By Dr. Sharon Livingston

Has this ever happened to you?

  1. You arrive at the facility before a long day of one on ones with ob/gyns. It's the third day of four days on the road. You're dragging your wheelie, laptop and attache case with discussion guide and job folder, anxious to plop it all down. You're hair is disheveled, you need to use the rest room, you haven't had breakfast, your still getting over the cabbie who seemed to be "pretending" he didn't know where he was going so it took an extra half hour to find the place, So after you drop everything in the back room, and start the dash to the lavatory, you call out to the hostess, "Do you have a Fed-ex for me?" The agency changed the boards and promised to priority over night them for this morning. She says, "I'll check" and you take your potty/grooming break.

     

    Ahhh. That's better, you think to yourself as you walk back in. Judy looks up from her station at the reception desk and shakes her head from side to side, "Nothing yet, " she says. Hmmmmm. "Could you call Fed-ex please, it was supposed to be here at 8am." It's now 9 o'clock, you have a video conferenced meeting with the client to go over changes; the first interview is at 10 and Dr. Graham is already there. (Thought if he came early, you might let him out earlier.) Judy asks. "Do you have a confirmation number?" You're kidding aren't you, you think to yourself.

    "Let me check with my client. Is anyone there yet on the other side?" "Yes, you're all set up. The technician is in the back room." Big smile and hopeful tone, "Hi Josh, does anyone happen to have the Fed-ex number on the boards? They haven't arrived yet."

    This conversation goes back and forth between you and the client, you and the hostess, the client and the agency, the agency and the hostess, the agency and Kinko's, Kinko's and the hostess. No boards, no reasonable facsimile of a board on e-mail because the file's too big. The doctor is now pacing back and forth motioning at his wrist whenever he can catch the hostess's eyes and you have nothing to show.

  2. You're the market research manager at a Fortune 100 package goods company. The results came in from a quantitative study that needs to be fleshed out in qualitative. You want some of the synergy of group process but you only have enough sample to yield one mini group in Boston and one in Chicago. You think to yourself, "What is my moderator going to charge me to travel toBoston and Chicago for one group per market? These groups are going to be ridiculously expensive. But we really need to understand what happened here."

    Meanwhile, the moderator you contacted is thinking, "Do they honestly want me to put in all that travel for one little groupper day? How can I justify that financially? How can I charge them appropriately without them feeling gouged or me feeling abused?" Yeeeeeeeeesh!

  3. Tight time schedule. Here we go again. Ten one hour interviews each day in three dispersed cities. The client's watching from home office while you're zipping from city to city. Just enough time to work, travel, work, travel, work, travel. Sleep? A little. Eat? Grab whatever between interviews. Exercise? Running around the airport looking for your gate. Think? Just about the project. You know the drill.

    So here it is. It's the end of day two and you've made it to the airport early enough to take the 6:30 flight from Atlanta to Chicago instead of the 7:10. Cool. Maybe an extra half hour of sleep or some extra time to check your e-mail. "God, I hope they have a fast connection," you think to yourself. You check in at the counter, get your boarding pass and head down towards your gate. You look at the board behind the gate desk, and that dreaded word is posted. DELAY. Just 30 minutes. No biggie. That's what it was going to be anyway. To spare you the shaggy dog story, all flights to Chicago were delayed . . . until the next morning at 5 am. But they held you hostage for hours before telling you about it, cajoling you with promises of 30 more minutes, one hour, 20 minutes, until it's too late to go to a hotel and get back in time for the early out flight. Did you catch any sleep? No.

    Was there anything to eat? By the time you settled into the reality of being stranded, all the food stands had closed. You plug in your computer, do a little work summarizing the last two days, play a video game that you keep resident in your computer for just such occasions, shut down, walk around, read a magazine, make conversations with other stranded people and try to keep yourself occupied for the night. No way are you going to be able to sleep.

    The 5am plane does take off. You get there an hour before the first interview. No shower available. Hurry up wash your face, comb your hair, put on some deodorant. Don't even bother to change your clothes because it's too much effort to grab stuff out of your bag right now. With the help of a gazillion cups of coffee you somehow make it through day 3 of the project.

