Reviewing QRCA Conference in LA – January 2017

25 Jan 2017 | ICG News & Announcements

Reviewing QRCA Conference – January 2017

Just returned from a fabulous 3 days in LA attending the 2017 QRCA conference (January 18-20) and thought I’d share key takeaways from the sessions I attended while they’re still fresh in my head!

The theme of this year’s conference was 'The Power Of Perspective'.  Each of us can look at the same event or situation and take away'different impressions because of our varied perspectives;  no single perspective is necessarily better or 'more correct' than the other and taking on new perspective can bring new insights to a situation. 

Day 1 Summary

The conference began on Wednesday with the 'First Timer' event.  As an Ambassador I was assigned a First Timer and charged with the task showing them the ropes – helping make feel welcome and providing them with tips on how to make the most of the conference.  I was excited to see a noticeable shift in what has typically been an “older” (50+) demographic to include a large number of inspiring and enthusiastic 'young folk' under 30.  They were blown away by the love and support they received and I left feeling like the future of our industry is in good hands.

This was followed by 'Demo Connections' from four outside suppliers who made it quite clear that video is the way of the future, demonstrating tremendous new tools for collecting and analyzing research video (check out Voxpopme!). 

The official kick off featured key note speaker John Boettner of Teen Press.   John, a Santa Barbara Middle School teacher, started the program as a way to teach students about themselves, their values and the larger culture through journalism.   A teenager’s perspective to reporting can also bring new dimension to stories that traditional journalists cannot.  What sets their interviews apart is the questions they ask – they focus on what the people they are interviewing have learned in their journey to success and what they are doing now with their influence. 

Key takeaways (in no particular order!):

  • Ask questions that make people feel human.
  • Intentional silence can be a powerful interviewing technique – embrace the awkwardness, it can tell you a lot about a person and can be a great place to start!
  • Ask what you want to know.
  • Own who you are and use it.
  • Seize the day and say yes to things – be brave with your life!
  • Allow yourself to see the world as unpredictable.
  • Eye contact shows you’re ready to hear someone's story.
  • Learn to be available and listen without judgment.  Be present and hear the stories people have to tell.  Listen with sincerity and a desire to connect.

Day 2 Summary

Day 2 for me began with James Forr’s presentation on 'Memories Murky Mysteries' which examined 4 key 'sins of memory' (based on the book 'The Seven Sins of Memory' by Daniel Schacter).

We like to think our memories are true to life snapshots of how an event occurred.  But in reality, our memories are more like a potter's clay; they can be molded and shaped, and sometimes pieces drop to the floor and get lost.  Discussion focused on the fact that certain kinds of memory are particularly unreliable, and that it is those kinds of memories in particular that tend to be most important to market researchers.   What may seem like easy questions to answer are deceptively difficult to answer correctly.

1)    Transience – Details mix as the clock ticks (our memories weaken over time).

2)    Misattribution – Our eyes’ lies (we are wrong about where we learned something).

3)    Suggestibility – A nudge can make you fudge (other people can 'plant' false memories in us).

4)    Bias – Today shapes yesterday (we rewrite the past with the pen of present beliefs).

Key takeaways:

  • Memory is reconstructive not reproductive.
  • Similar experiences over time can cause specific memories to fade.
  • Flashbulb memories that seem seared into our brain are less memorable than we think they are.
  • The remembering self is different than the experiencing self.
  • Memories are stories we tell ourselves.
  • Memories are adjusted to fit the current experience you are having.
  • Memories fill in the gaps with things that weren't there.
  • Who delivers the message can affect how things are remembered.
  • Make the most of it – let the sins work to your advantage by identifying what gaps someone’s memory filled (it's constructive to realize how people misremember things).
  • How accurate a memory is is almost irrelevant compared to how a memory is recalled and their confidence in that memory – the key is to find out what that memory means.
  • Memory of a behaviour is probably more indicative of future behaviour than the actual behaviour.
  • Know what people can do… and what they can’t.
  • Be wise with your words – how you ask is an important as what you ask (how people remember a car 'crash' is very different than how they remember a car 'accident'.
  • Mirror respondent language back to them and don't ask leading questions.
  • Memories are wrong a lot more often than we think.
  • Forget about memory – rely on technology to circumvent memory ('experience sampling').
  • Business model needs to be adapted to focus more on actual behaviour vs delayed recollection.

Next I attended Raji Bonala’s presentation 'Are You Insta-Cool Enough for the Millenials?  Reclaiming the Attention of a Distracted Generation'.

Raji started off by telling us that Millennials have an attention span of 8 seconds, less than that of a goldfish!  That fact, combined with an increasingly digitized world means real emotions are buried deep beneath layers of 'social posing' and suggests that traditional projective techniques may not work well in a world where 'words' are nearly obsolete.   Growing up in a different 'instant' environment presents new challenges for research. 

