Q & A with Vivian

  1. What three skills does a great moderator need?

    First, listening skills. I really believe the best moderators listen more than they talk. I think of myself as a tool to open up your customers and get them talking about what you want or need to learn.

    Second, focus. This is important in two ways. While we develop a guide to outline the flow of the discussion, we rarely refer directly to it or use it as a script. The moderator needs to internalize the conversation flow to such a degree he or she can put the guide aside and focus wholly on the conversation before them. But a moderator also needs to focus on what individual respondents are saying, in order to refer back to a specific comment later in the conversation when it makes more sense to do so.

    Third, flexibility, both in the group and in the backroom. As I said, the guide is not a script, and a great moderator knows this and is comfortable moving with the conversation as it naturally flows, as long as it remains relevant to the objective. And being flexible with clients in the backroom is key as well, because project needs and ideas evolve.

  2. How did a background in literature prepare you for a life in qualitative research?

    In a broad sense, the study of literature is the study of humanity. It is about exploring the lives of others -- other people, in other times, in other lands, through the written word. So the student of literature is, at her very core, curious about people. That's the first and perhaps obvious connection.

    But there is a practical connection as well, and that has to do with the analytic process. Simply put, literary analysis involves exploring a set of qualitative information (the text), identifying themes and patterns, and making sense of what we've found. This is also what we do in qualitative research.  As it turned out, my time in the humanities prepared me well for a life as a moderator, analyst, and consultant.

  3. What three words describe your life in Portland, Maine?

    Although we've lived in Maine for more than 20 years, we're very new to Portland, so I'm sure this perspective will change over time, but for now, here are my words:

    Coffee. Breezes. Otto.

    (If you're not local, that last one is the best pizza in town; try the roasted pineapple, bacon, and red pepper flake! You won't be sorry.)

Behind The Owl

On the day I left my last job in February 2008, I drove home through the snow thinking about this new business I was about to begin. As I passed under telephone wire, I noticed a barred owl perched there—a bit strange, as owls are not a typical sighting, especially on a snowy afternoon. But there he was—solitary, strong, braving the cold and snow to stake his ground. As I launched VMHQ, this owl became a personal but private totem, a lucky charm.

It's a fitting symbol for a moderator and researcher, as owls have very keen listening skills.

Privately, I also love that much of the owl’s hunting success lies in its ability to be stealthy, to slip through the night observing but unnoticed. Unlike some moderators who like to perform for their clients (peacocks, maybe), I prefer to create an environment where I slip into the background and bring the focus to the respondents. So whether I’m embarking on the first interview of the day or analyzing research late at night, solo, I remember that owl.