AB Thinks  →  5th October 2022

Bubbles and balloons: how to get the most from your focus groups

Want to get your frontline feeding back, your C-suite sharing, your ops team opening up? Get them blowing bubbles.

That’s just one tip from ‘development communications’ professional Mari Lee on episode 67 of The Internal Comms Podcast. From border zones to boardrooms, Mari is an expert in facilitating focus groups that engage employees in meaningful, genuine and productive dialogue.

Bubbles, she says, are a great tool for focusing attention on the discussion at hand. They engage the diaphragm, helping participants to take a deep breath and consider the space around them.

Surrounded by iridescent bubbles, suddenly even your most senior executives are engaged and ready to share insights, opinions and ideas that could help influence positive change across the company.

Or, if you find there’s an elephant in the room that no one wants to address, try balloons. Mari asks three volunteers to blow up balloons until they pop. The tension rises as the balloons swell. Everyone knows they’re going to pop eventually, and they hold their breath until they do.

It’s a fitting metaphor for what happens in organisations when we don’t tackle those tricky topics – and it helps relax attendees into responding rather than slumping into an awkward silence.

Visual techniques such as these engage the senses, Mari says, giving participants permission to play and to be human. After all, it’s no good inviting participants to a focus group if they don’t feel safe or engaged enough to actually participate.

So, if qualitative research is fundamental to your IC strategy – which Mari would argue it absolutely should be – introduce some physical prompts that will not only help to illustrate your point, but encourage your employees to get involved.

Mari recommends The Development Communication Sourcebook, available for free from the World Bank website, for a whole host of helpful techniques, tools and tactics for facilitating meaningful conversation that will, in turn, help facilitate meaningful change inside your business.

Hear more from Mari Lee on episode 67 – The ABC of research: Ask, believe, change. Or find out more and listen back to all episodes of Katie Macaulay’s The Internal Comms Podcast.