The 3-minute thesis competition is an excellent opportunity to improve your presentation skills and broadcast your research. Michael Schrauben, PGR in the Medical School, was last year’s 3MT competition winner and Vitae 3MT® semi-finalist. In this blog post he shares his thoughts and tips on short-form presentations.

I used to be afraid of public speaking. When I started my PhD, I was keenly aware of my inability to deliver clear, concise talks that would keep my audience engaged. English is not my first language, and I lacked confidence in expressing myself. As a result, I would panic every time the spotlight turned towards me. However, when I learned about the Postgraduate Research Showcase, I knew it was the perfect chance for me to work on my weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

Although the event was online, I realized that the 3-minute time limit would force me to reconsider my presentation style. You have to get creative when you only have one slide and a couple of minutes to explain your entire PhD project.

View Michael’s 3 Minute Thesis:

Participating in the 3MT competition was a great experience, and I learned a lot. Here are my key takeaways:

  1. Always speak in threes: To avoid information overload, limit yourself to three ideas per segment of your talk. While it may be tempting to present as many facts as possible, focus instead on engagingly delivering a cogent message. Applying the rule of three to your talk will make this much easier.
  2. Whitespace: According to feedback from my reviewers in the national competition, “It was felt that the slide was a little busy and, at times, the language quite technical, which made it hard for non-specialist judges to follow.” Actively direct your audience’s attention toward elements on the slide, and don’t just leave it in the background as a pretty picture. It’s a tool, and if you don’t use it, you might as well lose it!
  3. Language: Avoid technical terms when presenting to a lay audience. Even if you explain these concepts during the talk, find different ways to discuss them without repeating the terms. However, there is a limit to simplifying ideas. Instead, try using these techniques:
    1. Talk with your hands (visual language)
    2. Analogies, metaphors and similes (audience engagement)
    3. Rhyming and poetry (information recall post-event)

The University of Exeter’s Postgraduate Research Showcase is an excellent opportunity to test your presentation skills. This event includes not only the 3MT competition but also the #TweetyourThesis and Poster competition. Improving your public speaking skills early in your research career will open many doors and allow you to confidently display your work. Try it! It’s worth your time.