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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.

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Presentations too long? Try pecha-kucha!

When you next present to a group, here’s something for you to try.  Ask someone in your audience a week later what they remember from your presentation.  Try it – you’ll find it’s an interesting lesson in key messages.  Did they remember your key take-away?  Unless you’re presenting to an audience that’s really invested in what you have to say, the reality is that they’re probably not giving you their undivided attention – even if they’re trying hard.   They’re tuning in and out of your presentation even as you’re standing in front of them. So why not try something different?  That’s where pecha-kucha comes in.

Shake it up

Pecha-kucha is a snappy, visual presentation format that comes with rules! A pecha-kucha allows you present 20 slides, each of which you deliver in 20 seconds. So your presentation lasts 6 minutes 40 seconds precisely.  This forces you to be concise, and to strip your message right back to what really matters.  And the great thing is that your audience listens to you in a completely different way. Because the slides keep changing, they give you their attention.  Or if you’re really up for a challenge, why not try an Ignite talk?  The rules for an Ignite talk are 20 slides of 15 seconds duration – 5 minutes in total!  Same idea, just different timings.

And here’s the fun part – the slides advance by themselves. Yes, it’s like you have a movie playing behind you on screen as you present. Not easy, but I promise – this format makes your audience more present for your presentation. They listen more actively. Tell them you’ll be up there for no more than six minutes 40 seconds (or five minutes) come what may, and you’ll find they’re willing to give you their focus and attention.

How to give an Ignite talk

Here’s a great video from Scott Berkun, bestselling author and speaker on creativity on ‘how and why to give an Ignite talk’.  Listen to his advice, give it a go, and transform your public speaking forever!



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How to be a brilliant lightning panellist

Lightning panels are a rapid-fire event format designed to introduce an audience to a topic that they may not know much about. As an expert speaker, you’re invited to sit on a panel to share your knowledge – in a short space of time.  A typical lightning panel of 3 or 4 speakers might only take 15 minutes.  Just like a regular panel event, a lightning panel has a moderator to keep the conversation flowing, and to find out more about your specialist area of expertise.  A lightning panel does not allow for the depth of opinion or discussion that a regular panel offers – instead you only have the opportunity to give your audience the key pieces of information they need to know about your subject area.

Lightning panels often take place as part of a larger event.  Event organisers love them because they’re a great way to help event attendees make the most of an event.  A lightning panel is a brilliant way to explain your subject in a short punchy format to get people’s interest. If public speaking isn’t your first love, the added bonus of a lightning panel is that it’s an easier way to explain your topic than delivering a prepared talk.  Since you’re sharing the stage with 2 or 3 other people, you’ll be speaking for less than 5 minutes in total.  Plus you have a moderator on hand to help you out if your mind goes blank or you forget what you meant to say!  Lightning panels have become popular at careers events, where students need to hear from a variety of experts to learn about how a particular industry works.

So if you’re asked to sit on a lightning panel, what should you do? Firstly, we think that you should say yes! What better way to attract students to your industry for example, than by giving them key information that you wish you knew at their age?  To prepare, connect with the panel moderator before the event so that you understand how they plan to run the session.  Usually they’ll ask you to introduce yourself, so you’ll need a short personal introduction or ‘elevator pitch’ ready to explain who you are, what you do and why your audience should be interested. After that, the moderator will ask you one or two questions to allow you to explain your job to your audience.  When you prep for this, think about the questions you’d ask about an industry you know nothing about….. Are there common misconceptions about your industry that you’d like to dispel?  What should students study to get into your industry?  What’s the thing you like best about your job?  What’s your most memorable experience?  Think about one thing you’d like your audience to take away and find the best stories from your job to illustrate that point.

Your lightning panel appearance is a great way to encourage students to consider your industry or your organisation for their next move.  It’s a light-touch way for you to inspire the next generation.  Good luck!

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Business Eye press coverage

We’re pleased to feature in the November 2018 issue of Business Eye magazine.  We’ve worked with over 1,500 people in our three years in business so far – it’s nice to see that number in print!  Thank you to all the wonderful clients that we’ve worked with, and for investing in your teams.  We’ve loved the journey with with you all, and look forward to 2019 together.

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Does your audience listen when you speak?

presentation at meeting

You’ve been asked to give a presentation at your next staff meeting.  Do you think:

a) “I have so much to say, I just don’t know how I’m going to fit it into a five minute slot”

b) “My topic is really boring…. no-one is ever interested in what I have to say”

c) “I don’t even know where to start!”