  4. You, your team and the moderator are on your way to Orlando to see the next set of groups. The flight originates in Dallas. You're making great time to Tampa, where the pilot takes a sharp right and heads down to Ft. Myers. A calm voice comes over the loudspeaker, you know the one, "Folks, there appears to be a serious wind sheer over Orlando. We don't have enough fuel to circle until it dissipates. We've been instructed to land in Ft. Myers, refuel and get you back in the air." That was at 10:30 am. After a long series of false starts, where no one has been permitted to deplane and no one's cell phone seems to function you finally arrive in Orlando at 9 pm in the midst of what would have been the third group.
  5. You're a NYC moderator. You have 6 groups in California with consumers - Moms and Teens. The topic is acne. Your charge is to plum the depths of their psyche's with regard to their skin conditions. It's January. Guess what happens. BLIZZARD! All planes are grounded. Cars are stranded on the roads. It takes your clients in PA 3 hours to go what's ordinarily 15 minutes to their office where the video conferencing center is located.

    Now what?

  6. (Note: this one is a little too close for comfort this month, but it DID actually happen to me!). I had to go to Tampa, (what is it with Tampa?) to conduct focus groups on coffee. We had groups at 3, 6 and 8. Unfortunately, there was a man on the plane who preferred to go to Havana. Fortunately, no one was harmed. The captain and flight attendants kept the situation under wraps until we landed in Cuba. (This is a long story if anyone ever wants the details!) Poor Diane, a young planner at the agency was thrown in without any prep to run the first two groups. I actually got back in time to lead the last one.
  7. Very recently, in the last week, John Houlahan, president of Focus Vision told me about the Esomar convention in Italy where Focus Vision had a demo booth. Due to the WTC impact on flight interruptions, two speakers were unable to make it to the conference. Thinking on his feet, an Esomar planner remembered that Focus Vision had a booth. The reps contacted John and got the go ahead to role the demo equipment into the main hall where the audience was waiting. One speaker conducted his speech interactively over Focus Vision from a Boston facility. The other broadcasted from Chicago.

Couldn't we all go on and on?

The point of all this was how these types of obstacles got me to moderate via video conferencing. Necessity truly is the mother of invention. Story #1 was the first time I personally used video conferencing interactively with a participant. We had no choice. The materials were lost. My client had a full set of 2' by 3' boards back in NJ. We worked it out that instead of just passively observing, at the appropriate moments he would expose the "ad-like objects" to the doctor. The Focus Vision operator pointed the camera at Josh who was holding the board. He zoomed in so we could see it clearly. The doctor was able to read it and comment as he would if the board were in Atlanta with us. After the first few interviews, Josh got brave and in a timid voice from behind the concept board, asked the doctor a question. The doctor raised his eyebrows indicating a little surprise, then smiled and responded. Out of curiosity about process, I allowed the video interview to continue. The doctor was animated and engaged. If anything, talking back to the TV seemed to make the interview a little more exciting and fun for him.

I was so intrigued that I wanted to try it myself. Up until that point, I had only used the interactive aspect for briefing and debriefing with my client team. I got the client, an old friend to agree to do the next wave of one-on-ones remotely. I told him that I was willing to credit him and redo the interviews, if the talking monitor didn't seem to elicit good responses. He agreed, having had a good response himself.

We had patient animatic commercials to show in the next round. Again, one on ones. I have to admit I was a little nervous. What if people wouldn't talk to me? How smooth would the transmission be? How comfortable would it be? Were there things I should be considering in this modality that I hadn't considered or just didn't know about? We had to work out the logistics about showing the tapes while still being able to talk to, observe and interact with the respondent. I needed to feel reassured that I had just as much connection with the facility and choices when more than one person showed up. (Sometimes we prefer the floater for one of several reasons.) There were a number of details. Did we tell the respondents ahead of time or just break it to them when they arrived? Did it matter what they wore? Should someone be in the front room with them? Did I have to be in a different room than my clients? If so, how were they going to get me messages?

The first time I interviewed a group over Focus Vision was again out of necessity. I had become comfortable with one on ones, but hadn't applied the technology to groups. At the last minute, we were snowed out. No one was able to get to an airport let alone fly out. The planes were grounded for two days. Ach! What to do? The information from the groups was tied to a series of deadlines. No group? No commercial. We were already set up for video conferencing at the client end. I contacted a local facility, found a tech to help and we were off and running. It was a little more awkward than doing an IDI at first, but I found the group's pace after a few minutes; they then followed my lead and video conferencing saved the day and the deadlines.

