This is a guest post by Kirsty McIntyre (@_kirstymcintyre). Kirsty is a PhD student in the Institute of Human Development and the winner of the University of Manchester 3MT competition 2016

At a graduate presentation workshop in early 2016 I was encouraged to take part in the 3 Minute Thesis competition. “That sounds terrifying”, I thought. So, I signed up.

Discussions at many a family party have highlighted my inability to succinctly articulate my research to those outside my lab group. Whoever the poor great-Aunt was that I was speaking with soon lost interest – I got too technical too soon.

The 3MT presented a challenge, and an opportunity. I would have to engage members of the public with what I actually do. This task would not only require me to clarify the reasoning to myself, but would also give me the chance to fulfil the moral obligation of reporting my findings to the public.

After signing up, all entrants were emailed a daunting link to videos of previous winners and finalists, and an (equally daunting) list of rules to be followed. We would have 3 minutes, 1 slide, no props, nor opportunity to sing or rap(!). We were to be judged on our content but also on how we relayed the information to our audience.

To prepare us for the heats we were offered training from Dr Sam Illingworth. Sam taught us the theory behind a good presentation whilst demonstrating excellent presentation skills himself. He also set us small tasks, such as writing 1 sentence to explain our research to a 5 year old. This really helped me to think about how I would discuss my work in language appropriate for a general audience. Armed with this knowledge we were set free to write our presentations and construct our slides…

Writing my talk was tricky. The task demanded that I not obsess over specifics (as us PhD students so often do!). In a world where ‘transfer’ and ‘transport’ are considered wildly different, I had to force myself to let go of this nit-picking and just keep it simple.

The heats were exhilarating and fast-paced, there were 12 speakers in my heat, with topics ranging from agriculture to Alzheimer’s. I learnt a lot from watching others present – their use of body language and metaphors to illustrate their work, what made a good or a bad slide.

From the 3 heats, 12 of us progressed to the finals and were provided yet more (outstanding) training. Caroline Clegg coaxed us out of our shells during her session, successfully managing to improve all of our stage presence and diction in just a few short hours. Caroline gave very personalised, specific and useful feedback. I left the session more motivated than ever to work on my 3MT to make it the best that it could be.

The 3MT final was a blur. I was last to present but I enjoyed watching the other presentations – everyone had developed and improved so much! Then it was my turn. I stepped down to the front of the lecture theatre, took a breath, smiled and began… 3 minutes was over in a flash.

Following a brief interlude, the winners were announced. Julio Vega won the ‘People’s Choice’, Rishad Ahmed was announced 2nd place, and I was awarded 1st place!

I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to take part in the 3MT competition, and delighted to have won. By taking part I have developed presentation skills that I can take with me to future public engagement events, lab meetings and conferences. It has also given me that chance to meet other enthusiastic early-career researchers in different specialities.

If the thought of 3MT scares you, I encourage you to get involved!

With thanks to the Division of Development and Alumni Relations (DDAR) for their sponsorship of this event.

This post was orginally published on 15 June 2016 on The University of Manchester STEPS blog site.