Building 'Take 5: Research Rumble' (Wade Kelly)

Competitors from the inaugural Take 5: Research Rumble event during Research Week, Sept 2019. 
Photo from La Trobe University.

Recently, La Trobe University held our inaugural 'Take 5: Research Rumble' event. It's a 5-minute research staff competition.

Like 3MT (3 Minute Thesis) before it, we gave our academics one slide but, with our staff having established research track records, we thought we’d give them a few more minutes. So, 5 minutes, 1 slide, and a little terror.

We put out the call and weren’t sure if what the appetite and interest would be.

We underestimated the excitement for the competition (perhaps it was the $3000 up for grabs?) and ended up receiving dozens of submissions. In order to demonstrate a wide swatch of the research being conducted at La Trobe University — and make it interesting for the audience — the committee ensured there was gender balance and representation from a range of disciplinary backgrounds. Those who weren’t in the first edition (during Research Week) were asked to participate in our second edition, which is on Tuesday 26 November (register here).

Back in September, we were starting from scratch and had to consider everything from the program and timing, to the food, judges, AV, room, and on and on. As it was our first stab at this event, we decided to offer guidance to staff on formulating their presentations. The hope was that it would help them produce high quality talks that were accessible to a generalist audience.

How’d it go? Overall, we are thrilled with how things came together.

The pacing of the event was good, the speakers did a fabulous job, and the good-sized audience that attended seemed to enjoy themselves. Of course, there are plenty of things we’d like to improve and we’ll enhance our processes in the future.

This post is the first of a series to help you learn from our successes, as well as our mistakes. I have broken the series into three posts so you can easily navigate to the one that most applies to you. The first is for speakers, and the ones for organisers and the MC will come later.

For Researcher: How to Jam Your Research Into 5 Minutes

After the September event, I asked presenters for their feedback. Here are their main takeaways on how to plan for and deliver a 5-minute research talk. De-identified participant contributions are provided in quotes, with some commentary and contextualisation.

Inaugural Take 5 winners: Sallie Yea (L) from HuSS
and Seb Dworkin from PAM.

Photo from La Trobe University.
What worked well in preparing for your talk?
  1. If there’s training available, go. Presenters were provided with an optional session on planning a research talk for a generalist audience. Most of the presenters attended. Overwhelmingly they said that the prep session was helpful; “attend and follow his advice!”
  2. Take the time to sketch an outline for your talk. Consider how you will “sell the big picture and [sort out] the hook” and “prioritise the things you want to say.” Creating an outline forces, you to “think about what it is I want to know and why, and what I am doing.” “Early preparation and constant revising and cutting down” is critical. Ask yourself:
    • What is the problem?
    • What did I do to address the problem (and for/with who)?
    • What are the outcomes?
    • And, why does that matter?
  3. Engage “support from colleagues who listened to drafts and provided feedback.” Rely on your network but “test it on another person outside of your area.”
  4. “Start preparing early” because preparing a five-minute talk will take longer than a 20-minute one. People consistently wish they knew “how long it was going to take to prepare and polish the delivery of a 5 min talk.” 
  5. Most people said they “wrote out my script.” Some, “underlining and highlighting key points on the script [which] helped with memorising it,” whereas others employed strategies like trying “to memorise a key word in each paragraph to help me keep my flow.”
  6. And “practice, practice, practice.” Participants reported, “practising it in front of someone else was also very helpful to iron out problems and nervous stumbles,” and “I rehearsed over and over in the car on my hour long drives, with the alarm on my watch set, and I subjected my partner to it.”
Any advice for the day of the event?
  1. Get some sleep if possible” and try and “relax. People are impressed you are even doing it.”
  2. Breathe and enjoy the opportunity to share your research with others from completely different fields!
  3. Be sure to “tell all your colleagues early so they can come and support you.” In other words, “bring a cheer squad.”
  4. “It’s a presentation, not a memorisation exercise!” So do your best to not make it “sound like you’ve memorised a script.” You do this by “engaging the audience – [with] eye contact, smiles, passion.”
  5. The take home point really is that “you love your research and are passionate about it; make sure that comes through.” So, “channel your inner performer” and above all, “be interesting!”
What are some cautions you would give others in doing a similar talk?
In this section I have provided some additional feedback for future speakers to consider in italics.  
  1. “Do not underestimate the time need to practise and perfect.”
    • Again, preparing a five-minute talk is more work than a 20-minute talk. Give yourself lots of time. 
  2. “Don’t make too many last-minute changes” or “ad lib on the day, as that may push you over time.”
    • An ad lib is hard to fit into a five-minute talk, even for a seasoned pro. A five-minute talk is a highly polished speech and improvising will likely push you over time or derail the flow. 
  3. “Don’t make your slide too detailed but… engage the audience with your slide!”
    • Simple is best. All elements should be critical to either understanding concepts in your talk or provide emotional impact. You don’t want the audience to be dissecting or making sense of your slide while missing the words you’re saying. 
  4. “Go and check out the room you’re presenting in”
    • If you’re able to do a test run in the room (with the mic ideally) it’ll put you at ease and you’ll know just how big the room is, what the lighting is like, and the floorspace you want to occupy. 
  5.  “Make it simple and show some passion.”
    • The best talks take very complicated ideas and synthesise them (often using metaphor and story) for a generalist audience. And yes, passion will sell it even if the audience doesn’t understand every word. I’d argue that in the best talks there’s a 20 second period where only the other disciplinary experts in the room will know what you’re saying, and the rest of the time they’ll be board. It’s during that period where everyone else will be rapt. 
La Trobe Nutrition cheersquad!
Photo from @LTUnutrition on Twitter
Some final thoughts from presenters. 

Needing some motivation to put your name into the hat? Presenters told us:
  • “I’m really glad to have had this experience and would recommend you give it a go – it’ll help with other presentations/pitches in future I think.” 
  • “Why not give it a go. Many more people know what I do now and helps in breaking the ice, especially if you are new to the University.”

If you have a similar opportunity in your world, consider raising your hand for the fun. There are a number of benefits, it’ll: 
  • Stretch muscles you might not have used in a while. 
  • Help you learn skills to effectively mobilise your research for different audiences. 
  • Broaden your network by getting your work in front of new faces.
  • Open up possibilities for interdisciplinary collaborations. 
  • Put you in the running for additional funding/glory.
  • Be fun to be fearless and share your passion. 

Wade Kelly is the Senior Coordinator, Research Impact, at La Trobe University, in Melbourne, Australia.

Wade’s PhD research focused on how and why universities and academics engage with communities. This is Wade’s personal website and he tweets from @wadekelly.