By Parmit Singh, PhD
You should refer to the slide and not defer to the slide during a presentation. This was the main theme of the Three-Minute-Talks (TmT) workshop, led by Mr. Scott Morgan on January 30, 2014. This year, the NICHD is holding the first NICHD Science Communication Awards “TmT” Competition, a chance for postdoctoral fellows to communicate their research to a broad scientific audience in three minutes or less. The NICHD will then use winning presentations to promote the research of trainees on our website. During primary screening, seventeen postdoctoral fellows were selected on the basis of their submitted abstracts.
The competition is a multi-step process. This first workshop teaches us how to prepare and present our results within three minutes and with only one slide. For the next round of training, judges will select 10 postdocs on the basis of their individual presentations before an audience. Finally, the judges will select the top three as a winner for this year.
At the beginning of the workshop, Mr. Morgan showed us two videos of students who participated in the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) research communication competition, which was developed by the University of Queensland in Australia. After each video, we discussed the plusses and minuses of each presenter. Unanimously, everyone agreed that the first presenter gave a better speech than the second one. Some of the main differences between the presenters were the following:
- The first presenter made 100 percent eye contact with the audience, whereas the second presenter kept turning her head towards the slide.
- The first speaker had less content, so she was relaxed and slow. However, the second presenter had more data and had to rush.
- The first talk showed a personal touch of the presenter, as she mentioned “I published” and “We are first to show.” Such first-person statements show that you enjoy and know your subject. This was totally absent in the second talk.
- The second speaker had no money slide, i.e., she did not highlight anything from her slide, whereas the first presenter did this for her hypothesis and final result. It is essential to recognize and stress the main goal or question of your work. Moreover, the end should be powerful and give a take-home message.
During the second part of the workshop, Mr. Morgan presented the funnel model of a presentation. This model suggests that we should start our presentation from a broader view to capture a large audience, and then quickly narrow down to the specific question or aim. This should be followed by a discussion on the data and finally a main result with a broader implication.
Next, the participants presented their work in three to four sentences, starting with either a specific question or the relevance of their work. Depending upon the choice that people made, Mr. Morgan suggested several tips for improvement, and then it was open for discussion among the participants. The suggestions are summarized below:
- Clearly define the aim or the goal.
- Keep just a single aim.
- Be inclusive or broader at the start and then narrow the focus.
- Make 98 percent eye contact with the audience.
- Don’t turn around; just believe the slides are behind you.
- Start with relevance or specific questions or broad data points. Don’t start the talk by focusing on a narrow audience. For example, you can start your talk with how your work is having a global impact on things like HIV/AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis, etc. The impact of these on the world population is well known.
- Give a one-line reason why you chose your work when you are narrowing your talk from broader relevance to your specific topic. For example, our immune system works via various ways to protect our body. Autophagy is just one such part of the immune system. Then you have to mention why you chose autophagy instead of other parts of the immune system.
- Give a parallel analogy. This means trying to connect with the audience by comparing your results with a common example or idea.
- Have a powerful ending. Try to give a strong message at the end with broad relevance, like at the start.
- Don’t use small numbers to show the relevance of your work. For example, instead of saying that 10 percent of the population has sterility, try using the percentage of a specific age group. The second idea is to make a big number by showing the affected population, which will be in the millions, instead of a percentage.
- Support graphs and mechanisms with a picture.
- There should be at least one money slide that clearly shows the aim and the main result.
- Don’t confuse the relevance of your work with the aim of your work. Relevance addresses the problem on the broader scale. It is not a question. Whether you start with relevance or not, you have to tell your specific question.
- Don’t use “I prove” or “I will convince you.” Everyone is independent in thinking. The moment you say this, they will be reluctant to accept your idea.
- Don’t tell funny or silly things just to create humor.
- Avoid video if possible because, unlike a static slide, a video will cause the audience to focus on the video and not what you’re saying.
I hope that fellows can use these ideas to make their presentations powerful and more expressive.