When I'm asking questions, I try to be conscious of all aspects of the experience, not just the information I'm trying to get at. There's a human aspect to the process of interviewing, a way of making people comfortable so that they will open up and feel free to talk. The phrase I use is 'holding the space.' When I 'hold the space' for these people, I'm present with them; I'm focused and interested and attentive.
I hardly ever take notes when I'm interviewing. I can't really be present if I'm scribbling notes. I make tapes, which are transcribed later. I nod, I supply all the appropriate body language, and, most importantly, I allow silence. I give people the room they need if they are to consider. I hold the space.
I also try to have the experience create value for the focus-group participants. Sure, they make 50 or 100 bucks for their time, but I want them to walk out of the focus group with a sense of clarity that they didn't have before. I want them to have the feeling that somebody has actually valued what they had to say. When people feel valued, they open up more. They're more enthusiastic. They're more ready to give thought to what you're saying. It's a two-way street: When people feel valued, they provide value back to you.