User interviews are a great way to gather detailed information from participants about their needs, preferences, behaviours, attitudes, and opinions on a specific topic or product.
An interview moderator has a lot of power and responsibilities in ensuring the success of the session. They are not only responsible for asking the right questions and listening to the participant’s responses, but also for managing the session flow, balancing the research goals, protecting your organisation’s reputation, taking care of your own well-being, and ensuring the participant’s comfort and satisfaction.
A book called ‘The Moderator’s Survival Guide’ by Donna Tedesco and Fiona Tranquada is a helpful resource for understanding the responsibilities of an interview moderator. Let’s look at each of these aspects in more detail.
The participant’s well-being is paramount in any user research session, but especially in an interview where the moderator and the participant are having a one-on-one conversation. The moderator has to ensure that the participant feels comfortable, respected, and valued throughout the session. This means:
- Building rapport and trust with the participant by being friendly, attentive, and empathetic
- Listening actively and acknowledging the participant’s responses without judging or interrupting
- Providing positive reinforcement and encouragement when appropriate
- Respecting the participant’s privacy and confidentiality and avoiding sensitive or personal topics unless relevant and agreed upon
- Adapting to the participant’s pace, mood, and level of engagement and being flexible to change the direction or depth of the interview if needed
- Ending the interview on a positive note and thanking the participant for their time and feedback
By taking care of the participant’s well-being, the moderator can create a positive experience for both parties and elicit rich and honest insights.
The moderator’s well-being is also crucial for a successful interview.
The moderator has to handle tricky situations with professionalism, confidence, and resilience. Here are a few ways that can help the moderator maintain their well-being :
- Preparing well for the interview by reviewing the study plan, testing the equipment, and rehearsing the questions
- Having a backup plan in case of technical failures or unexpected events
- Staying calm and composed in case of difficulties or emergencies and finding solutions quickly
- Being assertive and respectful when dealing with challenging participants or observers
- Seeking support from colleagues or stakeholders when needed
- Taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing by taking breaks, hydrating, eating well, and debriefing after each session
By taking care of your well-being, you can maintain your focus, energy, and motivation throughout the interview.
The research goals are the main reason why you are conducting an interview in the first place. The research goals define what you want to learn from the participants and how you will use that information to improve your product or service. Therefore, it is essential that you:
- Define clear and specific research goals that are aligned with your organisation’s objectives and stakeholders’ expectations
- Communicate your research goals to your participants at the beginning of the interview so that they understand why they are participating and what they can expect
- Follow your study plan as closely as possible but be ready to adapt if new opportunities or challenges arise during the interview
- Document your observations and findings accurately and thoroughly during and after each session
By following your research goals, you can ensure that your interview is meaningful, useful, and impactful for your organisation.
Session management refers to how you organise and run your interview sessions efficiently and effectively. Session management involves various logistical aspects such as:
- Recruiting suitable participants who meet your criteria and represent your target users
- Scheduling sessions at convenient times and locations for both you and your participants
- Setting up a comfortable environment for conducting the interview
- Managing time wisely by starting and ending each session on time and covering all topics within the allotted time
- Recording each session with appropriate tools such as audio recorders, video cameras, screen capture software, etc.
- Handling compensation for participants such as vouchers, gift cards, cash, etc.
By managing your sessions well, you can ensure that your interview runs smoothly and professionally.
Your organisation’s wellbeing
Your organisation’s wellbeing refers to how you represent and protect your organisation’s image and reputation during and after the interview. Your organisation’s well-being depends on how you:
- Present yourself and your organisation to the participant in a professional and respectful manner
- Explain the purpose and value of your research to the participant and how it will benefit them or others
- Avoid disclosing confidential or sensitive information about your organisation or product to the participant
- Respect the participant’s privacy and confidentiality and do not share their personal or identifiable information with anyone without their consent
- Follow ethical principles and guidelines for conducting user research such as informed consent, voluntary participation, harm minimisation, etc.
- Report your findings and recommendations to your stakeholders in a clear, concise, and honest way
By taking care of your organisation’s well-being, you can enhance your organisation’s credibility and trustworthiness in the eyes of your participants and stakeholders.
As you can see, moderating interviews is a complex task. It requires a lot of skills and judgment that can only be developed through practice and experience.
As an interview moderator, you have a lot of responsibilities to balance the competing needs of the participant, the research goals, the session management, and your organisation. You also have to deal with various common, tricky, or sticky situations that may arise during the session. It is also a rewarding and enjoyable activity that can provide valuable insights and connections that can help improve your products and services. Thank you for reading and happy moderating!