Can you start a story with a question? Yes, if you are sure of your answer. Something I learnt on AQR’s ‘Unlocking the secrets of storytelling’ course. I was also fortunate enough to attend the previous week’s moderating skills workshop. Both worked well at building knowledge and understanding of fieldwork, focused analysis and reporting your findings. Attending with an open mind, I was surprised at the varied experience levels of participants. The courses catered for all due to the down-to-earth, experienced tutors.

Having observed some focus groups I was looking forward to the first two days: moderator training. We covered theory to start, what a good moderator wants out of a group, and how to get it. This included the numerous roles a moderator has to play: group dynamics, projective techniques and starting with how to deal with tricky participants.

A key personal learning was the talent of ‘active listening’, leading you to be curious about any topic. This was used on our second day when we were given the chance to moderate. It was surprising to see the emotions elicited, and provided first-hand experience of how to be adaptable when things, inevitably, don’t go according to the discussion guide. We also acted as respondents and witnessed the power of the moderator’s actions from within the group.

I then attended the separate storytelling course. This showed how to distil the mountains of raw information that qualitative research provides into meaningful insights, ready to be presented most effectively back to your clients. There were practical tasks throughout, using the transcripts we had created from the previous week’s groups, and culminating in the production of a quick PowerPoint delivering an insight found. An actual client attended, giving her view on what she needed when receiving the results of a research project. Thankfully, she agreed with what had been said over the last two days.

Both courses are extremely worthwhile to those looking to build new skills or refine existing ones, with knowledgeable and experienced tutors ready to offer plenty of constructive advice.