Research? Promotion? Yes

I was talking with a web client the other day, and I was reminded of a trick that you can use to gain valuable information about your programming or your website—and promote it at the same time.

Have a “Listener Lunch” where you host about a dozen dedicated listeners or website visitors to have a free-flowing discussion about what they like, what they don’t like, and what improvements they might suggest. Have about five or six members of your staff in attendance as well—be sure to include key air personnel.

Promote this heavily on the air; make a contest out of it: “We want to know what our best listeners think about X-103, so we’re hosting our first-ever Listener Lunch. If you’re a fan, go to and apply. . .”

For the price of a restaurant trade and a few promos, you have a focus group. (Caveat: what you don’t have is a professional facilitator or a sophisticated participant-selection process, but you’re also not paying tens of thousands dollars.)

About the facilitating part: it’s okay for the discussion leader to be a member of the station staff. That person should be in management (general manager or program director), not particularly well known to your guests, and someone who has the ability to remain objective and neutral.

The last thing you want is your facilitator to exhibit any reaction at all—even and especially subtle body-language cues—no matter how negative or damaging the conversation might be. Remember, you are doing this to see your programming or your website through the eyes of your listeners; you won’t learn a thing unless you encourage their thoughts and opinions.

Another thing for the facilitator to be alert to: you are likely to have one or more people who are shy about expressing themselves, and typically one person who is going to try to dominate the proceedings.

In the case of the former, once you have established that they are not participating (give it two or three topics), encourage their participation in a gentle, nonthreatening way: “Betty, do you think the Dunk a DJ contest was a good idea?”

As for the would-be dominator, you needn’t be quite so gentle but you want to be polite. Again, you will figure out within two or three topics who your dominator is (there is almost always one): he or she will want to be first in responding, the opinions will be forcefully expressed, and most often those opinions will be negative. When you see this behavior, the next time he or she jumps in, say, “Fred, let’s hear from a couple of other people on this one first.”

You should plan on recording a video of the event, preferably from two or three angles. (Pick up two or three tripods and cell phone mounts; if you spend more than $50 on Amazon I’ll be surprised.)

It’s important that the station staff members remain mute during the process. Your guests may try to elicit staff members’ opinions or participation (or approval); you should prepare your staff for this ahead of time and coach them on avoiding becoming involved.

For the sanity of any staff members attending the lunch, especially the facilitator, opinions and responses can prompt strong mental reactions when you first hear them, which is why it’s important to understand this principle and remain calm and non-judgmental throughout. And that’s why it’s important to record the proceedings. When you review the recordings, the ideas expressed by your participants will have different intellectual and emotional impact—and you will be able to evaluate them more clearly.