Qual For Meetings

July 29, 2019

Leveraging Qualitative Best Practices for More Impactful Meetings

For those of us happily immersed in qualitative research, guidelines for designing and executing successful engagements may feel more like habit than practice. However, I was recently inspired by a client to consider leveraging qualitative best practices for a different purpose: to achieve more engaging, collaborative, impactful and, gasp! – FUN – meetings with colleagues and clients. 

Let’s face it, meetings aren’t always the highlight of the day. While important, meetings can feel overly long, monotonous, and lacking in energy. And, much like a focus group, participants are often a mix of strong, highly verbal personalities and more reticent team members – all of whom bring tremendous value to the discussion but the balance of which much be carefully managed.

So, how can we leverage qualitative best practices to drive more inspiring and productive meetings? Here are a few quick thoughts on where to start:

Prior to the Meeting

  • Consider your target audience and the objectives.  And, consider these carefully.  Having the right people in the room, engaging them appropriately, and ensuring you address the questions that led to the meeting in the first place will drive the tone and content of the entire experience. 
  • Prepare a discussion guide of key topics to explore, but remember: it’s a guide not a script. You’ll need to confidently flex from the outline to address the objectives while enabling a natural flow of conversation as participants start sharing their views.
  • Keep the questions open-ended, and keep yourself open-minded.  Refrain from asking leading questions or suggesting there’s a “right” or “wrong” answer.* This can be challenging within your own team, but it’s essential to get candid input from those at the table. *Unless, of course, there actually are right or wrong answers, which can be the case in meetings. If this is the situation, set clear expectations in advance.

In the Meeting

  • Set the tone immediately. You want participants to be comfortable. The more comfortable they are, they more they share their thoughts and opinions. The more they share, the more you learn, and the greater the impact of the discussion. While keeping it audience appropriate, create an atmosphere that encourages open discussion and creative thinking. This is especially important for longer meetings such as full day workshops; getting participants up and moving helps maintain the energy of the discussion. The moderator should also be active; get out of the chair and use the full space of the room. 
  • Evaluate for Clarity.  Don’t leave comments open to interpretation or assume the speaker intended it as you might have. Listen carefully and probe for clarity, such as whether a certain term was meant in a positive, negative, or neutral way.
  • Engage Everyone.  Ensure all participants are engaged, heard, and understand that their input is valued. This means empowering quieter participants as well as managing those who would happily dominate the discussion if allowed.
  • Collect Individual Views.  Ensure understanding of individual feedback, even within a group setting.  For example, have participants jot down their thoughts in response to a question before opening it up to group discussion. This creates a need to commit to a point of view before potential group bias sets in. This also provides the discussion leader with several viewpoints to reference as needed to challenge the discussion and offer up different perspectives for consideration. 
  • Offer Counter Views.  Play the role of devil’s advocate and encourage all points of view. Respectfully challenge participants who contradict themselves or won’t commit to a point of view.


Successful qualitative engagements aren’t about asking as many questions as possible in the time available. Great qualitative is about engaging the right audience in the right way and asking the right questions, leading to thoughtful reflection, open discussion, freedom to build on others’ perspectives, and, ultimately, break-through learnings. Jessica Ritzo is Vice President & Global Head of Qualitative at PSB.  For more information on PSB’s qualitative practice, please contact Jessica at

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