How to Be the Best Usability Test Moderator Ever

The moderator plays an essential role in user testing. Whether you’re planning your first usability test or you’re a seasoned pro, these tips will help you ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Ah, usability testing. It’s a great way to gather information about how visitors interact with your site because it allows you to work with them directly. The tricky thing about usability testing is that, no matter how much time you put into designing your test, your ability to moderate effectively plays a huge role in how much you actually end up getting from the test. No pressure or anything.

Are you conducting a usability test on your website? Looking for some quick strategies that will help you be the best usability test moderator you can be? Look no further. In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Tools every moderator needs
  • Moderating Do’s
  • Moderating Don’ts

Setting Yourself Up for Success

If you’re going to host a party, there are some things you have to do to prepare. You might set up some ice-breaker activities, put on music you know your guests will enjoy, or brainstorm conversation topics in case things get off to a slow start. Similarly, if you’re going to run a usability test, there are some things you can take care of beforehand that will make your job much easier when test time rolls around.

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‍If you host a party, you spend time preparing. The same should be true when you moderate a usability test.

Recording Like it’s 1999

A significant portion of a usability test is observing how your participants interact with your project. The old school approach to recording usability tests is still a great first step today: keep your eyes and ears open, and write down as much as possible. When you’re moderating, you should always have a pen or pencil and some paper. Even though this is essential, you may need a more robust recording strategy to capture all of the information that surfaces when conducting a usability test on a website or digital project.

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‍A good usability test moderator is prepared to record as much information as possible.

The 21st Century Approach

When you’re testing a website or digital project, observing how your participants interact with your product isn’t always easy. In addition to observing participants’ behavior, you also need to ask them questions and take notes on what they say. On top of that, participants can navigate quickly through websites and digital projects, which means it’s quite possible you could miss something they do and therefore miss out on information you could have gathered.

Session recording technology takes some of that burden off your shoulders by storing a record of your participants’ visit on your site. This way, you can go back and review it later, freeing up more time for you to focus on asking questions and responding to feedback during the test itself.

3 Quick Tips to Improve Your Moderating Skills

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Before you conduct the usability test, make sure you’re comfortable with your material. Learn your script forwards, backwards, and sideways. Make sure you understand how to use the features you’re testing, not just in theory but in practice. The more effort you put into preparing yourself, the more confident and comfortable you will be during the test, allowing you to both focus on the task at hand and organically build rapport with your participants.

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‍Before you step into the spotlight as usability test moderator, make sure you spend some time rehearsing.

Create a Comfortable Environment

Usability testing can be a strange experience. Think about it from your participant’s perspective: they’re being asked to complete tasks using an unfamiliar product. They might feel pressure to perform well, unaware that identifying areas of confusion are largely the point of usability testing. Do your best to set their minds at ease. Remind them that it’s okay for them to be confused or have criticisms about your project-- you want to hear all of it. If you make them feel comfortable disclosing both positive and negative opinions to you, you’ll get a lot more out of your usability test than if participants are uncomfortable offering anything but praise.

Follow the Participant’s Lead

Usability testing is built on the idea of hearing directly from your users, so let them share their thoughts. You still need to guide them through the questions and tasks you’ve planned, but you should give them space to respond however they see fit. If they start talking about something that you hadn’t necessarily asked about, that’s great! All information is valuable information. Be sure to respond positively so that your participants feel heard, and clarify any feedback you don’t understand.

3 Moderating Mistakes to Avoid

Talking Too Much

Again, usability testing is about hearing from your users. Be respectful of your participants time by allocating most of the usability testing time to listening to their feedback and observing their experience. You should give them the essential information-- what your role and theirs is in the test, how the test will be organized, the tasks themselves, etc-- but beyond that, most of the speaking should be done by your participants.

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‍While it is important to get through the tasks you have planned, participants should guide the conversation within that framework.

Answering Questions

Usability testing is an incredibly useful tool for understanding how visitors deal with confusion when navigating your site. If a visitor responds to a task by asking you how it should be completed, respond with, “How do you think it should be completed?” If you just tell them, you lose out on gathering information about how your users would intuitively attempt to navigate your site. If your site is not already set up in a way that is intuitive to users, this data will be instrumental in correcting that issue.

Interviewing, Not Testing

User interviews and usability testing are both great methods for evaluating your site or digital project, but they are different strategies. Make sure that your usability test remains focused on the tasks. It can be a good idea to include an interview at the end of your usability test to facilitate more discussion, but during the usability test you really want to dig into what your user is thinking as they navigate your website, not what they think of it on a broader level.

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‍With the right tools, it’s easy to be a successful usability test moderator.


Moderating a usability test can be tricky, but with these tips and the right tools you’re sure to be successful. If you have any other usability testing do’s or don’ts, let us know in the comments section!