As Rihanna would say: “Watch and learn”. Well, I’d been there, done that, observing a number of focus groups and workshops prior to AQR’s Hands On Mod Skills Course. I’d also made copious notes while watching moderating maestros at work.

But I was realistic enough to know that all this was one step removed. I was just hoping that the training day would do what it says on the tin. My aim? To learn how, when faced with a roomful of respondents, to conduct the flow of conversation seemingly without effort while scoring all the right insights.

Maybe I should have aimed higher. This wasn’t a day that was restricted to teaching newbies how to keep respondents talking. One of the highlights for me — and also one of the major challenges — was the chance to experience first-hand how projective techniques designed to get the best out of respondents actually work.

My colleagues and I took part in a number of these exercises. The beauty of this course is that we were then able to take that learning and apply it so readily when we stepped into the moderator’s shoes later in the day. If there was one part of this particular course which most of us had viewed with trepidation, this was it. Yet strangely enough, once the time came, our experiences earlier in the day had buoyed us up so that we were ready and raring to go. And the different methods for uncovering respondents’ subconscious perceptions that we all mastered will be a key asset in my moderating tool kit of the future.

Maybe you never stop ‘watching and learning’. I hope not, but at some point you have to put your learning into practice — and I’ve just run my first ever focus group. The techniques, tips and confidence I gained from this course were absolutely invaluable on the day. Bring on the next group!