Blue Sky Thinking. Down to Earth Results.
Abbott Research


Conference panels: Boring or brilliant

Conference panels can either be the highlight of the day, or a yawn-fest with a room full of people checking their handhelds.

What a shame that so often these bright and accomplished individuals are not showcased better. From my point of view, it’s all about the moderation.

I’ve had some success moderating panels, and I’m here to share my Top 10 Tips to make your panel fantastic.

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How do you identify the right target and right message on a small budget?

Challenge: Our client was the trust division of a major bank, about to reformulate and relaunch a service targeted to high-net-worth, older individuals needing others to manage many of their day-to-day financial affairs, as well as portfolio management. The service would be sold through financial intermediaries. They needed to identify the right target and the right message with the right benefits — on a small budget.

Approach: We facilitated a half-day naming session which came up with more than 100 ideas, prioritized to a half-dozen to be taken in to testing. Focus groups were used to understand two segments, test names and validate the service concept.

Outcome: Of the two segments identified, one had little to no interest in the service concept, and the other segment was very interested. The client was able to modify their entire strategy, giving the launch a much better chance of success.

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What are some of the ways to facilitate strategic planning?

signpost of speed bump aheadCase study #1

Challenge: A B2B division of a major telco had been through multiple re-organizations and mergers. Internal processes were frustrating staff at all levels.

Approach: We designed and facilitated a half-day workshop that identified the barriers to delivering quality. Teams created blueprints for making organizational change.

Outcome: The management team had only a few hours at a national conference to make progress on a huge challenge. We helped them leverage this very small window of time to get things moving.

blank signposts in several directionsCase study #2

Challenge: An industry association needed to refresh their strategic plan in a one-day board offsite. The board directors are marketing executives in a wide variety of industries.

Approach: We facilitated a full-day workshop, working with the association executive to formulate the plan.

Outcome: The executive director was able to focus on content instead of process. A successful event helps keep volunteer directors engaged.


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How can a specialty telecommunications company in a demanding B2B space develop better quality?

Multiple re-organizations had left this small division of specialty engineers, senior sales and service staff frustrated by the barriers they had to jump to meet customer needs every day.

A half-day window opened at the annual company-wide kickoff event. Careful design, and an advance knowledge harvest assignment for participants were key in this facilitation event.

By the time lunch rolled around, we had successfully identified the major barriers, prioritized the top five, and small teams were starting to plan solutions.

We created new tools specifically for this project, to ensure delivery of results within a very tight window.

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Why can’t a public sector employer improve their employee satisfaction ratings?

A fast-growing urban area was finding it difficult to move certain indicators on their employee satisfaction questionnaire, despite sustained effort.

Employee research is uniquely tricky, since all research events are also interventions in the system. We use an Appreciative Inquiry philosophy to guide our approach in these situations, where the focus is on envisioning a better future, instead of complaining about what isn’t working today.

Senior executives attended the discussions, and heard the stories, dreams and frustrations of employees, giving them the personal insight needed to lead change.

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How does a global professional firm compete for top talent and build an employment brand?

A big-four accounting and consulting firm was seeking ways to make their job offer the most sought-after, and most likely to be accepted by top talent on campus, as well as mid-career job changers.

For the first project, we needed to define what was unique and special about the organization for those that loved it. We conducted in-person interviews with partners, triad interviews with the newly hired, and phone + web interviews with former employees and with those who had declined a job offer. We also had online discussion forums with different segments of employees.

Later projects involved having students play “Apprentice,” by designing an on-campus recruiting campaign.

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