Tools & Research Logistics

Scheduling and Running Sessions

Preparation for your user research sessions seems like a lot of work, but sitting down and running an interview or test? Now that’s just downright scary.

If you still need help finding people, getting your project in order, or even finding a good note-taking or video calling tool for the session itself, head over to our tools chapter.

Research can take many different forms, from comprehensive unmoderated surveys to qualitative user interviews. If you’re conducting unmoderated research, your sessions will happen and then you will review them. If you’re conducting moderated research, you’re there at the session talking to the participant and walking them through your study.

Finding Your Participants

There are lots of different ways to source your participants. You can find people who don’t use your platform with  a user recruitment tool or you can recruit your own users (you can even use a tool to recruit your own users, best of both worlds). How you find your participants will range depending on your budget and the scope of your study. If you don’t have a huge budget, you may want to consider emailing your own users or posting on social media to gain some participants. If you have a bit of a budget for recruitment, you can use recruitment services (like User Interviews) to find your participants.

Recruiting your participants will happen in similar ways, whether you are recruiting for moderated or unmoderated studies. The difference typically is that unmoderated studies cast a wider net and require more participants than moderated ones. This can vary though, depending on your study. For example, if you want quantitative research in which you need to prove statistical significance, you will need more participants. If you’re conducting usability tests or more qualitative research, generally you really only need 5 participants.
You will (almost always) have to consider the incentives you offer participants as a part of your research budget. Sometimes, you can get quick research without offering incentives. Things like quick surveys and ratings are usually pretty easy to obtain without offering incentives. A good rule of thumb is anything that takes more than about 5-10 minutes of your participant’s time should come with some kind of incentive. Incentives can be free things within your product, gift cards, or even cold hard cash.

Scheduling the Session(s)

Establishing a rapport with participants starts the second they are asked to participate in your study. You’ll need to be kind, friendly, and unassuming throughout the entire process. This starts the second they first come into contact with your research study. You’ll need to put a little work into making your study invitations inviting and warm. Luckily, we wrote a guide all about how to create awesome invites, check it out here.

If you’re conducting a moderated session your participant has to block off a specific time for, you’ll want to make scheduling the session as easy for your participant as possible. This is especially true for longer sessions. You don’t want to wear your participant out before you even get a chance to talk to them.

So skip the back and forth, “does this time work for you?” emails. There are many free tools on the market that can help you schedule sessions more effectively. You can check them all out here.

Be sure to leave yourself at least 15 minutes between sessions. This gives you extra time in case you have a talkative participant or something goes wrong. Even if everything goes right, having 15 minutes to polish your notes and gather yourself before the next session is helpful for your overall sanity when you’re doing a lot of research.

Running the Session

While you’re conducting your research, you’ll want to make an effort to balance being friendly, professional, and unbiased. This starts the second you call them into the session. If you’re conducting in-person interviews, try some small talk while you walk them to the interview room. If you’re conducting remote interviews, take some time when you first connect to ask them about their day, or to just chat. Make it clear that you’re there to listen to their insights without judgement. Need some expert help on getting interview subjects comfortable? Perhaps Terry Gross will do.

Be thoughtful about the environment your sessions will take place in. For in-person sessions having a few well thought out amenities available for your participants can go a long way. Offer your participants water, coffee, or something else to drink when they arrive at the session. Consider stocking your interview room with a few nice extras, like snacks or chargers, to make the session more comfortable for your participants.

Once you get into the interview, you’ll ideally have a note-taker, who is there to...take notes on the session so the moderator can focus on...moderating the session. Ideally, the note-taker just sits back, takes notes, and watches the session. The moderator asks questions, creates a rapport with the participant, and keeps the session running smoothly.

Occasionally, the session will get off track and the note-taker will need to nudge the moderator in the right direction. The note-taker can do this by passing a note (for in-person studies) or by sending a discrete message in the background (for remote studies). If the moderator slips up and accidentally asks a leading question, or says something that could sway the participant, no need to panic. The note-taker can just add a note with a few details on what happened so those insights can be weighted properly or discarded at the end of the study. You may also want to consider recording your research sessions so you can go back and look at them later. You can divide these roles as you want, but moderator and note-taker are a team.

This is the scariest part of running a research study: actually sitting down with a participant and talking to them. And the best way to deal with any nerves you may have about running sessions is to remind yourself of this little fact: you are just a person, sitting down talking to another person.

After the Session

Just because the actual research sessions are over, that doesn’t mean that you’re done with the research. You’ll still need to synthesize your notes, distribute incentives, and communicate your results with the rest of your team.

Reporting Your Research

Creating synthesized notes and research reports are almost as important as the research itself because, without them, the rest of your team wouldn’t be able to learn from your research. There are tons of ways to create accessible notes, from simple Google Docs to integrated solutions like productboard. You can check out our full list of Research Ops and Note Taking Tools here.

The most important thing to remember when creating notes and reports is to create something that is unbiased and easy for your team to understand the impact of. Quotes are a great way to get this across. If you have recordings of your sessions, inserting a few lines about how the user felt about something in their own words can be very powerful.

If you’re conducting quantitative research, visual aids like graphs and charts will help your stakeholders understand the scale of what you’re talking about. For example, if I said to you, “36% of people loved this, 23% liked this, 12% felt neutral, 21% didn’t like this, and 8% hated this” that’s a bit hard to visualize.

Creating a chart, like this one, showing instead of telling your insights helps your stakeholders see things more clearly.

For the User Interviews team, we find the best way to share our research notes is to share  presentations in periodic meetings combined with adding them into productboard the moment we finish the research session (when we’re on our A-game). The monthly meeting allows us to go over exactly what’s happened in the research and creates a jumping off point for asking more in-depth questions. Putting our insights in productboard helps us keep track of common requests and make sure we are prioritizing the right features with the right insight within the product roadmap. Productboard also allows us to gather insights from not-so-typical research, like email feedback or routine conversations with customers. This all may grow and change and evolve in the future, but for now, the most important thing is that we’re all doing research and comparing notes.

Distributing Incentives

After your session is over, you’ll also need to distribute your incentives to participants, if you included an incentive. You can do this in a number of ways, depending on what your incentive is.

If you included an incentive that is a part of your product, you’ll want to distribute it as soon as your project is over. Make sure you are capable of doing this quickly, since your incentive is a part of your product your distribution process will also reflect that.

If you’re sending out incentives like Amazon gift cards, PayPal payments, or other virtual cash, you should also do that as soon as your project is finished. Make sure to be conscious of any fees you or your participants may be charged to use this kind of incentive. If there is a fee associated on your participant’s end, you can either cover it in the incentive or be very clear with your participants that there are fees associated.

If you’re giving your participants something physical, like cold hard cash, lunch, or a gift card, make sure you have it ready for them when they finish the session. Before the session, when you’re gathering your notes and thoughts, make sure to get their incentive ready too.

If you don’t want to worry about your incentives, you can always let User Interviews distribute them for you! Through both Recruit and Research Hub we can distribute Amazon gift cards to your participants so you can focus on your research.


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