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Get this one thing right – and your 3MT® talk will be a winner!

3MT Ulster University Winner

Ulster University has had great success in the prestigious 3MT® competition. In 2018, Temilola Olanrewaju secured a top 12 place in the UK-wide competition, followed quickly by Oluwashina Akinsanmi winning the UK People’s Choice Award in 2019.

Putting their awards to one side for a moment, we asked them what they thought the biggest benefit of the competition was. Apart from the public speaking and communication benefits, they said:
• “It challenged me to really look at the bigger picture of my work. (The competition) pushed me to understand my research more.” – Temilola
• “Challenging myself has always been my driving force in life. (By experiencing the 3MT® challenge), I created a platform for my research to be seen.” – Oluwashina

Just like Temilola and Oluwashina, you are undertaking the complex challenge of a PhD thesis. Your research really matters, so why not take this opportunity to really get to the heart of your research study to prepare you for a better thesis, a focussed write-up and a confident viva.

Start with Why
The first thing we’re going to look at is Why. Why does your PhD make you tick and why should anyone care? There are many reasons why researchers decide to to undertake a PhD. Is one of these people you?
• “I studied this topic at undergraduate and I would have loved to spend more time on it, it really fascinated me. I had to take the opportunity to dig in deeper and explore the subject.”
• “I worked as a clinician/youth worker/art curator and wanted to get into my subject in depth in a way that the pressures of day-to-day work could not allow.”
• “I studied Computer Science as an undergraduate and was fascinated to see cutting edge algorithms applied to real world problems.”
• “I am affected by this disease and want to find ways of helping other people to have a better experience.”

The decision to commit to an intense course of study and discovery as a PhD student is deeply personal. But as an academic, you don’t typically talk about why you undertook your PhD – you’re accustomed to conducting your research objectively, without bias and with regard for the facts and evidence. The personal doesn’t come into it.

So when it comes to your 3MT®, we’re going to ask you dig a little bit deep. Ask yourself why you took on this PhD and why it matters. You’ll make yourself vulnerable up there on that stage because you’ll let us see the person behind the research. It’s not a comfortable thing to do at first. But ask any previous participant. They’ll tell you it’s intensely liberating.

But relax a moment, we’re not necessarily asking you to tell us your life story in your 3MT®. Just watch Temilola and Oluwashina in action. Their passion for their research is what we see – no mention of their own personal story. Although they will have thought about their personal commitment to their research in order to develop their inspirational 3MT® talks. Chioma Paul in 2016 took a different approach – she did give us an insight to the personal story that inspired her research and it worked well. Just remember – if you don’t show your audience why you care, why should they?

Your audience
So now we’ve mentioned your audience – the people watching your talk. The ones you need to win over with your words. You know why your research matters, but do they? If you want to change minds, you need to meet your audience where they are. Why should they care about your research as much as you do? Remember we are all selfish creatures – what’s in it for them? Will you make their lives easier? Will your research affect some of the big themes that are going on in the world right now?
• you will you contribute to a cure for a deadly disease?
• will you make better therapies for a disease?
• can you make our workplaces better and more productive?
• do you solve a big problem in society – like anti-social behaviour, racism, poverty?

If you can tie your research to a big theme, then your audience will understand why your research matters. Think big here, you’ll work on the credibility and evidence to back up your thesis in the body of your talk.

We know the impact statement can be a challenge for those of you early on in your PhD journey – your research question may not even be fully formed yet. But that is one of the big benefits of the 3MT® process – when you start to ask those difficult questions, just like Temilola, you’ll come to the realisation that your PhD matters even more than you first realised.

Personalise your talk
OK, so you’ve thought about a general audience for your talk, and reflected on why they should care. Let’s move your talk to the next level. Who is the beneficiary of your research? Is that a cancer patient? A parent of a teenager? A police officer on the beat? An elite athlete? A consumer? Now you have the task of crafting your talk for an audience of your beneficiaries, those that are really invested in your research. Imagine a real person that you know who represents that audience. Now it’s time to deliver your 3MT® as though you were speaking to them. By imagining a real, live person as your audience member, it will help you to keep your talk real, avoid jargon and really connect.

As a final inspiration to get your 3MT® started, watch this inspirational TED Talk from leadership expert Simon Sinek. He’s uncovered a simple but powerful model of communication that will help you to get to the heart of your PhD thesis and deliver a brilliant 3MT®. Because according to Sinek, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Start with ‘Why’ and you’ll inspire your audience – just like Temilola and Oluwashina.