Six Focus Groups, Three Lessons

I often hold meetings with stakeholders in a strategy development mandate in advance of kicking off any workshops. Sometimes those meetings are one-on-one, sometimes they are in a focus group format. Deciding on which approach to take is based on several factors, including complexity and interdependence between the stakeholders. The ultimate purpose of these meetings is to co-create meaningful objectives for the strategy development exercises, and to develop a methodology which will resonate with the group. I call this “honoring the group.” Often these sessions will bring to light things that the client was not aware of.

In the COVID context, of course, these preparatory sessions are done virtually. I invested in my own development prior to setting up these virtual focus groups, of course; there are many differences between how they are carried out in person and online. This post does not replace that type of technical or design preparation. Rather, I want to share three things I learned while actually facilitating six virtual #FocusGroups over the course of three days.


1- Body language is important. You can read it even in a virtual meeting with people you don’t know. Participants lean in, they nod, or shuffle papers, or look away. Tip: research has shown that turning off your “self” view will allow your brain to focus on what’s important – other people. It works.
2- Relationships matter. People want to connect and hear each others’ stories, even if they don’t know each other. A few times I thought the introductions were going long, but reading the participants’ body language told me that people cared about what was being said. I found another way to meet my objectives for the focus group, without taking away from the connection being forged between the participants.
3- Great planning and support are not optional. Prepare, prepare, prepare, your content and methodology…then be ready to roll with the punches. Find someone reliable to act as co-facilitator, who has a skill you do not, to catch what you miss.

If you’d like to learn more about holding meaningful, multi-party conversations virtually, send me a note at lesley@horizonstrategy.ca or call me at 514-518-7975.

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