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The Moderator's Survival Guide

Book Description

The Moderator's Survival Guide is your indispensable resource for navigating the rocky shoals of your one-on-one user research sessions. Inside, you’ll find guidance for nearly 100 diverse situations (ranging from business-as-usual to tricky and sticky) that might occur during usability studies, contextual inquiries, or user interviews.

As a moderator, you are responsible for the well-being of the participant, your study, and your organization. You must be prepared for anything that may happen, from your technology failing to the participant quailing. Use this guide to identify your best next steps, react appropriately, and survive any challenges that comes your way.



  • Practical, field-tested, and actionable tips for what to do and say—and what NOT to do or say—in each situation.
  • Key patterns and extensive examples to sharpen your approach to the commonplace and prepare you for the unlikely.
  • Illustrative "survival stories" contributed by numerous professionals on the front lines of user research.

Table of Contents

  1. Cover image
  2. Title page
  3. Table of Contents
  4. Copyright
  5. Dedication
  6. Acknowledgments
  7. Survival Stories
  8. List of Videos
  9. List of Situations
    1. Frequent
    2. Occasional
    3. Rare
  10. Author Bios
  11. Introduction
    1. Why we wrote this book
    2. Who this book is for
    3. What you’ll learn
    4. One-on-one user research methods
    5. Language used in this book
    6. How this book is organized
    7. Sidebars and survival stories
    8. Companion website and videos
  12. Part 1: Your Moderation Toolkit
    1. Chapter 1. Moderation Matters: Power, Responsibility, and Style
      1. Abstract
      2. 1.1 “Are they laughing at me?”
      3. 1.2 Power and responsibility
      4. 1.3 The session ringmaster
      5. 1.4 The science and art spectrum
      6. 1.5 Your moderating style
      7. 1.6 Effective adaptation
    2. Chapter 2. In the Trenches: Six Steps for Handling Situations
      1. Abstract
      2. 2.1 Take a moment to evaluate the situation before jumping to action
      3. 2.2 Resolve any threats to physical safety
      4. 2.3 Verify that you’re not causing or magnifying the situation
      5. 2.4 Check the participant’s comfort level
      6. 2.5 Use careful language and tone to probe on the situation and begin to resolve it
      7. 2.6 Regain control to bring the session back on track
    3. Chapter 3. Mix and Match: Your Moderation Patterns Toolbox
      1. Abstract
      2. 3.1 Take responsibility
      3. 3.2 Clarify the task/question
      4. 3.3 Redirect the participant
      5. 3.4 Reassure the participant
      6. 3.5 Build engagement
      7. 3.6 Disengage from the participant
      8. 3.7 Take a break
      9. 3.8 Shift the focus
      10. 3.9 End the session early
      11. 3.10 Choosing the best pattern for your situation
  13. Part 2: Your Survival Guide
    1. Chapter 4. Recruiting Mishaps: Participants You Weren’t Expecting
      1. Abstract
      2. 4.1 Participant does not seem to meet a key recruit criteria
      3. 4.2 Participant either refuses to or can’t do a key task
      4. 4.3 Participant has an unexpected physical feature
      5. 4.4 Participant is unfamiliar with the equipment
      6. 4.5 Participant has difficulty reading
      7. 4.6 Participant or others ask you to help
    2. Chapter 5. Participant Misconceptions: Not What the Participant was Expecting
      1. Abstract
      2. 5.1 Participant thinks that she is participating in a focus group
      3. 5.2 Participant doesn’t want to be recorded or has other concerns about the consent form
      4. 5.3 Participant has different expectations for the compensation
      5. 5.4 Participant brings you to a conference room or other space instead of her office/workspace
      6. 5.5 Participant treats a contextual inquiry like an interview
      7. 5.6 Participant brings someone else to participate with her
      8. 5.7 Participant thinks the session is a job interview
      9. 5.8 Participant brings a child or pet to the session
    3. Chapter 6. Some Guidance Required: Participants in Need of Shepherding
      1. Abstract
      2. 6.1 Participant is reluctant to say anything negative
      3. 6.2 Participant does something you don’t understand
      4. 6.3 Participant is not thinking aloud
      5. 6.4 Participant is not able to complete a necessary task
      6. 6.5 Participant ignores or pretends to understand your question
      7. 6.6 Participant not approaching workflow naturally
      8. 6.7 Participant does not have any negative feedback
      9. 6.8 Participant believes he has successfully completed a task
      10. 6.9 Observers are not engaged in the session
    4. Chapter 7. Make it Work: Handling Technical Obstacles
      1. Abstract
      2. 7.1 Technical issues arise with your setup and/or equipment
      3. 7.2 Remote participant experiences difficulty joining
      4. 7.3 Facility loses its Internet connection
