Market research is an essential part of the professional event organiser’s toolkit. There are many ways to go about it, including sending out a survey and hosting a focus group event.
We’ve already covered everything related to event surveys. Now it’s time to outline how to conduct a focus group so you can get more valuable insights.
Read on to discover…
- The point of focus groups
- How to plan a focus group
- Which questions to ask
- How to recruit participants
- How to moderate the discussion
- What to do with the results
Why run a focus group?
Event feedback surveys, which we’ve advocated for in the past, will tell you what your attendees feel and how they experienced the event.
Focus groups, on the other hand, will go in-depth and try to tease out why your attendees feel the way they do.
In other words, feedback surveys will give you a broad overview of what went right and wrong with your event, while a focus group will help you understand the granular details.
Focus groups—and event surveys, for that matter—aren’t only useful for post-event evaluation. They can also help you as part of your market research efforts before an event.
How to plan a focus group
Planning is everything, but you already knew that from organising events. The same holds true for hosting a focus group discussion, so let’s talk about how it can be done.
1. Define your goals
You need a clear aim before you recruit any participants for your focus group. What questions are you trying to answer? What information will make planning your future events easier?
Here are some questions you can use focus groups to answer:
- Will your event idea appeal to your target audience?
- How can you best promote your event to them?
- What are the ways you can improve on your events?
A clear goal will make it easier for you to plan the focus group. It’ll also ensure that you get the most out of your time and efforts.
2. Define your target audience
Whether you define your goals or target audience first is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. It depends on what you prioritise.
If you have a clear goal for your event and don’t mind who it appeals to, you should start with the aim of the focus group.
If, on the other hand, the purpose of your event is to reach a specific audience, you should define who that is first. Then you can focus on the event concept later.
Regardless of the order, you’ll have to define your target audience. The narrower you go (e.g. “20–30 year-old women in tech who are interested in fish”), the more specific answers you’ll get.
Tip: Read our guide on how to find your target audience so you can zero in on the right people.
3. Find a venue
Focus groups tend to be small. This means you virtually have endless options when it comes to choosing a venue.
Make sure that it’s in a relaxed environment with minimal noise. Also, check if there are good public transport links and parking facilities.
Tip: Read our guide on how to find a venue so you don’t end up in the wrong spot.
4. Design the questions
Now that you know your target audience and the purpose of the event, you’ll have a general idea of what you want to ask the participants.
Aim for questions that don’t elicit a simple “yes” or “no” response. Leave those for surveys. Instead, use open-ended questions that allow participants to elaborate on their answers.
Here are some sample questions you can use:
- What makes an event memorable for you?
- Where do you hear about upcoming events?
- How does XYZ event activity make you feel?
Tip: Use this guide on how to design focus group interviews to help you with the questions.
5. Recruit participants
It’s time to recruit some participants…but how many? That depends on how long you want to keep them and how many questions you want answered.
If you—say—only have one hour and want to ask ten questions, stick to 5–6 participants so everyone gets a chance to respond.
It’s good practice to offer some kind of incentive in return for your participants’ time. One option is a gift voucher for popular shops or restaurants.
Tip: You can use a company like TestingTime to help you recruit the right focus group participants.
How to run a focus group
There should be a moderator present to facilitate the discussion in the focus group. Since you’re the one looking for answers, that person will probably be you.
It’s also a good idea to have an assistant present to take notes and potentially record the focus group discussion for later review.
Start the session by thanking everyone for coming. Then briefly explain the purpose of the event you’re organising and how the information will be used.
Here are some key things to remember as you moderate the focus group:
- Paraphrase long or ambiguous comments from participants to make sure you’ve understood them correctly.
- Stick to your moderating role: Avoid becoming a participant in the actual discussion.
- Make sure you’re not asking leading questions or affecting people’s responses with your tone or body language.
- Set (and enforce) some rules for the discussion to avoid people interrupting each other.
Once the session is over, thank everyone for coming. Remember to give them the promised incentives.
How to analyse the feedback and results
Transcribe the recording of the focus group discussion. Cut out all the superfluous small talk so you only focus on the important points.
Create a spreadsheet with the questions you’ve asked. Fill in each participant’s answer to end up with a clear overview.
For each question, categorise the answers so it’s easier for you to understand the most popular ones. For instance, you might end up with the following categories for the “How do you discover upcoming events?” question:
- A: Social media
- B: Email newsletters
- C: Flyers and brochures
Once you’ve transcribed, coded, and categorised all the answers, it’s time to write up a report. Include all the major findings and any conclusions you can draw from them.
Tip: Here’s a good look at how to analyse focus group results.
Keep your focus
Focus groups are a great way for you to really get to know your target audience. It will give you insights that you wouldn’t be able to glean from a simple feedback survey.
That said, focus groups have a small sample size. That means you might have to run more than one session to ensure that you get all the relevant information.
Got first-hand experience running focus groups for events? Share your experience with us in the comments below!