Confronting the 3 Minute Thesis

I finally sat down after the first School of NBE round of the 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) and thought, “Well I tried but I don’t think I’m getting through.”

This was because I have never been so overwhelmingly nervous during a presentation ever before in my life. At one point I even remember thinking, “If I just lie down right here on the ground… will everyone just go away and leave me alone?”

So thank goodness I did better than I thought I did.

The 3MT was developed by the University of Queensland and has been running since 2008. It’s a deceptively simple concept:

Can you take your 4 (or 5 or 6 or even 7 years!) of PhD research and explain it to a non-expert audience in under 3 minutes? Oh and you’re only allowed one slide behind you, with no moving parts or sounds. Sounds like a reasonable challenge yes?

In that first school round I came second (which I was not expecting at all).

Three weeks later in the Division round, the presentations were part of an all day Division Information Day. This means it was held in a large sunken lecture room with more than 100 academics coming and going throughout the day.

Again I was very nervous. But thank goodness I was still slightly less nervous than the last time. I tried to set myself up to succeed by leaving the room about three presentations before my own, and using some of the warm ups and voice exercises I learnt in voice training. By the time I returned to the lecture hall – it was time for me to present.

As I was slightly calmer I was able to use my hands to gesture more, I was able to smile more and even move around a little. However I still stumbled on some words and when trying to move on to the next part or my talk.

The others who were also presenting did mostly really well. Everyone stayed within the three minute mark. Some had brilliant voice projection, and some were a little hard to hear in this large padded room. Most of them moved around while they spoke, and used hand gestures to great effect.

What I took away from this was that not only should you practice a lot, but you really should try to practice in front of as many people as you can muster. With only three minutes to present, you don’t have any time to relax into your talk once you get going. You need to start already relaxed.

For anyone interested in watching the 3MT Final Round for the University of South Australia, it’s on Wednesday the 17th of August from 10-12 at the City West Campus. Good luck to all the presenters!


And does has anyone had a similar experience with the 3MT? Or do you have any ideas or suggestions for how to begin a talk calm, instead of having to calm down during your talk? Let me know!

WOMADelaide 2016 Composting 101 Workshop

This March, I presented a workshop on composting at WOMADelaide 2016. It was a very big day that began early with dropping off all my props and gear, and finished with a rush of adrenaline in the late afternoon as I realised that it was all done. Nothing went wrong – in fact everything had gone right, and it was so much fun!

My workshop host was Deb Tribe, a fantastic presenter from 891 ABC radio. We met face to face only an hour before the workshop was due to start but she put me at ease straight away. Now, I’m used to presenting in front of a PowerPoint presentation. Usually without props, not much movement and no-one else doing any speaking.

This was very different!

The Speakers Corner stage dedicated to this year’s Planet Talks and workshops had so much infrastructure: couches and comfy chairs, trestle tables, side tables and plants all round the edges. When running through the workshop plan with Deb, she suggested we start sitting down and talking, then move over to the trestle table covered in all the composting examples, and finally move back to the couch to finish. And it wasn’t just me talking. This workshop was a conversation between Deb and I. A back and forth, with her asking questions to clarify things I was doing. To top it off we even had 3 volunteers up on stage to help build an example compost heap right then and there. The young boys that jumped up to volunteer all thought the smelly compost ingredients (like manure) were hilarious!

And it went brilliantly. I had a shock the first time I opened my mouth to talk and looking away from Deb realised that the place was full. It felt wonderful being able to read the audience, to watch their faces, bounce off their reactions and really have fun with it. We covered everything we meant to within the hour and even had time for questions – some of them really curious ones. Later on I was told that the workshop had been filmed and projected up onto a big screen up the hill where even more people had been camped out watching us.

I had the absolute best time and can’t wait for my next experience.

WOMADelaide 2016: Composting 101 workshop preparation.

