3MT: You absolutely can do this

Cheryl Chan competing in 3MTLast year, I participated in Waterloo’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition. I signed up early—on a whim—after receiving a departmental e-mail. The registration process was deceptively easy, but preparation for my 3MT was an unfamiliar and difficult journey. However, in overcoming my initial discomfort towards public speaking, I seized an invaluable opportunity to share the story of my research and to engage with the community of Waterloo. Ultimately, I practiced a new skill, accomplished something that I never thought I could, and gained new perspective on my work. If you have registered for this year’s competition and are thinking, “I can’t do this,” I assure you: you absolutely can.

I would like to say that my speech came about organically, but in truth, it did not; “organic” has never been my creative process. In fact, I wrote and re-wrote the script many times, only to rewrite it again when I started practicing. If you are at this stage, it’s perfectly normal. While preparing my 3MT, I used the following strategies: 1) a hook; 2) the rule of three; and 3) a call to action.

During the writing process, I first focused on crafting a “hook” (i.e., something to grab the audience’s attention at the beginning)—a hook can be anything from a familiar quote, to a joke, short anecdote, or even statistics. In my case, I used a quote to draw the audience in, and statistics to set my problem context (i.e., to express why my research matters). Then, I turned my attention towards extracting the three key points of my research (I have always subscribed to “the rule of three” for learning). What did I really want my audience to take away from my thesis? How could I make this message meaningful and accessible? The process of answering these questions provided new insights into my research and pushed me to become a more effective communicator. Finally, I ended my speech with a tangible call to action. I wanted the audience to feel empowered to generate positive change, and I also wanted people to feel connected to my research on a personal level.

Once I drafted my speech, I began to practice. With confidence, I can say that the idiom, “practice makes perfect,” is a misnomer. Practice will undoubtedly make you more prepared and comfortable, but you can practice your speech endlessly and still fumble a word every now and then—and again, that’s okay! Practice those points where you fumble—really, enunciate so clearly that you make yourself laugh. When speaking to an audience, you are rarely as loud as you think you are, and you are rarely as clear as you think you are. To hear the audience’s perspective, be sure to practice in front of others, as well. At this point, I would like to thank my friends, supervisor, and faculty for providing valuable constructive feedback. I would also like to thank my mirror, which watched my speech a thousand times without complaint or judgement.

If you are competing in this year’s 3MT, remember to take a deep breath before you start, and just go for it!