Simon Sinek’s discussion on Millennials in the workplace is worth watching:

In looking for creative and newer ways to engage with Millennials, Raji developed an 'audio visual toolkit' for digital auto-ethnography that can be conducted on visual social media platforms like Instagram and uses pop culture as stimuli to represent archetypal plots that unlock deeper emotional responses. 

Using stimuli chosen to represent Christopher Booker's 7 basic archetypal plots of storytelling, emotions that cannot be expressed through words can be uncovered:  overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, tragedy, comedy and rebirth

Key takeaways:

  • Millennials are constantly connected – they have a different way of consuming content and in an 'insta' world show impatience with everything traditional (including methods of research).
  • They are easily distracted so attracting attention and establishing rapport within the first few seconds of meeting are critical.
  • Digitization means words are nearly obsolete – traditional storytelling and projective techniques might not work.
  • There is a shift away from FB (rigid, text heavy and boring) to Instagram (visual, fast and exciting) and Snapchat.
  • Despite digitalization, Millennials life stories remain as deep, they have just taken on visual forms.
  • Storytelling helps give structure to the unconscious thus making the latent conscious.
  • Storytelling helps make an inconstant world more controllable.

After lunch and awards, I attended Michelle Finzel’s presentation 'Stylin’ & Profilin’:  Managing Audience Perception through (Efficient) Communication'.

Michelle's session was an eye opening experience through which attendees discovered their own communication based habits and biases and learned how to better manage them.  Our styles create profiles and everyone we encounter forms opinions about us.  Verbal and non-verbal communication cues are puzzle pieces that the world uses to frame who we are; however we need to be in control of that process. 

Key takeaways:

  • Bias is noise and impedes communication.
  • Bias is largely internal:  defensiveness, assumptions, stereotyping, interpersonal relationships, and current emotional states.  Only environmental biases are external.
  • The brain controls the bias, you control the outcome. 
  • Bias is a naturally occurring biological phenomenon but needs to be managed.
  • Use what you have to create what you don't.
  • Be aware about yourself at all times and in control through self monitoring – facial expressions, voice control, body control.
  • Your audience determines your goals and your goals determine your speaking style.

The final session of the day for me was 'Rethinking the Question' with Chris Kann. The best types of questions are those that make us stop and think.  As researchers we get used to asking questions the same way, using the same words and phrases.  But what might have worked before may need to be reassess.  How can we craft questions that disrupt the respondent's thinking and lead to potential more thoughtful and insightful responses?

Key takeaways:

  • Curiosity drives the reason why we ask questions. We seek intimacy with the people we interview.
  • Add value by rethinking the kind of questions you ask – use questions that create feelings of exploration and ask MORE.
  • Disrupt the narrative – crack through it, test it and confirm it by NOT accepting the first answer, make respondents think harder.
  • Double check the data, confirm motivation and create reflection – get them present and accessing the deeper part of their brain.
  • Good questions invite exploration, expansion and introspection.
  • Take a page from coaching -start specific to get focus (you can always take a step back), challenge quick, 'programmed' answers and reject 'that’s just what I do' responses.
  • Don't be afraid of intimacy – 'how do you feel right now?'
  • Don't just ask questions – get them to ask questions of themselves.
  • Take a page from teaching – encourage co-creation of content, repeat/mirror responses, seek balance in feedback and participation.
  • Take a page from forensics – ask 'yes' or easy questions early on to help build safety and rapport, rely on specific questions, mirror physical behaviours, verbalize name, incorporate assumptions about human behaviour.
  • Introductions can create a narrative that forces the group to see individuals in a certain way.  DO we need them?  Why not just jump right in!

Day 3 Summary

After a great evening socializing with old friends and making news ones, we were off to an early start with Chapter meetings followed by a series of round tables – it was hard to pick just one from the 15 but I finally settled on one that related to creating reports as good as they read.  My biggest takeaway?  Those “smart graphics” in ppt that never seem to “fit” the text or imagery you’re dealing with?  Convert to shape!  Simply click on the smart art graphic then under the Smart Art tab, click on convert, then convert to shape.  DONE.  Conference paid for itself with that tip!

The first session of the day I was quite torn – as a RIVA trained moderator I desperately wanted to hear Naomi Henderson talk about 'Signature Phrases a Good Moderator Should Never Say:  Moderating Through the Lens of Language' but during the previous evening's social event I got to talking with Jay Picard who is a consultant to Dale Chihuly, a world renowned Seattle based glass artist whose work I adore and have spent many an hour photographing!  So I ultimately decided to attend Jay and Susan Sweet’s presentation about 'Delaying Objectivity for Deeper Empathy' and was very glad I did!

This presentation  challenged attendees to 'quit thinking like a researcher' by debunking traditional research myths, such as maintaining objectivity by the removal of self and shifting thinking about the power of the researcher’s own perspective.

