with the environment, e.g. feel your feet on the floor, or your hands on the table, or your upper legs making contact with the chair. If at some point during the interview you are feeling distracted, simply re-orient using the aforementioned technique to get back in-the-moment.
- Present Tense Talk: When you want a respondent to tell you about something they did in the past, or engage in an activity you want to observe, ask them to talk you through it speaking in the present tense. Doing so literally puts the respondent in-the-moment mentally, thereby aiding recall and greater depth of insight.
These tools work well in traditional focus groups, too. In-the-moment techniques can help bridge the gap between real life and the group room, enhancing respondent recall and articulation. In fact, once respondents are made aware the techniques make it easier for them to express all of their thoughts and opinions, I’ve discovered they participate without hesitation.