The end result in both cases, IDI's and Focus Groups, was that the method worked. People were forthcoming with comments. They seemed equally responsive to the moderator being there in the room with them. We received feedback from the facilities afterwards that consumers enjoyed it. More than a few thought it was actually a bit liberating.

They felt more comfortable sharing thoughts with the monitor than a person in the room. The "distance" seemed to make it safer. They weren't going to run into me after the panel. They felt less visible and scrutinized than with a "teacher" in the room. Moreover, it was so freeing to me. I could go to work nearby, meet with my clients leisurely, drive instead of dealing with plane hassles and changes in schedules, sleep in my own bed, kiss my husband goodnight, pet the dog, cuddle the kitty, eat salad I made myself, go to the gym, talk to my office real time instead of playing voice mail telephone tag, etc. etc. The tapes were all together in one location so there was less chance of losing them in shipping. I slept like a normal person so I felt fresh each day of the interviewing. I had more energy and felt more upbeat about everything. This translated into being able to devote more quality time to work since I was traveling less and feeling refreshed.

My thinking was clearer. The client received his both his topline and final report ahead of schedule.

So, yes, I'm a strong proponent of Talking Head research. It makes life better for the moderator and the clients and still gets as deep as you want to go. We have conducted projective exercises on very touch topics with excellent results.

Here are some of the things you'll need to do to ensure success:

A) LEARN THE SYSTEM: It is important to feel comfortable with the videoconferencing system, so take time to experiment and practice with it before your IDI or group starts. An experienced tech is an essential part of the setup and operation. Have tech person in the room with you to help things along, make adjustments, problem solve on the spot.

Opt for a Large Monitor for a good view of the group. When moderating groups, try to locate facilities that use big screen monitors for a better view of the participants. When using standard sized monitors ask the tech to use the picture in picture feature to periodically zoom in on individuals in the group so you can capture their expressions.

B) PREPARE THE PARTICIPANTS IN ADVANCE: Let respondents know this will be a Talking Head interview or group. Make it fun, an event, something different so they will be excited to take part. Prepare a template document for the facilities to give respondents to ensure that what you want them to say will be communicated.

C) EMPLOY INSTANT MESSAGING: This makes for easy communication with all observers as well as the remote facility personnel.

D) DRESS APPROPRIATELY: Wear solid colored clothing rather than bold, complex patterns. Stripes or busy patterns will cause the camera's focus to oscillate and destroy picture clarity. Also, wear dark or neutral colors. Participants should be given similar dress code direction.

E) MOVE AND GESTURE SLOWLY AND SMOOTHLY: The compressed video system cannot transmit rapid movements without some loss of picture quality, so move in a fluid, non-distracting way. Move and gesture normally, but avoid swaying, rocking or pacing. If you like to walk around, go ahead, but make sure you know the parameters of the camera range. You can tape off your spot so you know exactly how far you can go.

F) MAINTAIN APPROPRIATE ON-CAMERA POSITIONING: Position yourself on-camera according to the elbows and wrists rule: when you stretch out your arms, the edge of the screen falls between your elbows and wrists. Use close-ups shots judiciously. It is important that participants see your facial expressions, but remember that the camera is very sensitive to movement and will exaggerate blinking eyes, moving hands, or shifting in chairs. Make sure the camera's line of sight is not obstructed.

G) SPEAK IN A STRONG, CLEAR VOICE: Take advantage of the system to communicate naturally, using tone inflection and body language. You'll notice a small time delay for audio transmission, so continue your full thought once you begin speaking and avoid interrupting another speaker.

H) DEMONSTRATE GREATER INTEREST AND PATIENCE: Two-way compressed video systems usually exhibit an audio delay, so double your usual wait time after asking a question or soliciting comments. Also, make it easier for observers to process responses by repeating every question or comment a respondent makes, ensuring that the other sites can hear.

I) MAINTAIN ENTHUSIASM: Videoconferencing participants will find it difficult to pay attention if the subject is presented in a dead pan delivery. It's particularly important for the moderator to appear animated and lively. Use intriguing exercises when appropriate to engage the respondent(s).

Contact Information

Phone: 646-600-6566

email: The Livingston Group for Marketing

Address:
The Livingston Group for Marketing, Inc.
347 W 57th St., Suite 25C, NY, NY 10019

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