We all want our audience to take our message on board when we speak.  After taking the first step and considering the needs of your audience, here’s a simple structure to help you to write your message so that they really listen to what you have to say.  We call it the SABA structure, and you’ll see it underpinning so many great talks and messages. In the post below, we’ve chosen two popular TED talks to highlight the use of the SABA structure.  Brené Brown’s widely-watched TED talk on the power of vulnerability  and Bryan Stevenson’s TED talk on racial inequality both follow SABA, whether they intended it or not!


S – Scene

First of all set the scene for your audience. You can’t assume that they know about your topic.   In a sales pitch, this might be as short as a single sentence, explaining the need for your proposal. In a longer talk you can take the opportunity to set the context for your idea.  Bryan Stevenson ‘s talk delivers a hard-hitting message, but gives it personal context with a warm story about the power of identity.  Brené Brown opens her talk with a short story that connects her audience to who she is and why she’s passionate about the work that she does.


A – Approach

What’s your approach?  In your presentation, what are you going to do to address the need that you’ve established in your audience’s mind?  Or maybe you want to give your audience some concrete information to lend credibility to your message. But beware! This is where many people put most of their focus in their presentations. You’re in danger of losing your audience completely, if you drown them in detail. In her talk, Brené Brown makes brief reference to her ten-year career as a social worker and her work as a researcher, but it’s all we need to believe in her conclusions later in her talk.


B – Benefits

Why should your audience care?  What would your audience do if they didn’t adopt your proposal? Stop for a moment and consider your audience’s second-best option.   Now go ahead and position your proposal against the competition – explain why you’re painting a brighter picture or what they’ll get out of following your suggestion.  Both Bryan Stevenson and Brené Brown make use of storytelling to invent a better future.


A – Action

Finally, give your audience a call to action.  What do you expect them to do as a result of your talk? Where can they go to get further information?  In a work presentation, a simple, concrete step that your audience can adopt will further your cause –  visit our shop, sign up for a free trial, set up a meeting with key stakeholders.  In Brené Brown’s case, she’s made the case for us  to slow down and embrace who we are – “Because when we work from a place, that says, “I’m enough”, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us”.  By the end of his talk, Bryan Stevenson has built up a resonant talk that calls on us all to keep an eye on the prize, and hold on, no matter how difficult the circumstances.


For your next talk, how can SABA help you to develop a compelling message that results in action?




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One simple tool to help your next presentation or talk

FLeD Goals

What’s the first thing that you do when you’re asked to give a presentation? Do you spend weeks putting it off, and finally sit down the night before to pull it all together? Or maybe you want to whip out a blank piece of paper and start to scribble down your thoughts straight away? Or perhaps you open up Powerpoint and start working on your slides right away?   Well whichever approach you take, here’s a little tool to help you to cut down on the time that it takes you to prepare a presentation.   It’s a simple device that we call FLeD Goals.

Your FLeD goals should be the beginning of every presentation.   Before you start, sit and reflect for a moment on what you want your presentation to achieve. Think about your audience and what you want to give them in your talk.  When you know where you’re going, you’re far more likely to get there.

FLeD – F – Feel

What do you want your audience to Feel by the time you’ve finished your presentation?   Maybe you want them to feel reassured that they’re in the right hands – that you are the person to guide them through the problem that you’re addressing?  Or maybe it’s fear – fear of missing out – that if they don’t work with you, they’ll miss out on an opportunity?   Whatever you want your audience to feel – joy, sadness, nostalgia, disgust, admiration, surprise – just make sure that you leave them feeling something!

FLeD – L – Learn

What do you want your audience to Learn? This can be a tricky one.  After all, you’re an expert in your topic, and the temptation is always there to try to pass on everything that you know to your audience.   Instead, think about the number one thing that you want your audience to learn, and build your presentation around that.

FLeD – D – Do

What do you want them to Do? Hopefully your audience has learnt something new, and ideally you’ve changed what they’re feeling.  But what’s next?   What would you like them to Do now?  Your Do might be something simple – Like our Facebook page, visit our shop, sign up online for a free trial – or you might be looking for something bigger like a change in behaviour or a shift in attitude.  At the end of your presentation, what small step will you ask your audience to take to move towards that outcome?

Your FLeD Goals is a simple device that can really help you to focus on what you want your presentation to say. Try this the next time you’re asked to speak.  It will help you to put a better presentation together in less time.  Get in touch on Facebook – let us know how you get on!