I was recommended as someone who might be interested in running a workshop on compost at this years WOMADelaide festival in Adelaide. When asked I said, “Yeah, sure – why not?” after which I then went home and forgot about it. Two months later I started getting emails from WOMADelaide organisers informing me of fun details that I’d overlooked. Things like: this workshop needs to be interactive, can you write a description of it that we can advertise right now (!), it needs to go for 1 whole hour (!!) and you’ll be presenting on a stage in a tent in front of about 200 people (!!!)…. I could feel my panic levels rising.

So what have I done since then? Well I sat down and thought about how I was going to structure this workshop of mine… (Alright that’s not strictly accurate – first I freaked out and called my Dad, the business trainer, presenter and workshop runner extraordinaire). I explained that the topic was compost but that I had a free rein, except that I had to fill a whole hour. 

He very quickly got me to calm down and think about it. Yes, the time slot was 1 hour but what about time for questions? That would take at about 15 minutes. So really I only had to fill 45 minutes. And then what about introductions and people settling in? That would take at least another 5 minutes at the beginning. I concurred. So my actual time span to fill was only 40 minutes. He then said, “40 minutes? Oh that’s easy. That’s just talking about 4 topics or 4 different things for 10 minutes each. You can do that.”

It was that simple. He helped me to see that no matter how long the timespan of a workshop, presentation or speech is meant to be, all you need to do is break it down into its smaller (and much more manageable) parts.

From there it was just a matter of choosing what topics I wanted to cover in those 4 x 10 minute slots. Then to decide what I wanted to show people, what props to use and how to make it interactive. And then lots, and lots and lots of practise.

The workshop is this Sunday at 5pm. At least my compost is prepared and ready. Wish me luck!

https://www.womadelaide.com.au/program/the-planet-talks

WOMAD compost

I recently completed my Confirmation of Candidature presentation.

Proposal presentation front page SMALLProposal presentation 1

This is a presentation of your research proposal to a panel of academic markers (and hopefully some other interested people) to see whether they also think that your idea is realistic, rigorous and interesting. If all your markers pass you, you become an official PhD student – safe for the rest of your 3.5 years of research.

I was feeling both nervous and confident. Nervous because I was presenting to a panel of academic markers who would judge whether my research proposal was good enough to continue. I was also nervous as I wanted this presentation to contribute to my reputation as someone who is not only good at presenting, but also downright enjoys it. Due to this I had invited more people than strictly necessary to make a bit of a fun event about it.

I was confident for a few reasons. Firstly because I was presenting on a topic I knew – my own research. I also made sure that I knew all the requirements of the presentation: the time limit, and length of question time, all the aspects I had to cover (background, aim and objectives, methods and analysis).

I had practised a lot. I knew my slides, all the transitions and animations. I had my speech on palm cards even though I didn’t think I would need them. I had practised with the slide clicker and had presented twice to my supervisors to get their opinions and advice. You can practise in front of anyone, friends, family or peers.

I also went to an effort to make the experience a comfortable one. I got to the room first and set up my slideshow, turned on only some lights so the slides could be seen, and put on some soft friendly music. This way, when people starting coming in they didn’t stand around awkwardly. Instead they relaxed and chatted to others there until it was time to begin.

So how did it go? Really really well. I kept to time, didn’t need my palm cards and was marked highly. I get to continue as an official PhD student of UniSA and study the topic of my own choosing: urban agriculture.

It all had to start somewhere.

At the end of Year 12, I decided I wanted to go to university and do a double degree in Environmental Science, and Fine Arts. Except… that this didn’t exist.

I was told that it had never been done before, and that there were no processes in place to facilitate such a combination.

But I was convinced that there was such potential, and so many connections and similarities between science and art. Art is expression, emotion and all about telling a story (even if you don’t know what the story is). Science is observation, exploration and logically figuring things out.

Both are attempts to gain understanding.

But I was younger, and new to how universities worked and I let the idea go. I began the four years of environmental science it took to get me here at the beginning of a PhD. With what I now know – I wish I could go back and fight for that double degree. I would have said, “This is where the future is heading and I want in. I know we can figure it out somehow.” But I didn’t and that’s okay too. Because between my PhD, this new blog, and my artwork – I’m getting there anyway.