I’m in the Charles Pearson Theatre at the University of Melbourne, watching 12 short speeches. It’s a 3 minute speech competition called the 3 minute Thesis.
These annual, 3 minute speech competitions challenge Ph.D and Masters students to effectively communicate 3-1/2 years’ of technical research into a short speech. Their task is to convey only the most important ideas and findings to a non-technical audience – and with only a single slide.
A short speech is a great test
As you’d imagine, it can be difficult to condense all that research and knowledge into a 3 minute speech, yet still convey all the pertinent information.
But that’s exactly why it’s such a great exercise for all speakers.
That’s because, in order to be effective, your ideas must be able to be communicated in the most brief, simple and clear manner possible. You need them to stick in the listener’s mind.
Not everyone is good at this skill – indeed, few people are. But you need to be if you want other to see the value of your ideas.
By the way, if you think giving a good 3 minute speech is hard, try doing one in just 5 words! That’s what they do at the Webby awards.
What did the winning speakers do right?
Despite giving a short speech on very different topics, there were some common practices I noticed about the winning speakers.
- They presented an exceptionally clear message.
- They included a “top and tail” element.
- They made use of metaphor and other verbal illustrations to simplify a complex idea.
- They spoke like they were having a conversation with their audience – not ‘giving a formal speech’.
The losing speakers, by contrast, were more forced. Some were so unnatural they seemed to be giving a pantomime a speech for an audience of children. The engagement of conversation was missing. We’ve talked before about the importance of an unforced, natural style.
How to create a short speech.
1. Use a simple structure.
Start by clearly saying the ‘headline’ and key idea underpinning your speech in simple, everyday language, and follow with a simple structure supporting your main point.
Here are some examples:
A: Headline and 3 supporting reasons:
With this approach, follow your “headline” statement with 3 simple supporting reasons. State each reason clearly, and explain how each one helps achieve or support the objective.
“We must change the way we work – for 3 important reasons:
B: Problem – solution:
This is a simple structure of only 2 parts. It’s an easy yet powerful way to capture people’s attention and interest when done well. But you’ll want to avoid the trap of rushing through the problem, and spending too much time on your brilliant solution.
If you really want to hook people, take some time to paint a vivid picture of the problem first. Your audience will then be clambering for a solution with both ears open.
In this type of short speech, you might cover:
- The history of the issue …
- The current situation …
- What might happen in the future …
- And the ramifications of agreeing (or disagreeing) with your main argument.
D: Metaphor/Top & Tail:
To “top and tail” simply means starting with a story/quote that hints at your message. At the end, you recall that story and link it to your message.
This short speech from a 3 minute speech competition makes excellent use of this approach.
Start your speech (“the top”) with a compelling metaphor to make a memorable point, and end the speech (“the tail”) with the same metaphor — but adjusted to show the benefit of adopting your central argument.
2: End with a memorable message:
Just as important as how you begin and structure your speech, is how you end it.
Consider the same techniques at the end of your speech. A metaphor that links back to your original premise, or finishing with a thought-provoking question, are two ways to burnish your speech in your listener’s mind.
These videos of the 1st and 2nd place winners of a 3 minute speech competition show how effective these closing techniques can be:
1st Place: Sara Ciesielski
2nd Place: Samantha Lichter
People worry that time limitations mean they have to ‘dumb down’ their valuable research — this is not the case!
A vivid message and a compelling short speech can become a window to the depth of your research, and give clarity to the value of your ideas.
A 3 minute speech gives you a huge amount of time to do this – if you use the time wisely and structure your speech to maximum effect.
Want to be a great speaker? Get the kindle ebook from amazon.com: What’s Your Message? Public Speaking with Twice the Impact, Using Half the Effort
Below, find an on-going list of topics — many created by students — for your 2-minute Topic Talks.
For other random topics to talk and write about, try these:
2-MINUTE TOPIC TALKS
Talk (or write) about…
Pick a category and spin the wheel.
Be careful of the volume (turn your device down).
Unfortunately, they now have annoying ads on these wheels, so the topic may be hard to read on your smartphones. These wheels work better on a laptop or tablet with a larger screen. Sorry!
Or choose from the lists below
(these are mostly the same as the topics on the wheels)
- the most difficult travel experience of your life.
- a risk you have taken.
- the best decision you’ve made in your life.
- the craziest thing you’ve done.
- the most memorable moment from your high school days.
- a move you made from one place to another.
- an incident that had something to do with water.
- an incident that had something to do with … a form of transportation (train, bike, car…).
- a time you danced.
- a time you attended a wedding.
- a time you surprised someone.
- a time you helped someone.
- a great present you’ve given or gotten.
- something a teacher or coach told you that really stuck with you.
- a practical joke you played (or was played on you).
- something you lost or forgot, or a time when you got lost.
- one of your favorite childhood stories.
- your first love.
- the last time you laughed so hard you cried.
- your earliest memory.
- a time when you felt really, really lucky.
- who do you want to spend your next birthday with and what will you do?
- where you think you’ll be 10 years from now.
- what you think the world will be like 100 years from now.
- your New Year’s resolutions.
- when do you want to retire and what will you do?
- something you’d like to pass on to the next generation.
- something you’d put in a time capsule to be opened by a future generation.
- if you hadn’t entered this university, what you would be doing now.
- if you could have been born at a different time in history, which you would choose.