      5. 7.4 Remote participant drops off the call
      6. 7.5 Prototype or product changes unexpectedly
    5. Chapter 8. Is This Right? Responding to Uncertain Participants
      1. Abstract
      2. 8.1 Participant looks for affirmation
      3. 8.2 Participant asks for your opinion
      4. 8.3 Participant looks or sounds uncomfortable and/or nervous
      5. 8.4 Participant is self-blaming
      6. 8.5 Participant asks, “Did other people have trouble with this?”
      7. 8.6 Participant is unwilling or unsure
    6. Chapter 9. What’s Going On? Recovering from External Interruptions
      1. Abstract
      2. 9.1 Participant is running late
      3. 9.2 Observers are loud and distracting
      4. 9.3 Participant receives a call during the session
      5. 9.4 Participant cancels or is a no-show
      6. 9.5 Observer unexpectedly interacts with the participant
      7. 9.6 Session interrupted accidentally by an observer or someone else
      8. 9.7 Session interrupted by someone the participant knows
    7. Chapter 10. Get on Track: Overcoming Momentum Blockers
      1. Abstract
      2. 10.1 Participant starts going on a tangent
      3. 10.2 Participant consistently focuses on irrelevant details
      4. 10.3 Participant does something very unexpected
      5. 10.4 Participant is slow or thorough
      6. 10.5 Participant gives vague responses to questions
      7. 10.6 Participant is difficult to hear or understand
      8. 10.7 You don’t have time to complete everything
      9. 10.8 Participant struggles excessively with a task
    8. Chapter 11. Take the Wheel: Guiding Wayward Participants
      1. Abstract
      2. 11.1 Remote participant is obviously distracted
      3. 11.2 Participant is distressed by a personal line of questioning
      4. 11.3 Participant insists that she would never do something
      5. 11.4 Participant is frustrated by the prototype’s limited functionality
      6. 11.5 Participant seems annoyed at your neutrality
      7. 11.6 Participant does not seem to respect you or take you seriously
      8. 11.7 Participant becomes insulting or has an agenda
      9. 11.8 Participant becomes agitated by a product’s usability issues
    9. Chapter 12. A Delicate Touch: Addressing Sensitive Situations
      1. Abstract
      2. 12.1 Participant is extremely entertaining and friendly
      3. 12.2 Something personal, inappropriate, or confidential is visible
      4. 12.3 Participant is obviously distracted by external circumstances
      5. 12.4 Participant tells you something personal
      6. 12.5 Participant has a disconcerting or distracting physical attribute
      7. 12.6 You have to point out something potentially embarrassing
      8. 12.7 Participant seems upset
      9. 12.8 Participant has an unexpected disability or service animal
    10. Chapter 13. Uncomfortable Interactions: Responding to Awkward Situations
      1. Abstract
      2. 13.1 Participant curses or makes inappropriate comments
      3. 13.2 You know the participant, or the participant knows you
      4. 13.3 Participant knows an unexpected amount about you
      5. 13.4 Participant flirts with you
      6. 13.5 Participant does something awkward or uncomfortable
      7. 13.6 Participant makes a strangely specific request
      8. 13.7 Participant makes request during a site visit
    11. Chapter 14. Safety First: Minimizing Emotional and Physical Distress
      1. Abstract
      2. 14.1 Fire alarm goes off or the facility needs to be evacuated
      3. 14.2 A natural disaster (e.g., earthquake, tornado) occurs
      4. 14.3 Participant starts to look ill or otherwise unwell
      5. 14.4 You begin to feel unwell while moderating a session
      6. 14.5 You notice a bad smell or have an allergic reaction
      7. 14.6 Participant seems to be drunk or stoned
      8. 14.7 Participant touches you
      9. 14.8 Participant’s environment contains dangerous items
      10. 14.9 Participant is doing something illegal or threatening
  14. Part 3: Improving Your Skills
    1. Chapter 15. An Ounce of Prevention: Avoiding and Mitigating Situations
      1. Abstract
      2. 15.1 Recruiting process
      3. 15.2 Your study plan
      4. 15.3 The product, space, and technology
      5. 15.4 Your observers
      6. 15.5 Your technique
    2. Chapter 16. Sharpening Steel: How to Improve Your Skills and Help Others Improve Theirs
      1. Abstract
      2. 16.1 Working on your moderating skills
      3. 16.2 Integrating tips and feedback
      4. 16.3 Giving feedback to other moderators
      5. 16.4 Spread your wings
  15. Appendices
    1. Appendix A. What to Say
    2. Appendix B. Preparing for a Successful Session
      1. The recruiting process
      2. Your study plan
      3. The product, space, and technology
      4. Your observers
      5. Your technique
    3. Appendix C. Resources
      1. Books to help you plan, run, and analyze your user research session
      2. Professional organizations and conferences
      3. Web resources
    4. References
    5. Index