Author: Jemma Rowlandson, winner of the 2016 Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition -
The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition is a fantastic idea, a great exercise in explaining your research quickly and to a non-specialist audience. It not only comes in handy when engaging the public, but also in your research career. Poster sessions, pitching for funding, and even vivas all require you to think on your feet and explain your research in a concise but informative manner. Squashing your entire PhD into three minutes however is no mean feat, and so here are some tips to get you started…
“An 80,000 word thesis would take 9 hours to present.
Their time limit... 3 minutes”
Before the day:
Have a killer story
This is probably THE most important thing you can possibly do. Everyone loves a good story, so ensure your presentation has one, include a beginning, middle and end. Ensure your last sentence focuses on the take home message. This not only makes it easy for the audience to follow, but a good story is also memorable.
Check out other people’s stories
One of the most useful things I find, is looking at what other people have done before me. For the 3MT competition especially, it’s unlikely you’ve ever done anything like this before. Looking at how other people tackled the problem can be very helpful. The 3MT website has lots of fantastic examples from previous winners and finalists, and the University of Bath too has videos of their previous entrants.
Make it relatable
A good analogy helps. Your research will likely span several complex research areas. The real key to this is explaining them in a relatable way. Now this does not mean ‘dumbing down’ your research, you do not want to trivialise what you do. Instead focus on the big picture and find inventive ways to describe your research. My analogy was using Leerdammer cheese to explain adsorption of water toxins. Tricky topic, killer analogy, everyone goes home knowing what adsorption is.
Humour can work well
Humour can go down well in a presentation, and it can help make your story more memorable. However, be prepared for all outcomes. If your joke goes well allow a few seconds before continuing to let the laughter sink in. Equally be prepared for the audience to find things funny that you didn’t expect. And if your joke unfortunately does fall flat, have a back-up plan. Either have a handy one liner to make it into a joke (i.e. ‘I won’t give up my day job then!’), or confidently brush past it onto the next part of your presentation.
Practice, practice, practice
Practice by yourself, in front of other people, and especially people who do not know what your research is about. Know someone else entering the competition? Grab them as a practice partner, you can give each other advice. Multiple people in your research group entering? Great, dedicate a group meeting to presentation feedback. For this, you can never practice enough.
On the day:
Find your happy place
Before your big moment, do something that relaxes you. Don’t go in stressed. Go for a run, eat lots of chocolate, just do something you enjoy. My thing? I listen to Taylor Swift, calms the nerves and puts me in a great mood.
You are the most important thing
The most important thing about the entire presentation is YOU. Sure, you have a slide but the audience came to listen to you, and they will mostly be watching you. Your body language and your enthusiasm are all part of the presentation. So…
If you don’t find your research interesting, then why should your audience? A smile goes a long way, the audience will immediately click with you, and it will help you yourself feel more confident. Show enthusiasm for your research topic, the audience will feed off it and enjoy the whole experience a lot more.
Don’t run over time, but don’t rush!!
The three-minute time limit is very strict. Do not go over, even by a second. However, that doesn’t mean you should talk at a million miles an hour to get every tiny possible detail of your research project in. The audience just won’t follow. Instead, have a good story and tell it in good time. Plan some buffer time into your presentation, so that if you do stumble you know there’s a few seconds of leeway.
Never give up
There can only be one winner, and if it wasn’t you this time, that doesn’t mean your presentation wasn’t awesome. Heck, just having the guts to stand up there and try it is something on its own. If it wasn’t your day then don’t worry, there will always be other opportunities. The only way to improve presentation skills is to do more presentations.
But most importantly:
Sure the 3MT can be both stressful and nerve-wracking, but it is also a lot of fun! It is a great way to meet other researchers across the Uni, see what they’re up to, and share your own research. Enjoy the experience as much as possible and take every opportunity it throws your way 🙂