Sharpen your Voice through Focus Groups–Part 2

Cheryl Dore expands on a recent Write Start session with the second of a two-part post. See link at end of post for her upcoming workshop at NCWA’s Renewal Conference.

Most communicators, including myself waste a great deal of time and energy if we don’t shape the issue first. Determine how to hit real needs. The temptation when something feels amiss is to work harder or turn to faddish solutions and speak to unidentified needs. The real problem remains. We are not listening. The only way to be relevant and excellent is to listen. Take the time to meet people where they are in their thoughts and in their hearts to be effective communicators.

Focus-groups are informal sessions that bring people together to listen. They uncover the heart and answer tough questions. They can be our best friend, broaden our perspective and create awareness. Prevent us from trying to solve a problem when we don’t know what it is.


  • Broaden your perspective
  • Uncover the real need of your target audience
  • Provide a consensus so you’re not alone in your diagnosis
  • Provide life experience to craft characters for non-fiction writers
  • Provide stories and illustrations to support your main point
  • Provide original quotes, those not yet copy-written
  • Provide insight into behavior and motivation
  • Provide gender or generationally specific language for crafting characters


The organization of a focus-group is quite simple. What you take away is more valuable than the time you will invest. Here are five simple steps to organize a focus-group and uncover the real need of your target audience.


  • Invite 6 to 10 people
  • Include people who represent the three worlds, the Bible, the modern world, and the particular world you are called to reach
  • Choose participants with similar association and interest (i.e., a group of women interested in a flourishing life, men passionate about prayer, Sunday school teachers interested in curriculum)


  • Set a date and time
  • Limit the time planned to 90 minutes
  • Develop 3-5 key questions to cover your topic of interest
  • Be mindful of questions that direct conversation
  • The setting should be comfortable
  • Include refreshments to make participants feel appreciated
  • Arrange seating so participants face one another
  • Include name tags for better interaction


  • Create powerful questions by using “what” instead of “why” as it’s less confrontational
  • Be mindful of questions that “direct” conversation and further your goals in communication

Examples of Directional Questions:

  1. “Several people have mentioned ______. I’m curious about what the rest of you have to say about that?
  2. “I’m surprised that no one has mentioned ______. Is that important or not?”
  3. “I’m remembering when some of you said ______. How does that fit in?”
  4. “What has made ______ easier for you and what kinds of things have made ______ harder?”


  • THE  LEADING QUESTION: It opens up discussion and introduces the topic. Example: “What are your thoughts when the idea of a flourishing life is presented?”
  • THE  STEERING QUESTION: It creates direction and gets the group back on track when you digress. Example: “When would (tangential example) apply to a life that is flourishing?”
  • FACTUAL QUESTION: They are non-threatening and unambiguous to help diffuse a group that gets emotionally charged. Example: “At what age does the hope of a flourishing life become important to most people?”
  • OBTUSE  QUESTION: Questions presented in a manner that invites the group to respond from the perspective of another. Example: “What might the argument be of those whose lives are anything but flourishing?”
  • FEELING QUESTION: Invite diversity of thought and feeling. Example: “What are your feelings and your experience on the topic?”
  • SUMMARY QUESTION: Conclude by asking participants to summarize their take away after hearing ideas and opinions expressed by the group.


  • Individual interviews can be more in-depth than a focus-group
  • You cover more ground interviewing one on one
  • A potential weakness of a focus-group is members not expressing their personal opinion, but confirming to popular opinion
  • Focus-groups can be used in tandem with individual interviews
  • Perhaps explore your topic first with a focus-group, then seek private information through individual interviews

Our very own focus-group is a tool to becoming an insightful communicator. It is a roadway to the heart of our target audience. One-on-one interviews are doorways to stories that have never been told—uncharted paths that uncover heart ache and heart break. Without the perspective of those we hope to reach our view is one sided. It is limited. In some ways it may even be prejudiced.

Let’s make it our goal as communicators to grow in perspective and meet real needs. To be impactful we’ll need to be available and inquisitive. To be the hands and feet of Jesus to a world looking for answers we’ll need to wrap our words with compassion. The kind we get when meeting people where they live.


Cheryl Dore will co-teach a workshop on public speaking at NCWA’s Renewal Conference on May 20-21.

She has been a member of NCWA since 2008. Cheryl is NCWA’s Speaker Connection Coordinator and Women’s Leadership Advantage, Executive Director.  A growing network of peer mentors empowering women to live a life of intentional design and purpose. It’s our conviction that every woman is a gift and every gift counts. To hear her weekly audio tweets visit her website:


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