What was it you said your research was about?

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Researchers don’t always have an easy time of explaining their work. But that’s precisely what the PhD students in the competition 3-Minute Thesis have to do – with conviction, charisma and confidence. With help from an actor and lots of practice.

2019.03.01 | Lene Ravn og Roar Paaske (fotos)

Actress Pia Mourier demonstrates vividly how crucial body language can be to the art of grabbing your audience’s attention

Fakta: Three Minute Thesis Competition

The participants in the competition are PhD students who have just three minutes and one slide to present their research.

At AU, 34 PhD students applied to participate, and 20 were selected on the background of their applications. They all receive a little communication training: a one-day workshop on rhetoric and body language and a feedback session before the competition. 

The winner at AU will receive a 35,000 kroner travel gift certificate and a chance to participate in the international competition, which involves over 35 countries.

3MT will take place 4 pm - 6 pm on 20 March in Stakladen. Sign up to watch  here

Source: The Three Minute Thesis Competition.

Translation: Lenore Messick.

What’s your PhD about?

“Yeah, that’s a good question,” says Simon Grund Sørensen thoughtfully. He makes a stab at an explanation:

“It’s clinical research on cancer, but I use programming for it.” This is as far as he gets before actress Pia Mourier signals the end of the break by standing on a chair in the middle of the room.

Fortunately, Simon still has time to think about his choice of words before he goes on stage in Stakladen for the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition. He’ll have precisely three minutes to impress the judges with his ability to communicate this complex topic in an easy-to-understand, speedy and maybe even entertaining way.  

Only one of the 20 competitors will win the competition at AU. He or she will advance to the international competition. But all of the participants will probably get better at explaining their research in a way that non-academics can understand and benefit from.  

And this is where actress Pia Mourier comes into the picture. She’s leading the workshop today, and her job is to give the participants useful tips on rhetoric and communication. 

“Stand up,” she says from her perch on the chair.

And the PhD students all stand up.

“Now I want you to do exactly what I say.”  

“Fold your hands,” she says, while crossing her arms.

And everyone obeys – by crossing their arms. 

“Hey, what did you just do there?” 

Everyone smiles. Some  look a little embarrassed. They all fell into Mourier’s trap just as she had hoped.

“So, everyone looks, but we don’t listen,” she observes.

PhD student Simon Grund Sørensen in the middle of an exercise on charisma.

The spoken word is one thing, and body language is something else entirely when it’s time for the 20 researchers to perform. Which is also why the actress had all of the tables pushed up against the walls of the small meeting room, because as she says: 

“I can’t see the participants if they’re tucked away behind the tables.”

Are your listeners yawning?

Moving right along on from her trick, Mourier asks the participants to form groups of three. They’re assigned different roles: one tells a story, one listens with interest, and one acts indifferent.

Sarah Østrup Jensen immediately starts in on a story about the time her little brother drove to Sweden without a key to the apartment he was supposed to be staying in. Simon Grund Sørensen listens raptly while Vincent Valentin Scholz yawns with equal enthusiasm. 

With passionate intensity, Sarah Østrup Jensen tells her story to tuned-out Vincent Valentin Scholz (left) and tuned-in Simon Grund Sørensen (right).

Mourier observes that Sarah Østrup Jensen chose to ignore her inattentive listener, and encourages her to pay attention to both listeners. 

And so Sarah immediately looks directly at yawning Vincent:

“Are you listening?”

Don’t think with your feelings – think with your head

Of course, the exercise has a point:

“The problem is that we think with our feelings. We do everything we can to make sure everyone’s part of the group,” she says, and encourages everyone not to get hung up on it if a few of their audience members tune out.

She’s made that mistake herself:

 “I was on stage in front of 100 people, and three of them weren’t paying attention and were clearly busy with something else. And everything fell apart for me up there on stage. But would you believe that those three came up to me afterwards and asked me to do a workshop for them?”

Almost everyone’s attention is focused on Pia. Except for one person whose phone has caught their eye. Pia has learned her own lesson, however, and doesn’t allow herself to be distracted while she demonstrates how much damage saying ‘um’ between every other word in a story can do to your communication.

In this exercise, participants were assigned to project a particular personality in their encounters with each other.

Manuel Ciosici (right) and Vincent Valentin Scholz (left) play two friends having a conflict about money

selection of actress Pia Mourier’s tips

It’s a good idea to see and get a feel for the room before the day of your performance.

Show up well in advance.

Don’t speak before you’re calm and have eye contact with your audience.

Never start with your name. When you first start talking, the audience is so focussed on getting a sense of you that they tend to forget the first thing you say. Instead, try something like ‘How are you? I’m x.’

Use your body language, and don’t hide behind a computer, a table or something else. 

If some people in the audience don’t pay attention, the performer has a tendency to focus on them. Try to avoid this by speaking to the entire audience as if they were one person, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the few people who are focusing on something else.

‘Um’ is your brain asking for time out to think. Take the break, but avoid the ‘um’.

You have power over your own charisma, and that means you can decide how other people are going to perceive you. Use it.

Source: Selected points from the workshop with Pia Mourier as summarized by the journalist.

Are you a six today? 

Two dice roll across the floor. Pia has asked two participants to play a hierarchy game: the lower the numbers on the dice, the lower your self-confidence, and vice versa. A six means max self-confidence. 

The participants have to roll the dice and play a scene, after which everyone else has to guess their numbers.

She tells Manuel Ciosici to pretend that he’s borrowed money from his friend Vincent Valentin Scholz, and that he is refusing to pay him back.

Jokingly, Manuel objects:

“I really think I’d be more comfortable with the role if Vincent actually gave me some money first,” he says.

Everyone laughs. And the laughter continues while the two of them play the scene in an exercise that demonstrates how much control you have over other people’s perception of you.

Too abstract for you?

The hierarchy game is the last exercise of the day. After one day of feedback on their research projects, the participants will be on their own.

Kasper Glerup Lauridsen from the Department of Clinical Medicine will be presenting his PhD project on cardiac arrest treatment at hospitals.

As he explains it, he signed up for the competition because it’s an “insanely good opportunity to train your communication skills”. But when I ask him what he’s learned from today’s session with actress Pia Mourier, he hesitates a little: 

“It’s important to reflect on how you can use it,” he says.

Was it too abstract for you?

That’s what I was thinking during the session. But now that I look back on it, I think I can apply it,” he says, singling out the hierarchy game: 

“When you wake up in the morning, you get to decide whether you’re going to see yourself as a ‘1’ or a ‘6’.”

Kasper Glerup Lauridsen is writing his PhD at the Department of Clinical Medicine about the treatment of cardiac arrest.

Facts: The Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT)

The participants in the competition are PhD students who have just three minutes and one slide to present their research.

At AU, 34 PhD students applied to participate, and 20 were selected on the background of their applications. They all receive a little communication training: a one-day workshop on rhetoric and body language and a feedback session before the competition. 

The winner at AU will receive a 35,000 kroner travel gift certificate and a chance to participate in the international competition, which involves over 35 countries.

3MT will take place 4 pm - 6 pm on 20 March in Stakladen. Sign up to watch  here

Source: The Three Minute Thesis Competition.

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