How to ace a 3MT final


3MT is a speech competition that is sweeping Universities around the globe. Originating at the University of Queensland, this competition tests contestants abilities to communicate research to a general audience in only 3 minutes. Its a compelling elevator pitch designed to make even Joe Bloggs care about your research.

I recently participated in the 3MT competition at the University of Waikato, New Zealand and took out the win for the competition and the People’s Choice award. It was a massively rewarding experience and huge learning curve. So I thought I would share some of the things that made 3MT successful for me….

  1. A killer slide – I probably spent way too long crafting my slide on powerpoint – but it paid off. Your slide must help the audience to visualise something that they might have trouble creating in their own mind. Complicated text will only distract and prevent the audience from connecting with you.

    R Nepia Final 16-9

    My slide design ‘Who’s BEEn sitting in my chair? Honey bees in New Zealand Forest’

  2. Metaphor/Analogy/Personal experience i.e. a connection point – for research that is difficult to communicate to a general audience, analogies metaphors or personal experiences can be effective tools. Relating your research to something that most people can relate to will help the audience make connections quicker, and remember your talk for longer. I used a dinner table to convey my message about resource availability, pollination networks and introduced species. Its something that everyone can relate to and it carried the ideas easily. If you do use an analogy, metaphor or personal experience it is a good idea to weave it through the talk and use it to tie up the conclusion. This makes for a well-rounded presentation.
  3. Humour helps – When you are on such a tight time frame its tempting to cut out things like humour, but getting a genuine laugh from the audience is enjoyable for them, and it gives you something to smile about too.
  4. Workshops/Feedback/Coaching – Make the most of opportunities to seek feedback or coaching from University staff, friends, family, and random strangers.  I polled different options for my slide design to choose elements that were charismatic and instantly likable to the audience. Our university also ran some fantastic workshops to put you in your uncomfortable zone, work on gestures, tone and pitch, and tighten up content. Find someone with those skills and seek their feedback.

    All participants

    Finalists at the University of Waikato 3MT Competition 2018

  5. Some tough competition – realise that tough competition is a great thing. Having tough competition will keep you from getting comfortable or complacent and force you to either improve or be out-gunned. I competed with an amazing group of PhD students who are powerful communicators of research – I learned a lot from them!
  6. Love what you do – after you have practiced your talk a thousand times it can easily become boring and robotic. Remember to love what you do, pour your passion into your talk and it will flow through to your audience.

3MT does take work and practice, but its worth it to learn how to pitch your research succinctly and persuasively…and the prize money isn’t too bad either! Good luck!


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