Speak up, and increase your influence

office meeting speak up

We’ve all been there – sitting in a meeting where you just don’t agree with what’s being said. You have two choices. You can speak up and express your opinion or stay quiet and go along with #groupthink. Maybe it’s the fear of judgment from your own peer group or management that’s holding you back.  As a result, it’s quite likely that you’re not bringing your full potential into the workplace. But what’s the worst that could happen? If you can back up your point of view when you speak up, well then surely you deserve to be heard?

Gender Bias

The research suggests otherwise. In a recent piece for the New York Times, influential commentators Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant exposed an unconscious gender bias within organisations. They found that women speaking up were perceived as less loyal and likeable than men. This was reflected in flatlining performance evaluations for vocal women but significantly higher performance evaluations for men that contributed their ideas.


Whilst we’re sure there are many men out there simmering in frustration at the lack of attention their ideas get, there seems to be a greater problem for women. The power around the table is not always balanced. So there’s a technique gaining attention that women have adopted to make sure their voices are heard. It’s called amplification and it depends on a system of mutual collaboration. Every time someone in a meeting contributes an idea, her colleagues around the table repeat the idea, and credit her with coming up with it. Obama’s female aides used amplification to redress the gender balance around the table in the Oval Office.


Former Boston Heart Diagnostics CEO Susan Hertzberg decided on a different approach – she decided to socialise her ideas with key attendees before the meeting took place. It helped her to rebalance power in her favour and make sure that she didn’t end up in unproductive battles with colleagues.

On-the-spot planning

And just sometimes, you need an approach to formulating your thoughts quickly on an issue so that you can react to an opportunity. At Bespoke Communications, we use the SABA structure to help you to build a compelling presentation or speech. We find that it’s just as effective in a tricky meeting situation as at a public event. Learning a transferable skill can give a confidence boost for more situations than just one. Get in touch if you’d like to hear more.

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Speaker masterclass from Joe Schmidt, Ireland Rugby Head Coach – #BeMoreJoe

speaker Joe Schmidt Ireland Rugby

I’m a big fan of Dan Pink, author of ‘To Sell is Human’, TED speaker and all-round irreverent dispenser of great business advice. I watched a video recently where he gave his viewers a top tip – ‘Make sure you leave people full of energy after an encounter with you’. I recently heard Joe Schmidt address the Londonderry Chamber’s President’s Breakfast as keynote speaker. After the event at the Everglades Hotel, I felt ready to take on the world.

There is no question that Joe Schmidt has the ability to energise and has used it to lead Ireland Rugby through thick and thin. And whilst Bespoke Communications always has an eye to leadership, and might even watch a rugby match or two, we’re in the business of developing expert communicators. So what top tips could we take away from Joe’s speech to pass on in our next Presentation Skills workshop?

Gavin Killeen, Londonderry Chamber of Commerce President and Joe Schmidt, Ireland Rugby Head Coach with Bespoke Communication's Camilla Long

Gavin Killeen, Londonderry Chamber of Commerce President and Joe Schmidt, Ireland Rugby Head Coach with Bespoke Communication’s Camilla Long

Think of your audience

Think of your audience.Above all, Joe had an audience of business leaders from Londonderry Chamber. We heard a speech peppered with rugby anecdotes, but they were always used to illustrate a leadership behaviour in the workplace.  My top take-away was – ‘always invest in your subs’. How many of you can remember matches where the star performers had to leave the pitch ? Then the subs have to step up and carry the match.  Everyone has a role to play in the workplace too.

Connect emotionally

Make me care. We won’t all be lucky enough to have epic stories of sporting prowess to call on when we do our next presentation at the weekly management meeting. So what? Joe dug deep and spoke of the lows as well, very public losses where his leadership was questioned. Tactics for resilience in the face of defeat may be even more relevant to business leaders in our complex world. Joe made a connection with his audience with stories we could identify with . His message will sing long after he’s left the room.

Win our trust

Did Joe build trust as a speaker? Absolutely. There was congruence between his words and the stories he told. He smiled, took in everyone in the room, paced his speech and was expressive in his delivery. Most of all, we loved how he wove his speech back around to lay down the gauntlet to Gavin Killeen, Londonderry Chamber President. Gavin had delivered an empassioned speech of his own directly beforehand. But that’s a blog for another day! After Gavin and Joe’s speeches, we’ll all try to play our part in helping future generations of young people.

After that masterclass, we think that we should all #BeMoreJoe when we stand up to speak! And the great news is that speaking is a skill, not a talent. If you feel like your speaking skills are a bit out of date, check these resources to find approaches to making your next speech more compelling.