A Three-Minute Talk…How Hard Could it Be?

Heart racing. Palms sweating. Nervous Pacing. I can’t sit in this chair any longer. Get up from my seat. Go to the bathroom. Splash water on my face. Look in the mirror. I’m staring in the face of a nervous wreck. I have practiced this talk for the last month. It is stuck in my brain and I could say it in my sleep. Why am I so nervous? I never get this nervous. Then it hits me. 4,000 live viewers. Once the video is on the internet, it is on there forever. There are no re-dos, this is it. The fact that this is permanent just ups the pressure. The only question I keep asking myself is “Why did I sign up for this competition?”

In December one of my advisors sent me a link encouraging me to submit a video entry to FameLab. FameLab is a science communication competition. To enter this competition I had to record myself presenting a three minute talk on any scientific topic  of my choosing. Once I recorded the video all I had to do was upload it to YouTube. It sounded simple enough so I decided to enter. My topic would be the power grid. I had studied this in school, and I am in a sustainable development course now…so it made sense.

Choosing a topic was easy, next I just needed to write a 3-minute speech that explained the power grid in a way that a general audience could understand. Three minutes is not long, but I found writing this speech was just as hard as crafting a 15 minute presentation. Three minutes did not seem like enough time to explain something which I had been studying for the last four years. So much information in so little time.

Instead of trying to write down everything I knew about the power grid and then jamming all of that into three minutes, I decided to try and explain the basics to my friend. From there he was able to tell me what was confusing, what I explained well, and what I needed to expand on. Talking the talk instead of writing the talk down and then trying to memorize the speech was one of the most effective things  could have done in this competition. I spent three days working on my entry, and uploaded it to YouTube, then I went on Christmas Break, and forgot about it. Until I got the e-mail.

When I learned I had been named a finalist for Northern Ireland I started freaking out. I was endlessly obsessing over my talk. I spent nights examining my old video and looking at ways I could improve. Once I had the speech all I had to do was practice. I practiced in my room, in front of my friends, on my way to the gym, walking to class, and to anyone that would listen. It was endless practice for four weeks.  All leading up to the moment when I was on the stage feeling 4,000 eyes on me, trying to remind myself to make eye contact and smile.


Once the talk was over I felt slight relief, until I had to wait for the judges to make a decision. While they were deliberating I found myself pouring over everything I had said in that short three minute talk. Did I sound nervous here? Should I have made the talk funnier? Then the decision came…I lost. The person that won had a really good talk, but then new questions came to mind. Should I have chosen a different topic? Did I look to nervous up there? What will people think when they view this talk on YouTube? These are the never ending thoughts that are buzzing around my brain.  There is the endless worry of something I have done, not being my best and then it getting posted to the internet…forever.

In spite of all that worry, when the video was posted to YouTube the next day I viewed it. I watched myself up there talking and thought…I’m glad my roommate let me borrow her shirt to wear that night. The talk wasn’t bad and I was proud of the speech I gave.

From this experience I learned that putting yourself out there, and feeling exposed is scary but can be very beneficial. This year two things happened that I never would have imagined at the start of my time in Northern Ireland.

  1. I willingly recorded myself and then posted the video to YouTube
  2. I presented on a stage where I was told over 4,000 people in multiple countries would be watching me

If my advisor hadn’t sent me an e-mail saying I should apply to the competition, then I probably would not have done it. Simply put, I did not think that I was good enough.  But once she believed in me, then I was able to say to myself I might as well try. I am grateful that she believed in me, because now that I have survived that first talk, the possibility of doing a second one doesn’t seem so scary.

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