Focus groups have long been the domain of political campaigns – focus groups to test messages, focus groups to test appearances, focus groups to test images, sound bites, opposition research, research on a campaign’s own candidate – just about anything that one can test, political campaigns utilize focus groups to test. Focus groups have since become a staple in the corporate world, where products, messages, slogans, ad campaigns and competition are tested, regularly.
Litigators effectively utilize focus groups to test key messages (full disclosure – I often run them for litigators around the country). I find the true value in a focus group, whether used in politics, the corporate world or the legal world, not necessarily is the ultimate decision – we like your candidate, your product, or we decide for your client; but rather – here is what we don’t like, this is what we do not like about your client, your product, your message, your argument, etc.
I am a believer that every person, whether front line associate or CEO, can benefit from running a mini focus group prior to a high stakes speech, investor pitch or presentation, again, not to validate how “good” your presentation is, but to see where there are soft spots, weak areas and pain points, so that you can improve before the big day. Here are a few steps to set up a quick, effective focus group before your next big speech:
1. Know your audience – Who will be represented in the audience? All employees? Board Members? Investors? Have a representative from the various sectors that will be represented in the audience. The group does not have to big, nor does it have to be formal – it has to be representative.
2. Friend are not always your friends – When running focus groups for litigators, I shy away from having a firm member participate as a focus group member- if you are involved, you are involved. What you are looking for is distance from the issue. People you know, respect and trust, but do not necessarily spend all of your time with, often offer the best feedback.
3. Friends are not always your friends, Pt. II – For this reason, I try to avoid having people who are very close to each other participate as well – it tends to skew the dynamic and often overpower the group, leading to missing key feedback.
4. Preparation – I like to throw just about everything that I am planning on speaking about out there – sometimes I am just too close to the topic, and miss things that might be more effective and more beneficial to my audience; An unprepared speech or presentation will focus all of the attention on delivery and not much on the message – meaning that you will get half of the value. Spend some time preparing.
5. Ask! - If you are a front line associate, ask your mentor to sit in to represent executives. Conversely, C-level executives often balk at having a lower level associate watch a presentation first, and there is undoubtedly some risk to this – I have done it a number of times and it has worked every time. The key is to identify the right person to participate. You are looking for a very small group, again, not to validate how “good” you are, but to offer opinions and bring a different perspective.