Saturday 9 August 2014

How to win the 3MT!

Well, I don't really know how to win as I didn't quite manage it.  But I do have some tips.

But first - just entering the 3MT is awesome.  It is a great experience and one of the coolest things I've ever done.  I had fun, met a group of talented people.  And did I say - I had fun.  Do it, you will too.

The following post is purely my opinion on how to win.  I'll cover the basic mistakes people made and the things you have to nail to make it.


The problem with PhD students is that they are all so smart and passionate they forget all about the audience's experience of the presentation. They tend to think this competition is about their research.  So let me say it clearly.  The 3MT is not about your research.  It is about connecting with the audience and bringing them into the world of your research.  Remember, the people putting on the 3MT want it to be a great show.  They want the audience to love it and come back.  So be entertaining.

First up are the common mistakes that I and others made.

Number one: Not looking at the audience. 

Lots of participants looked at their notes, at their power point, at their shoes, at the desk in front of them - anywhere except for the audience!

Number two: Reading from notes

It doesn't matter how well your pronounce words, or how much expression you use-if you read you lose connection.  Do NOT take notes.  Ever...

Number three: Not mastering the time limit

You somehow need to memorise the entire presentation while making it look and sound as though you haven't. This needs an explanation.

The time limit changes things.  It makes both you and the audience nervous.  The natural reaction was to speak too fast, following a script from memory.  This simply reminds the audience that a clock is ticking - they concentrate on the time and not on your message.  Also most speeches became a monotone humming noise that lulled the audience to sleep (much the same as reading from notes).  Do not talk fast.  The way to win is to make the audience forget about the time.  Most people I saw rushed through their talk (including me).  They lost all expression, timing, beat, pace rhythm and tone.  You are not trying to download information to the audience - you are taking them on a journey.

Number four: 'Telling' us about your research

Don't tell us about your research- tell us a story.  Most 3MT contestants I saw told the audience about their research.  Here is the hard truth - after sitting through 2 or more 3 minute speeches the audience is bored senseless.  At this point ANYTHING different will be a welcome change.  Take us on a journey damn it.
It shouldn't be called the 3 minute thesis, it should be called 'the book you write after doing your thesis'.

Number five: Butchering the presentation due to nerves

Being tripped up by nerves and subsequently missing your place, forgetting your next sentence or getting out of order wrecked many presentations.  The nerves are exacerbated by the time limit.  This whole competition is about managing the nerves.  If you screw up, recover quickly and press on.  A good ending will more than make up for a few errors here and there.

Number six:  Busy power points.

If the audience is reading your power point they are not listening to you.  Five or more words is too many.  If you plan on using words - rethink it.  The one in the picture is pretty darn good (but risky with 8 words).  It sets the scene, pulls people in and doesn't demand that they exert mental energy working it out. I used three words - Aaron hates maths.

To win

Make the audience forget about the time.  Be the most relaxed person in the room. This is your show, take them into your world and amaze them.

Use discourse markers:

To help you keep your place in the talk use discourse markers.  These will help you know what is next.  In my speech I had a 'hook' halfway through.

"And that is why Aaron has avoided it [maths] like the plague.
[2 second pause, quiet voice, lean into the audience] "Until this year."

This phrase (until this year) was a signal to me that we were moving into the next paragraph.  The 'findings' paragraph.  I had increased the tempo up to this point and now had s l o w e d it right down and brought the audience in.  They want to know the next bit of the story!  Build and release, build and release - each paragraph should do this.  I had five paragraphs that made up the 3 minutes.


I think this is why I lost.  The winner was relaxed and polished.  Very nicely done.


The crowd is nervous for you.  Release the pressure with a joke.  Not one person had a single funny thing in their speeches except for one contestant.  She got a massive laugh.  All that nervous energy packed into one small moment of humour.

Frequency and location of practice

When you practice you 3MT no doubt you will be in your room, office etc.  The wall that you speak to lacks the features of your 'real' 3MT audience.  To help with this change where you practice, look out the window, look at a different wall, look at a mirror - just change where you stand and what you look at.  The reason is that when practicing your working memory is not being attacked by a million other thoughts- which makes it inauthentic practice.  When you give your presentation - people will be staring at you, lots of them, the room will have weird features, it will sound, smell and feel different.  This means that your brain will be processing more information than during your practice.  What's left of your brain will be trying to remember the words in your presentation - and none - NONE - will be thinking about anything else I've written like - pace, rhythm, timing, humour, and connection.  Remember, to take the audience on a journey requires all these things working together.

We got 10 minutes on the actual stage to practice.  I had two runs - the first was horrible!  The second slightly better.  Two hours later the live version was better again.

Take every opportunity to practice.  Bribe your friends to stare at you while you do it.


Win their hearts, take them on a journey, look smart, and be polished.  That's the winner baby.

1 comment:

  1. These are great tips for anyone presenting... Thanks D