We are lucky enough to work in an industry which is fast paced, innovative and dynamic. It's definitely part of why I love being a quallie. Between that, and chatting to consumers, thinking about our client's challenges, telling stories...there's never a dull moment. This can leave you feeling like a jack of all trades: we sell, we interview, we analyse, and we debrief. And, while a lot of quallies get the most joy from analysis, there is no doubt that without good data, this can't happen.

AQR's Advanced Moderating Course, Seeing The Elephant In The Room, reminded me of what a great, eclectic bunch of people we are. Aimed at "advanced moderators" I was certainly nervous (cue those "first day at school" feelings). I honestly don't know why, it was two truly motivating and inspiring days. Attended by a range of skill levels, and skill sets it was a wonderful forum for engaging and sharing ideas.

The course had the perfect balance of structure and learning (broken into a number of sessions including clean language, projective techniques, behavioural economics), but with plenty of time to talk to each other and learn from one another's experiences.

We were a group of passionate researchers, there to share our knowledge and experience. Everyone had something to give. The value for me was not only in learning new techniques (and being reminded of so many wonderful old ones), but also in expanding my network. (No-one else truly gets what we do, do they?) We didn't get to moderate "mock-groups", we did something far more valuable: we were the respondents.

We got to place ourselves in the consumer's shoes and take the questioning. I have a newfound respect for respondents. While it may not always feel that way, what they do for us is actually really difficult. Which button is like sunny D? Well, that's a good question. What is behind the Mr Muscle door? Are you kidding me? Yet we fire questions like these, and more, at our respondents all the time, expecting them to deliver "because we are paying them, right?" The experience has really helped me reframe my questioning.

The course also helped me spot those throwaway comments that, if probed, make analysis so much easier — ask the question in the group, rather than two weeks later when a chart doesn't make sense! Guide respondents to tell the full story, avoid generalisations, and explain their metaphors. Help them discover something new, too.

Qual isn't that thing you do at the end of a project. It's what you do throughout the project. We need the great thoughts (respondents", clients" and our own) throughout, to feed our thinking. And without great moderating, we won't have the great data to turn into great stories. I left inspired, enthused, focussed; with a refreshed tool box in hand, grateful for the upcoming week of fieldwork to put the new skills into practice.