All around Australia PhD students are preparing for the 3 minute thesis competition, so it seems like a good time to be talking about presenting skills!
You have a great research question, cool data and a spot at the next conference. That means you have somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes to impress a bunch of people who know your field just as well, if not better than you do. If you’re a PhD student, some part of you hopes that this talk could be the gateway to a job. You want to do the kind of talk that makes people think that working with you would be a good idea. So here are four tips for great academic talks:
Forget normal (everyone else already has)
While everyone remembers the great talks and the awful talks, few people remember the “normal” ones. Perversely, it is precisely those “normal” talks that we often use as the guide for our own work.
The talks that really stand out for being great are a much better model. How did those speakers make their work seem interesting and engaging? What did they do that set them apart? Take note of the little things that make talks look and sound great.
Know your audience
Unless you have been to a conference before and/or know the field especially well, do a little recon on the kinds of people who will be there and the kinds of research they are doing. Find out who the “big names” are and how they present their work. In short, do your homework.
If they expect really tight data analysis, do that and present it with flair. If they expect you to deeply engage with theory, do that and engage with the audience too. In short, do what they expect and even more! Remember no one remembers normal.
Throw out some stuff
How do you know what to present and what to leave out? The first rule is simple: keep it simple. A good rule of thumb is to attempt to summarise your presentation in one sentence that is short enough to fit on a t-shirt and only include material that says something about that sentence. That way, you keep to the most important ideas and facts and let the audience ask you if they want more info.
The second rule is this: either it flows or out it goes. There is nothing worse than a talk that consists of several bits of information with no links between them. It confuses your audience and you at the same time. Rehearse it a few times – doing that will soon tell you what works and what doesn’t.
Every audience member is silently asking “why should I listen to you?” The only answer that ever works is “because I can help you.” If your study is as good as you think it is, it should say something about a larger process, a wider problem or a bigger issue. Make the most of that link: it is not just a vital part of doing a good talk but it is an important building block for your future career.
The QUT 3 Minute Thesis competition is coming up in August with the final being held in September. Details are at http://www.student.qut.edu.au/about/events/research-events/three-minute-thesis
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