“What else?” and other magic words for getting users to talk

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Last Friday I had some folks in the usability lab going through the latest designs for our Sears tablet experience.  We used the think-aloud protocol, which almost always means with a couple participants I had to ramp up the “so what’s going on right now?” reminders to keep talking.

When people aren’t in the middle of working through a task, such as in the initial interview, or any post-task or post-test questions, I have a few favorite questions and prompts that help me draw at least one more little opinion or nugget out of them.  Here they are:

  1. What else?” – Sometimes this comes out as “anything else?” but I find it most effective when I sort of gently imply that they might have more to say and just give them the prompt to dig a little deeper.  I use this especially between tasks, because I notice users tend to keep their comments shorter naturally, perhaps just figuring we need to keep it moving and get to the next task.
  2. Tell me more about that” –  During interviews this is my favorite way to start funneling down to some particular topic that we are interested in, without revealing why I am asking or narrowing down too quickly.
  3. Whatever they just said” + “?”Probably the simplest way to get more out of people without really trying – just repeat back what they said as a question, and they will explain more, like magic.
  4. “…” – Surprisingly the hardest thing is saying absolutely nothing. Sometimes people need a moment to think more about whatever they are discussing, or in the case of a task-based study, to remember what just happened.  Give them a few seconds of silence.  This also reduces the occurrence of you accidentally interrupting them when they were about to say something else.  So always wait 3 seconds longer than you think you should.

One note about that last one:  I find this most effective and least awkward if I’m taking my time finishing up some notes, rather than staring at them, waiting.  Remember the point is to make them feel comfortable and free enough to go on and explain a bit more or add some detail, not to suggest they aren’t doing a good job as an interviewee or tester.


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4 Responses to ““What else?” and other magic words for getting users to talk”

  1. Karol Czyrka →
    June 24, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    It would be interesting to hear about how you get them to complete the task vs. just pontificate or talk about how other people might like to see this, that or the other feature. That used to be a challenge I used to encounter.

  2. Jerome
    June 24, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

    Definitely don’t say, “Yeahhh, very cool.” (head nods).

  3. Hans Mickelson
    June 24, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

    Very nice. I am not the quickest note taker and use that to much effect with #4 as well.

    I also tend to get more and more dense (politely so) as participants get less and less chatty. “So, I’m sorry but I’m not sure what you just did there. Could you please explain it to me in a little more detail?” or something similar. My not understanding (real or contrived) can kick them in to a more descriptive mode, as they (hopefully) feel like they can help.

  4. Chad Cline →
    June 25, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    Perfectly timed reminders!