Getting the right information from the participant can be a difficult. As the moderator, you must attend to many things besides what the participant doing and saying. Focusing on a few specific behaviors of your own will help you have a better test.

Focus your attention on what’s happening now

  • Quickly build rapport with the participant
  • Listen attentively
  • Be open to what might happen in a session – be ready to learn from the participant

Tips for being a better moderator

Be the neutral observer – avoid priming or teaching. If you’re too close to the product or the domain, you may train participants without realizing it by using keywords in your task scenarios or materials.

Observe at the expense of collecting data, if you must. It is difficult to take notes and to watch the participant at the same time. If things are happening quickly or you find yourself missing things the participant is saying or doing, just stop taking notes. Instead, listen and spend time between sessions making notes about what happened. Go through your recordings later if you need to, or ask observers to share their notes.

Play dumb – don’t answer questions. If participants perceive that you are an expert on the product, they may ask you questions about it or look for your approval on actions. Instead, let her know that you are learning too, and that you’ll note her questions but won’t always be able to answer them.

Flex the script and test plan. Even after you pilot test your test, you may have to adjust on-the-fly when participants do unpredictable things. That’s okay. You’re learning important things that fit into your aggregate patterns of use.

Practice and get feedback. Ask co-workers and observers to give you feedback about how you conduct sessions and how you ask questions.

Your own self-awareness is your best tool for moderating test sessions successfully. Following these guidelines should help you get valid, reliable data from your participants, even if your attention is slightly divided.

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