I’ve never done an official test screening, but as a member of Filmshop, I’ve workshopped multiple projects in multiple stages, and have been a part of discussions about other people’s work as well. The format that I like best is to screen the project and then hand out a sheet of questions tailored to the things you most want to know, so in your case, maybe questions like:
- Were you confused at any point?
- Did the pacing feel too fast or slow at any point?
- Did you lose interest at any point?
Give people 10 minutes or so to fill out the sheet, and then you can have an open discussion about people’s reactions/responses.
Collect the sheets at the end. The value of the sheets is that you get people’s minds focused on the questions you’d like answered, and you get their un-tainted opinions - their initial reactions, before they’re swayed by the discussion. Also, if there’s a question you don’t get to in the discussion, you have written answers to refer to.
Before your screening, make sure everyone is on board with giving honest, constructive feedback. Filmshop put together a little guide to feedback that’s published here, in case it’s helpful.
As for burning your audience – In my experience, people who have given feedback on a project feel like they have a stake in it. They’re excited to see the final version, and will want to tell others about it!
Hope that helps!