I just read a great interview Chris Rock did with Frank Rich (New York Magazine). I would highly suggest reading it if you want to become a better researcher in general and a better focus group moderator specifically. Part of what he talks about is expressing humor in the questions you ask. He finds this style of humor better than telling jokes which can be pretty cliché and stilted. He gives a current example…”How come white kids don’t get shot? Have you ever watched television and seen some white kid get shot by accident?” Pretty serious topic…but pretty funny when you hear Chris Rock ask the question. And the question makes you think! This gets me thinking that if there’s humor in a question, then it’s probably a better question than the obvious, safer… “How does it make you feel when you see black kids getting shot on TV?” question. So maybe we should look for the humorous question when we’re leading a focus group or an interview. It’ll probably be a better question if it makes people laugh.
Why is this? There’s a deeper, unspoken truth in humor. It’s as simple as that. When you ask a question that gets a laugh, people (respondents in our vernacular) think you’re real, smart, observant and may have an interesting perspective they want to weigh in on. And they know there’s a real conversation going on at another level. If asked the right way, it also says “I don’t take myself too seriously” and this can drop some barriers they have about expressing themselves.
Once in awhile I’ll ask respondents right when they come into the room…”okay, who just came for the money?” That’s a question that makes people laugh because it’s rooted in a deeper, unspoken truth. They don’t break up laughing but a few raise their hands and everybody smiles. Throughout the group or interview respondents provide me many opportunities to make an ironic observation or ask a question that makes them laugh. I hear these opportunities because I’m listening for a deeper, unspoken truth in what they’re saying.
I’ve moderated thousands of focus groups and interviews and humor is something that has always worked for me. Make a humorous observation by stating an unspoken but obvious truth; ask a “funny” question that gets them thinking about their behavior in a truthful light, remind them who they are based on something they’ve said earlier. It lightens the mood and opens the door for real truths. People leave the group saying, “that was fun, thanks.” Clients leave the groups laughing and saying “I’ve never heard that before, thanks.”
Here’s a link to the interview. Lots of interesting insight from a very funny man. Enjoy!
http://vult.re/11qYVWH via @vulture