Thinking of participating in a Three Minute Thesis Competition? As the 2021 Dalhousie University Three Minute Thesis Champion, here is my recipe for success:
1. Peel Away the Academic Structure
When you write your first draft of your Three Minute Thesis (3MT), leave behind the structure that earns you an A+ in class.
Instead, think about telling a story. Start by hooking your reader with an interesting fact, a misconception or asking a question. Then build up to your big reveal using pertinent background or methodological information. The climax of your story is the most impactful or interesting aspect of your research. End your story about why your research matters, or why it can be extrapolated to broader society.
I pass on this resource about research storytelling as it was passed on to me.
2. Separate key points and re-shape your draft; repeat
What are the ten most important points about your research overall? Write only these key messages out.
Then look at your draft written in the first step. Highlight the key points in your draft.
Do they match your ten most important key points?
If yes, move onto the next step. If no, revise and re-write another draft incorporating as many of those key points as you can. Perhaps this requires you to remove unnecessary descriptions or make certain sections more succinct. This step helps you reflect and focus on the salient points of your 3MT. This activity will also serve as your guide in the next step when you add intonations to your speech.
3. Practice, frequently
It is said you should pretend to be speaking to your grandparents. Don’t pretend! Go do it! Your 3MT needs to be understood by anyone and everyone. Therefore, practice with your friends and family. Questions to ask your practice partners: What terminology did you not understand? Did my pitch resonate with you personally? Do you understand the implications of my research? A successful 3MT presentation avoids jargon, makes an emotional connection with the audience, and clearly explains why the research matters to you and broader society.
Ask for help from previous 3MT competitors and practice again. Universities may offer services or connect you with previous finalists. At Dalhousie University, I recommend The Writing Centre. Be specific about the feedback you are looking for – this will allow you to fully benefit from their knowledge and experience. Questions to ask: Can you cut down my pitch to three minutes? How would you explain this complex theory in a clear manner? Should the pitch be re-structured and what is the best way to do so?
Finally, practice by yourself. It is only three minutes per day! Find cues to help you memorize key points or improve flow into the next section of your pitch. This is the step when you add purposeful pauses, facial expressions and inflections in your delivery. Practicing by yourself builds confidence, which is crucial when you present your 3MT.
Wishing you all the best on your 3MT journey! I hope it will be a thoughtful and fruitful experience.