Posted: January 9, 2014
I recently came across an old book on the craft of acting*, not because I’m thinking of auditioning in the near future (needless perhaps to say), but because I had been wondering about possible clues for the craft of focus group moderating. The book talks about both physical and psychological keys to effective acting:
Psychological qualities in acting:
(1) Understanding: Intelligence makes the actor perceive things properly and regulates the sensibilities.
(2) Sensibilities: Emotional awareness allows the actor to perform with feeling, and animates, enlivens, inspires the understanding.
(3) Spirit: Having a kind of fire and lively imagination (but not blustering) produces the living character in the actor.
Physical expression in acting:
It seems to me that effective focus group moderating requires the very same psychological qualities and physical expressions that are so important in acting.
Psychological qualities in moderating:
(1) Understanding: Intelligence makes the moderator perceive things properly and regulates the sensibilities.
(2) Sensibilities: Emotional awareness allows the moderator to perform with feeling, and animates, enlivens, inspires the understanding.
(3) Spirit: Having a kind of fire and lively imagination (but not blustering) produces the living embodiment of the moderator.
As moderators, our physical expression (how we use our bodies, our voice, and the way we look—how we dress, our facial expressions) acts in support of our psychological qualities to manage a group, to connect with participants, to elicit the insights needed.
Joseph Jefferson (famous 19th-century American actor) called the combination of understanding, sensibilities, and spirit, supported by physical expression in acting, as having a “warm heart and a cool mind.” The same goes for focus group moderating. The best moderators genuinely care about and enjoy their respondents (warm heart), and are at the same time relentlessly curious about what their respondents think, how they feel, and why they behave the way they do (cool mind).
Further (and finally), it’s no stretch to say that, like actors, moderators too have an audience—client observers and colleagues behind the glass and/or watching remotely—who count on us to educate, edify, and entertain.
*Acting: A Handbook of the Stanislavski Method, compiled by Toby Cole, Three Rivers Press, 1947