In my early career as a researcher, my job was recruiting participants. As a recruiter, I was part of the whole process, and there was nothing worse than watching a session and realizing it was a flop because the participant was not what I had anticipated. Stakeholders can start to drop off the call, or even worse, the excitement of the research dwindled because they don't think you found the right people. 

So let's say it's 8:55am and you have a customer joining your research session at 9:00am. You have your script and your handy notepad ready to go. Now, it is 8:58am, the stakeholders have started to join the call in anticipation to learn about their customer and how they can make a better product from your research session. As the minutes tick by, you start to wonder, will the participant remember to show up? Answer your call? What they will be like? Will the participant be easy to talk to? Do they know what they are getting into? Will they fit the criteria? All these questions come up, and now it’s time for the live performance. This can be nerve wracking. After all, they will be doing most of the talking, or so you hope.

A thorough online screener


A good online screener can serve two key goals; It can tell you which customers fit the criteria and which customers an easily articulate themselves. This screener should consist of multiple choice questions and open-ended questions. You don’t want to go over 10 questions, so be thoughtful with what you ask upfront. The multiple-choice questions should help you understand if they fit the criteria for the goals of the study.  Your open-ended questions are a good resource to help you understand how the participants articulate themself. Short, one-word answers in a survey are often a good indication they may not be great for research. Apparently ethnio has an algorithm that rates the length of answers to open-ended questions, which I just learned.

Quick phone screen


I cannot emphasize this enough. This is your opportunity to see how they will perform live. Ask simple open-ended questions like; tell me a bit about yourself (hobbies, work, interests), tell me a bit about how you use [insert your product]. Using the first few questions in the research script is a good idea to give you sense of what it would look like when they are in the session. The phone screen also helps with accountability. If person feels more engaged in the activity up front it helps confirm they will show up for the live session.

Alleviate their skepticism


Hopefully, these folks are not experts in UX Research. Tell them about your goals and the purpose of involving them in the activity. Also, tell them what to expect. This helps to loosen them up and prepare them for the live session. 


Don't be afraid to dismiss


If someone doesn’t qualify, don’t be afraid to tell them no, you won’t regret it. Keep in mind, these folks have taken the time to fill out your online screener, and talk to you on the phone. Try to let them down gently. I often use “Although this activity is not a good fit, would it be ok to reach out to you in the future?” This seems to work well and makes them feel like they are still part of the research




Confirm, confirm, and reconfirm


People are busy and they may forget to put this on the calendar. I highly recommend sending the participant a calendar invitation and sending them a friendly reminder the day before the session. When you send the reminder, ask the participant to confirm that they are still able to make it. This will ensure that you are both on the same page regarding the time of the session. This also gives them the opportunity to cancel or reschedule before you have stakeholders waiting on the other end.  


These ingredients help create a piece of mind that everything will run smoothly when you enter the stage and the spotlight is on.


Ethnio Editor's Note: Thanks, Amber!! You can find Amber on Twitter here, or drop a note below. Here is a picture of five unrelated ingredients for making it this far.