There is a definite art to moderating UX research studies and focus groups.
The moderator has to be able to make the research participant feel enough at ease that they quickly feel free to answer questions and give insights into their world.
The moderator has to follow the agreed upon structure of the study and make sure to cover all topics, while also listening and reacting to the user so the study feels like a conversation and not like going through a set of exercises.
And when things go off the planned path – which they often do – the moderator has to get things back on track (even through system failures or unruly participants).
The discussion guide
To help ensure that all goes smoothly, I always produce a detailed discussion guide that outlines for all involved what exactly the study sessions will cover. Delivered and signed off on before the study sessions begin, the discussion guide ensures that there are few surprises during research sessions.
View a sample: A Discussion Guide from a Cart Sort
Moderating a remote research session
This is me moderating a remote study on how baby boomers organize apps on their phones.
Note the sound quality when working remotely can vary greatly. This study was done for a series I was working on about learning to do your own research quickly and easily.