Tips for Producing an Engaging 3MT Video Submission

3 Minute Thesis is an annual global research communication competition which is now getting underway for 2020 (entries close this Friday for AUT Masters students!). The premise is simple: present your research in just 3 minutes, with only one slide. This has always been a challenging task; but in 2020, it’s a new kind of challenge.

This year, because of COVID-19, competitors will submit video presentations instead of taking to the stage. Although it would be possible to run live 3MT events in New Zealand at Level 1, this is an international competition; and much of the world is still in some form of lockdown. To keep things consistent for competitors around the world, all 2020 3MT presentations must be pre-recorded.

Although the format has changed, the path to 3MT success remains largely the same. A top-notch 3MT presentation needs to be exciting, engaging, and accessible to non-specialists; while also including enough detail about your research to demonstrate the rigour and significance of your work. In fact, the 3MT judging criteria are unchanged for 2020.

That being said, producing a successful video presentation does require slightly different skills to those required to succeed onstage. Fortunately, you don’t need any special technical skills. The 3MT organising team at the University of Queensland has made it clear that your video filming and editing skills will not be evaluated. No points are awarded for fancy cinematography or state-of-the-art editing. For the purposes of this competition, your potato-quality phone camera is as good as a high-end DSLR.

Although you won’t be judged on your filming or editing, you do still need to do some filming and editing. The team that manages 3MT at the University of Queensland has produced a helpful Virtual 3MT Handbook 2020 detailing how you can create your video from a technical perspective – including info on framing, lighting, sound, and editing. If you’re new to making videos, start there.

But in terms of your presentation skills, which are assessed, presenting to camera is different to presenting to an audience. Vocal projection is less important; engaging through the camera is more important. You won’t be able to move around as much, but you won’t need to worry about stage fright either. With a video submission, you can record and re-record as many times as you need to get it right.

This means that, even if you’ve competed in the 3MT before, you’ll need to think slightly differently about how to present in the 2020 competition. Let’s break down how you can succeed on-camera with each element of your presentation: what you show, what you say, and how you say it.

What you show (your slide)

3MT contestants have always been able to display one static slide – so this is not new for 2020. The principles of good slide design still apply: keep it simple, make good use of impactful imagery, and don’t overcrowd your slide. See our previous Thesislink post for some tips on Designing a Winning 3MT Slide.

With video submission, you have two options for displaying your slide. You can record yourself left-of-centre in the frame so that your slide can appear beside you; or you can film yourself centred in the frame and cut to your slide periodically (to display for a maximum of 1 minute). The UQ Virtual 3MT Handbook 2020 contains more details on these options.

You can choose which option is more strategic for your particular presentation. For instance, a single-image or conceptual slide might benefit from being displayed throughout your presentation; while a slide which relates most to particular points in your talk might be best displayed selectively at those times.

What you say (your script)

Some people like to work to a script when presenting; while others like to speak extemporaneously (‘off the cuff’). However for 3MT, it’s crucial to know exactly what you’re going to say. A well-refined script can keep your talk within the 3 minute time limit, and can help you to ensure that you’re explaining your research clearly while addressing the 3MT judging criteria.

Presenting to camera (instead of onstage) doesn’t really change how you write your script. However, it does reduce the pressure to memorise your script! When you come to record, you can use off-camera cue cards or prompts to aid your delivery. Just make sure that they don’t limit your ‘eye contact’ with the camera.

Our friends at the AUT Library have created a video resource with some tips on writing a script for an online presentation. This video goes over how to prepare your wording in relation to visual materials (though remember that for 3MT, you are limited to just one slide with no animations).

How you say it (your delivery)

Good delivery on camera is quite different from good delivery onstage. When presenting live, you need to be able to project your voice, make strategic use of movement, and maintain composure if you forget your words or if someone sneezes loudly. On camera, you can keep recording until you get it right; but you have to engage your viewers without actually seeing them or being able to gauge their reactions.

If you’re used to presenting live, try recalibrating for the camera by:

  • Scaling back your volume and movements as if you’re addressing one person, rather than a crowd
  • Making ‘eye contact’ with the camera lens (and ensuring that your gaze stays there most of the time even if you’re reading from cue cards)
  • Framing yourself in the shot so that your hand movements are visible
  • Re-recording your presentation several times so you can choose your best ‘take’ (though note that 3MT rules dictate that you cannot edit several ‘takes’ together – while you can edit between the visual of yourself and your slide, the audio must be continuous with no edits)

Here’s a video from the AUT Library team with some tips on using your voice in presentations (including online presentations). This contains useful detail on how to plan your vocal delivery for maximum impact.

Preparing a 3MT presentation is a challenge and a commitment, but it can be very rewarding. In addition to great prizes, AUT’s 3MT winners get a chance to compete in national and international competitions, rubbing shoulders (virtually, this year) with some of the world’s brightest researchers. For AUT’s 2019 3MT doctoral winner Peter Jean-Paul, that meant presenting in Brisbane multiple times as he ascended into the top 10 rankings for the entire Asia-Pacific region.

And this year, competing in the 3MT means you will have a video that you can use to inform friends, family, participants, and stakeholders about your research. That’s a win!

If you would like to compete in AUT’s 3MT competition, remember to submit your entry form to the GRS by this Friday 26 June 2020 (master’s students) and Friday 17 July 2020 (doctoral students). More information, including entry forms and judging criteria, is available on the Student Hub Online 3MT page. We will let all entrants know when they need to submit their videos.

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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