- Conduct Focus Groups in a quiet room
- Microphone/recorder placement is key
- Consider recording on video if possible
- Reconsider focus group size if more than 8 to 10 participants
The biggest issue we find with focus groups is poorly recorded audio. It requires deliberate effort and thought to record one well.
First and foremost, a focus group should be conducted in a private room that is quiet and cut off from outside noise. The worst place to record is in a restaurant.
Be sure to check for ‘hidden’ sources of noise.
- Air conditioning and heating systems are the biggest source of hidden noise. The human ear rapidly adjusts to it, but it shows up loud and clear on recorders as ‘white noise’ and should be avoided. If you can not turn off or down these systems, please be sure to conduct the recording as far away from the vents as possible.
- Office or industrial equipment: Refrigerators, soda vending machines, copiers, servers, etc all usually have fans and/or compressors that constantly run. Avoid conducting a focus group in a ‘break room’ for example.
- Open windows. Avoid allowing ambient noise from the exterior of the building into the room.
Once a room has been chosen, selection and placement of the audio recorder is important.
Quality Recording Device:
A quality standalone recorder will produce much better results than most consumer ‘dictation’ recorders or Smart Phones. They are not sufficient to adequately record a focus group because the microphones in them are very tiny. We recommend purchasing a recorder such as the Zoom H2n or the Tascam DR-05 which have good built-in microphones. The Zoom H2n is particularly good for focus groups because it has high quality microphones on both sides of the recorder.
Microphone or Recorder Placement:
With regard to placement, it is a natural instinct for the person conducting the session just set the recorder next to themselves. This is a mistake! The recorder should always be placed in the middle of the table with the participants surrounding it.
Small Focus Group:
Place the stereo recorder such as the Zoom H2n or the Tascam DR-05 in the center of the table with the microphones pointed towards the participants as much as possible. The Zoom H2n has a "Front/Back" microphone mode that is particularly useful for focus groups.
|Small Group: Place the recorder in the center of the table.|
Large Focus Groups:
|Large Group: Use multiple microphones|
If you have a large focus group with more than 8 participants, we recommend that you use two microphones and run them into the same recorder. Place one microphone at one end of the table and one at the other end. Run the cables from each microphone into the LEFT and RIGHT channel of a stereo recorder such as the Zoom H2n or the Tascam DR-05. You will need a splitter to combine the two microphones into one stereo stream. The recorder itself can be placed in the middle of the table for convenience.
Recording on Video:
If possible, we recommend recording focus groups on video, particularly if you’d like us to track who is saying what. When recording video, we highly recommend that you still use external microphones and place them on the table. Using the microphone built into the camera is not ideal because it will generally be too far away from the participants of the focus group to record their audio well.
External microphones can be attached to most video cameras either via a long extension cable or through wireless microphones. Please call if you’d like more advice on getting the right gear going for this scenario.
A better option is to use a professional focus group facility in your area. These are often already set up to professionally record both the audio and video of your focus group. When booking such facility, be sure to ask if each individual participant will be microphoned (ideal) or how they record the audio if not.
Focus Group Size
As the size of the focus group grows, the challenges with recording the session well will increase. In particular, it will be harder and harder to guarantee that a participant is close enough to a microphone to be heard.
Another problem will be the tendency of participants to talk on top of each other when there’s a large group
On very large focus groups, we recommend using a professional facility that can set up and record with multiple microphones, often one per participant.