Part of the answer lies with those who take part, who want to share their ‘big idea’, or who relish just engaging with an audience. Another lies in the selection process, so my first port of call was Chloe Fowler, who organised last year’s successful ‘Giant Leaps’ forum, to see if I could pick up any tips for wannabe speakers. Chloe admitted that, having been on both sides of the fence, she prefers selecting rather than writing synopses but it has given her an insight into who gets picked and who falls by the wayside.

Her first bit of advice is: “Don’t overcook the synopsis in your head when one fresh and confident idea will win over the judges. Be brave, let your personality shine through, and go the extra mile when putting your thoughts down on paper.”

Guidelines on presentation needed

For first timers, responding to a call for papers can be a rather flat process. She feels they may angst over whether their idea will be good enough, send it off, and then pray they get a call from the organisers a month or two down the road if accepted. And if they get that far, they hope they’ll be provided with a steer on what to include and how to present.

But sadly, that isn’t always the case. Conference organisers tend to be up against it, time wise, and then there’s the temptation to hand a spot to a more experienced researcher because they’re just that: a safe pair of hands. So, how to break the cycle?

Some five years back, AQR ran Pecha Kucha sessions. These were low-risk, quick-fire slots where young researchers could take the floor, engage and entertain their peers. Many of those who took part are now seasoned presenters in their own right. Maybe it’s time to revisit such sessions?

There’s no argument that help is needed, because presenting at conferences does not come naturally to quallies. And presenting debriefs is a different kettle of fish entirely. No, if we want to move AQR conferences up a notch, there’s going to have to be an investment in time and energy so that researchers of the future rise to the challenge of presenting to their peers in a spirited and engaging way.

The appealing challenge

Venture into any marketing or research conference, and the highest speaker accolades will often go to the glory boys, those steeped in advertising, or those with an academic underpinning to provide gravitas to their words. But at AQR we want more, a mix of sessions that sparkle with ideas, and ones where we’re drawn to the performers.

It’s not as though there is a dearth of budding speakers. We have people coming in to the industry with the potential to fill this space. It then becomes a matter of how we grow their confidence and skills. And that is an appealing challenge.