Editor's note: Based in Ann Arbor, Mich., Alice Morgan is senior research consultant at Doyle Research Associates, Chicago.

My husband owns a barbecue restaurant. When people find this out, a spirited and lengthy discussion of barbecue ensues. What sauce? (He makes five – all from scratch.) Dry rub, or no? (Mostly dry, but we offer wet and dry ribs.) What wood is used on the smoker? (Hickory.) It goes on and on.

When people find out that I moderate focus groups, or (more simply put) interview people, they politely say “Oh, how interesting.” An awkward silence ensues. And I understand why. “Interviewing” is an abstraction. It is hard for people to understand who I interview, why I interview, and in what context the interview occurs. So, in this article I would like to explain to you, humble reader, what we moderators do and what is so wonderful about it.

There but for the grace of God go I. We all live in a bubble, whether it be a city, a suburb or a rural community. In my case, I live in Ann Arbor, Mich., a Midwestern college town. It is a diverse, highly educated, happily sports-obsessed place. Moderating gets me out of my bubble, as I am constantly reminded that there’s a whole world out there of people different than me and my townsfolk. Last year I worked on a project in which I interviewed convenience store employees. Most convenience store employees are not highly educated. Most are just getting by. But many of these clerks, with high school educations at best, provided razor-sharp feedback. The takeaway was crystal clear: what separates people in my community from the convenience store workers I interviewed is opportunity.

We learn a little about a lot. Moderating is a job in which we work with many different kinds of clients. What we ask about – and learn about – runs the gamut. Bathtubs. Moisturizer. Lawn service. Grocery shopping. Personal investments. College. Diabetes. Employee training. You name it, we ask about it. Any time a company is trying to find out what their target customers think of a product or service they currently offer or plan to offer in the future, they bring us in. (Or at least they should!) This is a job for the intellectually curious.

Moderators just wanna have fun. Cyndi Lauper aside, moderating is fun. We get to use all sorts of cool, colorful office supplies. Stickers. Stickies. Sharpies. Paint chips. We ask people to engage in a wide variety of creative activities, including drawing cartoons, taking selfies, making collages, sorting cards and playing games. When people have fun, they relax. They let their guard down. They stop telling us what they think they should say and open up. For example, people will usually say that price is the most important criteria in purchasing most items. And I get that price matters. But it isn’t everything, by any means. Projective exercises foster an environment in which people feel safe talking about more subtle, complex motivators, like how buying an item makes them feel strong or sexy. When people expose their inner truth, that’s when the magic happens.

Never a dull moment. There is no one way to interview people. Lots of people are successful at it – introverts, extroverts, the whole shebang. What is needed is creativity and the ability to turn on a dime. We all get there differently. In several instances I have had people start crying as they recounted painful experiences (one was about a horrific experience with a doctor, one was about on-the-job stress). I needed to lighten the mood – fast. And I did. Moderating a group is like conducting. We bring out the taciturn and subdue the loquacious. It is challenging. No two groups are ever the same. This is a job that keeps you on your toes.

See how the sausage is made. Moderators get to view the totality of the new product development process. We help companies identify unmet needs, leading to the invention of products or services that are new and needed. We help companies test positioning statements, leading to successful new product launches. We help companies evaluate advertising, leading to engaging, eye-catching ads which possess “breakthrough.”

All walks of life. There are many jobs in which people are exposed to a wide swath of society but often that exposure is fairly brief. Interviewing people is intense. Moderators get to know people on a profound, personal level. I have interviewed CEOs. I have interviewed plumbers. I have interviewed moms. During a recent project about car dealerships a participant and I were at a Jeep dealership for three-and-a-half hours (during which he actually bought a car). Not to sound too grandiose about it but moderating is about the human condition.

No job is perfect. The problem with moderating is that moderators spend quite a lot of time, well, not moderating. There is the process of figuring out who to interview and how (aka study design). There is the process of determining what to ask (aka crafting the discussion guide). And there is the process of analyzing what people said and what it all means (aka writing the report). But the essence of moderating, interviewing people alone or in groups about topics of interest to my clients, is fantastic. And that is what keeps me – and my peers – still crazy about qualitative after all these years.