Science Careers Blog

February 16, 2008

The One-Minute Talk

I went to a great session yesterday at the AAAS Annual Meeting on how to deliver a one-minute talk -- basically, an introduction to yourself that tells who you are, what your research is about, and why it's important. It's sometimes called an "elevator speech" -- you get into an elevator with a Famous Scientist and you have the length of an elevator ride to give F.S. an overview of yourself.

According to the session organizer, Victoria McGovern of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, your one-minute talk needs to answer four key questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why are you here?
  4. Why should I care?

That's the mechanics of it, but it's hard to boil years of work into a sound byte. Don't be scared, McGovern says. Scientists talk to each other all the time, and you'll need to give presentations and deliver your one-minute talk repeatedly throughout your career. Be calm and remember that even Famous Scientist was once a grad student.

Next, don't be afraid to take a few seconds to think about how what you do is relevant to the person you're addressing. Relate it to research or a concept your conversation partner probably already knows. You should have a beginning, a middle, and an end to what you're saying, so think about how those pieces fit together.

When you start, remember that eye contact is good. When you're finished, smile. "Not the creepy smile, but a genuine one," McGovern quips. This lets the person know that you're finished speaking, and it's a sign that you care about what you do.

Everyone is a little shy sometimes, and it's OK to start over if you start off on the wrong foot. Think about how you would summarize your research, and practice giving your one-minute talk so you're not caught totally off guard.

 "There will times when you have to walk into a room where no one knows you, and you want those people to remember you and help you," McGovern said. So practice ahead of time, be calm, and breathe. And don't forget to smile!

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