Key takeaways:

  • Qualitative is changing, evolving – it's ok to divulge parts of yourself and have an opinion (but not to sell it).
  • Moderators are becoming reporters, documentary film makers, curators and context conveyors – it's no longer enough to moderate, we need to go deeper and include ourselves in the process.
  • Moderators are important filters – we need to push ourselves to be more human in our interactions and 'go outside the lines'.  Get immersed and be a part of it, it allows you to feel someone else's reality.
  • Delaying the need for objectivity can lead to deeper empathy – we're not judges or lawyers after all!
  • Seasoned researchers are brave – stand up for your beliefs and expertise.  
  • Be human – think like the inquisitive human that you are and bring clients into the process.  Ask 'what’s really going on here?'
  • Be in it – get immersed and be part of it.  Magic comes from outside the discussion guide.
  • Build trust – includes building rapport but goes beyond.  Includes clients, collaborators and recruiters as well as participants.
  • Be curious – challenge yourself (and your clients) to look at things differently.  Use a mix of methods, challenge hypotheses and sacred cows.

After  this I led my own round table discussion 'Revealing the Soul in B2B – Driving Behaviour Change by Engaging Customers on a Deeper Level.  I'm happy to provide my 'take away' tips separate to this write up summary for anyone who is interested (and feel free to reach out should you have questions about my approaches or want to learn more!).

After lunch was 'Listening Between the Lines' with Amanda Dunn of The Brand Experience, a company that brings brand stories to life by designing three-dimensional, experience spaces for their clients.

They interview a range of people 'outside the obvious' and immerse themselves in the world of their customers.  They spend time with stakeholders and read everything they can get their hands on in order to create smart and emotionally compelling brand experiences that bring a story to life.

Key takeaways:

  • Start with a story and end with a space;  story informs design.
  • Good experiences are emotional, tell a good story and memorable.
  • Interviews help craft storylines that speak to truth over trend.  
  • We're humans talking to humans so be willing to go off script to get to the rooted truth.
  • Listening between the lines means looking for stories in unexpected places and listening with all your senses.
  • Ask why five times – the secret sauce lies in the last two, the 'unspoken whys'.
  • Building trust is important to the discovery process.
  • Five steps of the human communication model have been used by Walt Disney to create their theme park model:  attract, trust, inform, internalize and act.
  • Find common ground with people to build trust:  use the 'paper plate' exercise having respondents write down their name, title, most memorable moment, what made it memorable and their greatest fear.

After a quick break to get a much-needed coffee, we returned to hear what I think was probably the best presentation of the conference and honestly should have been the key note!  Benjamin Mathes, founder of Urban Confessional, was an engaging, energetic and inspiring presence who 'woke everyone up' and got them going again after hitting the deadly Friday mid afternoon conference 'wall'. 

The Free Listening project that Ben founded started a worldwide movement impacting the way people listen, ask questions and gather data. 

Key takeaways:

  • What the other person hears is more important than what you say.
  • An 'imbalanced' conversation requires 80% listening and 20% talking.
  • Deep listening isn't the time to change minds but to meet hearts.
  • Respect the silence and the person you are talking to will say the thing they have always wanted to say.
  • Interest leads to involvement and listening is the height of involvement.
  • Open questions allow others to speak freely – 'where did you get those glasses?'
  • Clarifying questions lets others know you’re with them  and assures them you’re listening – 'so wait, you went back to the store?'
  • Encouraging (ie 'leading'!) questions  – gives permission that this is a hospitable place, inspires healing and connection.  It's for them, not you, listening is not a tactic. 
  • Understanding transcends prejudice.
  • Be present to yourself before you engage in listening.
  • Being heard is so close to being loved that most people can't tell the difference.

And finally to wrap up an amazing three days, Anya Zadrozny presented 'Now What?  Ready, Set… Plan of Action'.

Everyone's head is full of new ideas and techniques, and you're feeling inspired and motivated by your fellow conference attendees.  Finding the time, resources and motivation to implement all this learning once you 'get back to the real world' can feel like a daunting and impractical task. 

Key takeaways:

  • Set your goal – achieving goals are talked about and expected by no one teaches you how to go about doing it.  Writing it down makes you accountable  and gives clarity to what you want to do.
  • We've been conditioned to thing that being busy is a GOOD thing, but that leads to procrastination.
  • Make lists and assign dates to what you want to have accomplished by that time.

And finally we were asked for our #1 take away from the conference in the form of a tweet – here’s mine:

Question what you’ve been taught.  Be open to change.  Accept unpredictability.  Be brave.  Find connection.  Built trust.  Seek intimacy.  Disrupt.  Listen. 

Please reach out with your own perspectives and thoughts, would love to hear your experiences!  Email:, Twitter:  @opendoorinsight