- if you could become a character in a movie or book, who you would be.
- if you could have lunch with someone famous, who you’d choose and what you’d talk about.
- what you wanted to be when you were a child, and if you think it’s likely to happen.
- where you’d go if you had a free week/month and nothing else to do.
- one modern convenience you wouldn’t want to do without.
- if you could become a famous (dead) person for a day, who it would be and what you would do.
- which person you would pick as a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse from history.
- if you could go back and relive one day (week, month, year) of your life, what you would do.
- if you could be reborn, what you’d come back as.
- if you were God (or a god), what you’d use your power for.
- if you’d like to live forever.
Family & Friends & Other people
- the best way to make new friends.
- a family tradition.
- something you like about one of your relatives or friends.
- an unusual story about one of your relatives or friends.
- an unusual occupation of a friend or relative.
- some ways you are like (or not like) your parents and siblings.
- something you’d like to ask a grandparent or great-grandparent.
- when you become a parent, what rules you will make for your children.
- someone you know who has a very different background.
- a memorable vacation with family or friends.
- your best friend when you were a child.
- a friend you haven’t seen recently but would like to see again.
- road trips! — what your family/friends do to pass the time on trains/planes or in cars.
- what you usually do when you hang out with your friends or family.
- what you usually talk about when you have dinner with your family.
- the most courageous person you know.
- the kindest person you know.
- the most inspiring public figure you can think of.
- the most important (but not so famous) person from Japan (or a country you’re studying).
- describe your relatives’ or friends’ personalities.
- how your parents met.
- a question you’d like to ask your grandparents (great-grandparents).
- a favorite saying or quotation (from a friend, family member or someone famous).
- your genealogy — where did you come from?
- how you’re very much like (or not like) your parents or siblings.
- how your values differ from the values of your parents’ (or grandparents’) generation.
- one of the best or worst teachers or coaches you’ve ever had.
Places & Moving
- what you miss most about your hometown.
- a place that inspires you.
- a place you liked to play as a child.
- something you really like about where you live now.
- which place you have the most vivid memory of.
- something unusual that happened in your neighborhood.
- where your parents or grandparents are from.
- an unusual form of transportation you’ve used.
- a time when you slept outdoors.
- the farthest place you’ve been from home.
- if you’d like to travel to the moon, Mars, or anywhere else in outer space.
Language & Communication
- your favorite/least favorite word or phrase in English, Japanese, or another language you’re studying.
- if you could speak the language of one animal, which you would choose.
- LINE or Twitter?
- the most effective way you’ve found to learn a language.
- which country you think will be (or should be) the next lingua franca in the world.
- a time when you successfully communicated something important in another language.
Culture & Entertainment & Fashion
- a fad from the decade you were born.
- the most impressive or inspiring movie or book you’ve seen/read.
- the book you’re reading right now / the most recent movie you’ve seen.
- a book or movie that made you laugh or cry out loud.
- your top 5 smart phone apps.
- what ads/commercials affect you.
- a fashion trend you really liked or disliked.
- a TV show that you think is/was educational.
- how long you use your smart phone every day and for what.
- what kind of art intrigues you.
- your favorite anime, cartoon or comic.
Society & Community
- what you’d change about your university.
- why club activities are great (or not so great).
- which local festivals you’d like to advertise.
- how you read or watch the news.
- a current event or issue that really concerns you.
- why people should vote.
- a way that you have served your community or would like to (charity, community service).
- an experience that made you feel close to your community or to nature.
- a way your lifestyle has changed to help the environment.
Health / Sports / Food
- how your exercise patterns have changed throughout your life.
- what you do to relax.
- what you do when it’s incredibly hot/cold/wet outside.
- your favorite food from another country.
- how to cook something, step by step.
- a restaurant you ate in recently / a restaurant where you’re a “regular”.
- explain a Japanese food you think someone from another country has never eaten.
- the most unusual food you’ve ever eaten.
- dieting or health advice you’d give to a friend or family member.
- an unusual home remedy for the cold or other common illness.
- who influenced you to start the sports you’re involved in.
- why you follow the professional sports teams you follow.
More about YOU
- something we don’t already know about you.
- the origin of your name or nickname.
- if you could change your name, what you’d change it to, or what you’d like to name your kids.
- your favorite sound or smell.
- your favorite way to spend a free day.
- your favorite time of day and your favorite time of year.
- a special talent you have and how we can get good at it, too.
- your greatest success.
- your pet-peeve.
- one of your habits (good or bad).
- describe yourself when you were 14 years old.
- a possession you would like to keep if you had to give up everything else.
- a cause that’s very important to you.
- how you wake up.
- whether or not you’re a “plan for today” or “plan for tomorrow” person.
- whether or not you’re a “live to eat” or “eat to live” person.
- you’re an X or Y person (cat/dog, summer/winter, city/country, horror movies/comedies).
- why you chose your current phone/PC wallpaper or background.
Advice / Reflecting on the year
- the biggest change in your life in the past year.
- what advice you’d give next year’s students / incoming freshmen.
- something surprising you’ve learned this year.
- something very satisfying about your work (job, school, club…).
- if someone from another country asks you, “What’s so great about Japan?” how you would respond.
- a part-time job you would (or wouldn’t) recommend.
- advice about your school festival.
And finally, a very original topic:
- “If bears are so scary, why are there so many bear toys?” (from a GLIP student a couple of years ago)