Preparing for the 3MT® at Hamilton
The Three Minute Thesis Competition is a great opportunity to share your senior project work with the rest of the Hamilton community. Past competitors also noted that it’s an opportunity to share your work with a broader group of people as the judges are all from outside of Hamilton.
The rules spell out the details of the competition, but what else should you consider? Keep in mind that you are speaking to a general audience (judging criteria is below). You want to find the key to your thesis and convey the big idea, not every idea. As one former winner wrote, “I also tried to pull out the pieces of my thesis that would not only tell a story, but be most interesting and applicable to the audience, which was surprisingly possible with a chemistry thesis.”
Preparing to be recorded
You will not be judged on the quality of your video itself. However, you should take some steps to ensure that you are presenting yourself well and reducing potential distractions. As with all speaking, practice, practice, practice!
- You should use as neutral of a background as possible. No background items should be visible that could be construed as a prop.
- You may not use props or costumes.
- Speakers must use a single static PowerPoint slide which will be provided to judges alongside the presentation.
- You should take care to reduce background noise as well as potential interference with the recording from fans or other moving objects. Don’t forget to hang a sign on your door asking not to be disturbed.
- Shirts with stripes or busy designs may be distracting on the camera. When in doubt, simple designs or solid colors are preferable. Please do not wear a baseball cap or other brimmed hat as they create shadows.
- Cameras should be positioned so that the audience can see from approximately your navel to the top of your head. Your head should be in the top third of the screen. The camera itself should be positioned at approximately your eye level so that you are not distorted and the audience isn’t looking up your nose. You may need to stack some books to raise your laptop up to a better height. You can find more examples of framing a video here.
- Keep in mind that gestures may be less visible than in person and so you should take care to gesture such that the audience can see.
- Look into the camera, not at the screen. Looking into the camera will create the appearance that you are looking at your audience.
- You may choose to be seated (as long as the camera is still capturing enough of you) though standing tends to be better for the voice. If you are seated, be aware of inadvertent movement from rolling/spinning chairs.
- If you have an external microphone, use it. Either way, make sure you check your input volume before you record, including checking it from wherever you plan to stand or sit.
- You should be well lit, so the quality of your video is not degraded. At minimum, make sure you do not have a significant light source behind you (e.g., your back to a window which makes you into just a silhouette). If you can put a light above and behind your web camera, it will cast light on your face without introducing substantial shadows and be a useful supplement to overhead lighting.
- You will be introduced to the judges, so unless it is a part of the content of the speech, you do not need to introduce yourself.
The judges will evaluate each speaker on two main categories of criteria: content and communication/engagement.
1. clearly explained the background, purpose, and significance of the research project.
2. clearly described the methods, key results, and conclusions drawn from the research.
3. followed a clear and logical sequence.
4. gave adequate time to each element of the presentation.
5. described the research and results in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience.
6. provided adequate background information for a general audience.
Communication and Engagement
7. stimulated my interest in the research and made me want to know more.
8. conveyed enthusiasm for their research
9. captured and maintained the audience’s attention.
10. made eye contact and used body language that enhanced the meaning of the message.
11. spoke with appropriate speed and volume and used vocal expression that enhanced the meaning of the message.
12. PowerPoint slide was legible, concise, and enhanced the presentation
Competitors are encouraged to make an OCC appointment for assistance in narrowing down content and adapting it to a more general audience. Often people are so familiar with their projects (you are the expert!) that they forget what terminology would be unfamiliar. OCC consultants provide fresh ears and eyes to help you!
You can consult with Amy Gaffney, the OCC Director, about your preparation.
View plenty of 3MT presentations, especially from your own discipline, to get a feel for what works. Search youtube for 3MT and you will find plenty of hits. You can also view Hamilton’s past events here. A former winner advised students “Watch videos! I spent half a day combing through 3MT videos from across the world and deciding what I thought worked well, what didn't, and what would work for my particular project. I think this one is a great place to start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epT-OpWDImE.”
Check out our guide for PowerPoint slides, conveniently provided as a PowerPoint.
Advice from previous winners
We asked previous winners to reflect on the Three Minute Thesis preparation and competition as well as the impact that the competition had on their life off the hill. Here is some of what they said:
- “In terms of preparation, I practiced, a lot. I wrote out my presentation, timed it speaking out loud, then used a bright red pen to cut out unnecessary parts and repeated that process until it was exactly the right time....I also scheduled an appointment with the Oral Communication Center towards the beginning of the process.”
- “Another small tip that someone gave me before the presentation was simply to smile once you're on stage before you start speaking.”
- “Although the 3MT didn't help me specifically with the nitty-gritty details of writing my senior thesis, the synthesis in itself was a very valuable process and helped me talk about my work outside of the chemistry department. As someone who does not plan to work in the field, the skills I gained from learning how to communicate technical work is much more valuable than the subject matter knowledge.”
- “Operating within constraints like those of the 3MT teach you how to do a lot with very little. My presentations are almost always on the longer side and it really helped me hone my craft to know that I had only one image and 3 minutes to convey a convoluted idea I had spent a year studying.”
- “A common pitfall with public speaking and oral presentations is that all you need is a good memory and a charming speaking voice. But really, the presentation is all in the preparation and the 3MT is no different. Because you are cramming a 30+ page thesis into 3 minutes, you really have to distill all your obscure, jargon-heavy theories and research into its most accessible, easily digested form. That means putting a lot of thought into how you structure your presentation, which terms you include and how you define them, what image you use to complement your speaking and how you refer to it throughout.”
- “(1) Your thesis is long and intensive. Pick ONE compelling part of your thesis to share during the 3MT. I know it's hard, but seriously: just pick one thing and explain it well. (2) Start with a hook. Why should we listen to you? I remember the winner in 2016 started her presentation with "We have a problem. Eagles are dying." Emulate this to captivate your audience early. (3) Sounds simple, but PRACTICE! Write down what you want to say, and rehearse it over and over. Make sure you rehearse at least a few times in front of another human being so that she/he can give you tips on how to better your performance.”
- “Remember that, at this point, you can kind of consider yourself an expert on your thesis topic. You know A LOT about this topic. You've probably spent countless late nights reading, writing, and agonizing over it. It's extremely likely that you will actually be the most learned person in the room on this particular topic (that means that if you accidentally use the wrong word here or there, people PROBABLY will not notice!). Don't forget that! Consider the 3MT an opportunity for others to learn from this expertise you've gained, as opposed to an opportunity for you to be tested. If you come across as someone who is excited to share your research, the audience will feel that energy, and respond positively to it.”
- “My psychology thesis research resulted in a hope to affect change in schools, but my message would never have left Hamilton's walls if I hadn't participated in the 3MT. After I presented my thesis at the 3MT, one of the judges, who was a superintendent of Clinton schools, asked me if I could present my thesis to the school's administration. I was thrilled by the opportunity to extend the audience of my research, and would never have received such an opportunity if I hadn't presented at 3MT. The 3MT helped me learn the importance of leveraging your community and connections in order to share important research that could affect positive change.”
- “I'm finding now that one of the most rewarding parts of the Three Minute Thesis is being able to use it in interviews. I use is as an example of how I can communicate technical work to a non-technical audience (and I actually included a link to the video on my resume).”
- “What was really rewarding to me was that I had complete creative control over how my thesis was presented (barring the time limit and image restrictions), which usually isn't the case when you're presenting to your department. I loved that I got to focus on the theory and skim over the actual statistics. And preparing the presentation was a great reminder of why the project actually mattered!”