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Pitch your research in three minutes

Career | Authors | Researchers
Pitch your research in three minutes

Wake up your audience, take them by the hand and send them home with one clear idea.

How many times have you looked at your phone today? Five, 10, 20 times, or more? Now think about how long it took you to decide whether you were interested in an item or not. I can bet it was pretty quick. Our minds are saturated with incoming data from people, companies or even artificial intelligences. Some useful, most not. 

A three-minute pitch is your way to demonstrate to others why they should pay attention to your research. Nothing more, nothing less. One hundred and eighty seconds of somebody’s time is all you need to make an impact and be remembered. 

You may have heard of international competitions like My Three-Minute Thesis or FameLab where PhD students are challenged to use this format. It is a great way of putting your ability of breaking down a complex topic to the test. You will come across different, less competitive, situations to pitch too, though. This could be in an interview for funding, a poster session at a conference or, if you are really lucky, an awards ceremony. Here are three tips to bear in mind. 

Know your take-home message

First and foremost in any communication activity, you should define your message. This should be a punchy one-liner that sums up the idea that you want your audience to leave with. You do not actually have to say that message out loud, but it is the main concept that you are trying to explain. 

Matthew Thompson, winner of the 2011 Three Minute Thesis competition  in Australia gave a pitch with a very clear message. His take-home idea was, there may be human error in how current fingerprints are analysed in criminal cases (emphasis on the may). Whilst those might not be the exact words he would have used; I can still distinguish a message because he spells it out and uses his entire pitch to describe it. He states facts such as:

  • “it’s not computers that match prints, it’s humans” ;

  • “in Australia, there are as many as 5,000 of these comparisons made per day to be used as evidence in convicting criminals. And occasionally mistakes are made ”;

  • “despite them testifying in court for the past 100 years, fingerprint examiners have never been scientifically-tested for how accurately they can match prints”. 

If you are clear about the point you want to make with your three minutes, you can then use your time to describe, defend or argue it to your audience. In a pitch, there is no time to digress. Stay on track with a simple message.  

Grab your audience’s attention

A good pitch starts with a good opening sentence because the attention span of the audience is not constant. Whilst experts in the world of presentations do not all agree, a common theory is that audience interest will peak at the very beginning of a talk. They consider that once you start speaking, your audience will gradually switch off and the attentiveness of the people in front of you will wane. 

As a consequence, most coaches (myself included) will tell you to do something as early as possible to hook your spectators; a joke, a surprising demo, an exciting fact, a question or so on. The objective is to pique the curiosity of the people in front of you whilst their attention is highest. Hook your audience, then all you have to do is keep them there.

Prepare your path 

Three minutes is short enough for an audience to listen from beginning to end without you ever losing their attention. However, to keep them with you, you need to take them by the hand. You need to walk them through your pitch as if you were helping an old lady to cross the road; reassuringly without patronising. In simple terms that means making the link between what you just said and what you are about to say as clear as possible. 

Take a look at this example by Megan Pozzi, winner of the 2013 QUT Three Minute Thesis competition. In the first minute, every sentence she says flows smoothly from the one to the next. At about one minute in, she says “I set about asking two questions. First, which of these strategies are grade-8 girls using in their status updates? And second, how and why are grade-8 girls using their status updates more broadly?” Succinctly, she informs us that she is going to tell us two things, then does as promised. It is such a simple technique but, as an audience, we know what to expect, which is reassuring without feeling patronised. 

Enjoy it

Finally, for me, the most important thing about pitching your research is: believe in yourself. Surely you care a lot of your subject – let that passion shine through. If you have a clear message and a plan, you will do yourself justice. Good luck!  

This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Hindawi. The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.

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