Last updated:  
Apr 10, 2018 @ 7:03 PM
How to Motivate Usability Testers in 5 Minutes or Less

It’s hard, in the space of an afternoon, to bring a total stranger into a project and inspire them to care about it as much as you do. But of course, with usability testing, that’s the idea. So what’s the best way to motivate usability testers?

When you work with an emerging technology like speech recognition, there is a lot of unknown territory. Speech is new territory even to computer savvy people. So when we executed usability testing for data collection last fall – involving a staggering one thousand people in just eight weeks! – we had to make sure we provided enough guidance to get what we wanted, but at the same time stay unobtrusive to make sure the output was clean and unguided.

For me, it was a crash course in motivation. I met such a wide range of people, it was an ongoing process to figure out how to communicate with them quickly and appropriately, in a way that would give us the best possible results. So, in the interest of sharing, here are some things I learned to help motivate testers.

How do you motivate Usability Testers?

1. Give them the context.

Why are you doing the study? What’s the ultimate goal? I’ve found that explaining to people how their input will help enhance the product or advance the technology is a great motivator. If they can see the role they’re playing as a step toward the end result, they’re likely to use that feeling to direct their testing. Some of our usability testers were driven to try things with the software that were totally unexpected, and that created great results for us in the end.

2. Show confidence in them.

Make your instructions a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, you probably have a laundry list of things you don’t want people to do while they’re testing.  It’s better to phrase these things as advice, where you can.

For example:

“We’ve found some people get frustrated when the software doesn’t work perfectly, and they try speaking louder. That will actually make it perform worse, so just try to stay comfortable and stick with your natural voice.”

works better than

“Don’t yell at the software!”

Of course, you may need the second one if the tester ignores the former, but giving people the benefit of the doubt really does seem to bring out the best in them.

3. Arm them well.

What are the most obvious issues they’re likely to run into? What is the most important tip for making their interactions with the software smooth and fun? If you can quickly give them one or two tips and tricks (within what’s allowed to keep your study results untainted, of course!), you’ll avoid frustration and keep them happy while they’re testing.

To make sure your advice is relevant, monitor people closely but unobtrusively as they test (for speech recognition testing, we used IP cameras). By watching the sessions, you’ll see where people experience difficulties. Note this feedback and make sure to pass it on to product development as well.

4. Don’t overload them.

Remember that important instructions are more easily retained if you don’t bury them in too much detail. The person you’re talking to might be a little nervous about trying something new. It’s better to focus on three or four key pieces of information to get them started and let other issues come up naturally.

5. Be responsive.

Many testing frustrations can be avoided if you jump in quickly when testers have an issue and take their concerns seriously. Even if they’ve just accidentally rebooted the computer, it’s reassuring to have someone pop in and tell them not to worry too much about it. There’s no need to be overbearing, but if you notice a furrowed brow it’s nice to check in. As added incentive, you’ll stay well ahead of the curve in terms of identifying technical issues.

Motivate Usability Testers right & Get results that matter

You might feel limited with some people, especially if they arrive in an uncooperative mood. My experience is that even if someone’s having a bad day, you can push them to do a little better than they otherwise would by staying optimistic and helpful. That said, sometimes you do need to turn someone away if they’re not up to the task, but if you’re well prepared, it’s rare – our team was happy that we only had it happen twice.

It’s so important for the final quality of any software to get a realistic picture of how your target audience will be using it. By working effectively with the sample size you have, you can make your usability test data more accurate, more interesting, and really just better all around.

Questions about the usability testing process? Share them in the comments!

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