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Did this event really happen? Or is it simply a myth? I’ll leave you to track it down at the Imperial War Museum. Turning now to focus groups for more myths: “Can you keep the warm-up down to 5 minutes?” How many times have I heard that request?

It is one of the most common misunderstandings of group process to assume that you can cut the warm-up to the briefest of introductions and then proceed with your topic guide as if your participants are really there! If you were sitting in a group of strangers in an unfamiliar setting about to embark upon an encounter that you hadn’t seen the agenda for, how much of yourself would you have ready to put on show?

I would be pretty scared, at the very least nervous, and cautious about coming forward. If I were a participant, quickly I would appraise the moderator – the person in charge – and then my fellow members, looking for a friendly or attractive face and choose a strategy (“I’ll take my turn but not go first/make a joke whenever I can/talk about my kids/try to figure out what they really want/look at my knees/feet/coffee/play with my mobile/fiddle with my collar.”)

A whole bunch of displacement behaviour occurs in such groups. People are keeping most of themselves hidden, avoiding awkward silences but not breaking any boundaries or norms. Into this shy, nervous, occasionally impulsive gathering you must start to ask the questions you have agreed with your client – who may be watching you, while talking to friends and colleagues (about you?) behind the glass – with a glass of wine in hand.

Because it is so hurried, so lacking in time and the safe invitation to come forward in that first few minutes, it is quite usual that one group member is more outgoing and forward than the others and gets the approval of the moderator for livening things up in these early moments. 30 minutes later this forward person has become a ‘dominant respondent’ and won’t shut up. Dominant respondents are only 10% driven by personality factors: the other 90% is the result of group process.

If you do the first twenty minutes differently you will never be bothered by dominant respondents again – or even if the odd unquenchable tongue-wagger shows up – you’ll know exactly what to do. See my Technique Tip 5: dominant respondents. If you would like a pdf of this post, it is here: