Bring Customers to Life at Corporate Events with Onstage Focus Groups

clapping audienceLet’s face it–attending multi-day conferences can be challenging. After a while, speeches and workshops feel the same, and most speakers talk about the same topics with slight variations. You’re sitting there thinking, “Oh no, not this again,” as your mind wanders to everything you need to get done back at the office or home.

Successful corporate events are those that enlighten and entertain at the same time; this should be the goal of every event planner and decision maker influencing meeting strategies and agendas.That is why staging a customer focus group for a large audience can easily become the most memorable highlight of a conference.

“So how am I doin’?”

Listening to your customers tell you what you’re doing to delight them and what you’re doing to disappoint them is a truly illuminating experience. And it can be fun! It’s like using Mayor Ed Koch’s famous catch phrase, “So how am I doin’?” Attendees are thrilled to hear directly from customers and appreciate getting their honest, unabashed responses to this question—sometimes it confirms their assumptions, but there can also be big surprises.

Recently, I conducted a focus group in front of 200 attendees at a four-day telecom corporate event. The topic was around customer experiences and interactions with wireless carriers in stores, over the telephone and online. Looking out across the audience, I observed a great deal of intense listening, good-natured expressions of amusement and a genuine sense of gratitude toward the customers. The session ended with a thunderous standing ovation.

Tips to ensure a successful onstage group

And for all you moderators out there thinking, “Do I really want to do this?” or “What if it’s a ‘flat’ group” (which, of course, can happen from time to time), here are some guidelines to ensure a successful onstage group:

  • Make sure you have the right kinds of respondents. Take great care in recruiting people who are articulate and comfortable speaking in front of a large group.
  • Prepare the respondents. Send them a list of topics and questions in advance so they can give some thought to their responses before arriving. Explain to them that they are not performing or being evaluated, but rather the audience values them as customers and is simply interested in their candid opinions. And it’s OK to be negative!
  • Structure a two-hour group session in three stages:
    1. The Green Room: Spend about 30 minutes in a separate space with just the respondents. Warm them up and have them introduce themselves to each other. Start by asking questions that will be similar to those you will ask in front of the audience. Developing a good rapport with them will carry over to the stage—this is critical!
    2. A panel on stage: Don’t sit around a focus group conference table. It should be a living room setting with all respondents facing the audience. Make it feel more like a panel than a focus group. The moderator can sit alongside the respondents or walk the floor in front of the stage while asking questions. To manage potential nervousness, instruct respondents ahead of time to maintain eye contact with the moderator when answering questions and avoid speaking directly to the audience until the Q&A.
    3. Questions from the audience: This makes the focus group a truly interactive and compelling experience. You will be amazed at how much engagement it will generate. I allowed 30 minutes for this part of my last onstage group, and we could have gone on for another hour.

So if you are planning an event, I strongly recommend that you consider including a customer focus group or two. It will liven things up tremendously and round out the overall learning by listening to your customer’s perspective. Contact me to talk about qualitative research or how to add more fun to corporate events with onstage focus groups.

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