By Sophie Louth

I thought it would be interesting to compare two public engagement events with very different objectives and audiences.

The first a Three Minute Thesis competition held in the School of Chemical Engineering at the University of Birmingham where PhD and EngD students spoke about their research for three minutes, to an audience open to anyone but entirely adults on the day. The second was a workshop delivered to year 12 students interested in studying medicine, as part of a free day to encourage pupils to consider their options, most students were from the greater Birmingham area, the rest from elsewhere in the UK.

The objectives of the speakers in each were very different with most of the 3 minute thesis speakers particularly interested in learning how to speak better and get their message across to a lay audience, as well as aiming to inform the audience of their research. While the speaker at the STI workshop aimed to gain little themselves and had set objectives of showing the pupils the reality of breaking bad news – in this case as part of a practical challenge with a simulated test of a biological sample supposedly infected with an STI. The other objective was to introduce the pupils to alternative careers in the medical field. Neither had two way benefits at the heart of their planning.

The methods of presentation were also different with the 3 minute thesis speakers having a three minute monologue then questions with a slide or props while the STI speaker used an interactive session with lots of audience participation, no slides, and a practical task that got everyone involved. However both were effective at getting their messages across.

Some speakers at 3 minute thesis used too much technical jargon which reduced comprehension by the audience reducing engagement. At the STI workshop certain members of the audience were very engaged and shouted out lots of answers, while others were quiet and it was not clear if they were engaged or not. Some of the 3 minute thesis speakers used comedy to engage the audience while the STI speaker used intentional mishaps to empower the audience and encourage them to engage.

Feedback was provided to the 3 minute thesis speakers by the judges who were a mixture of academic and support staff, but none was requested from the audience. At the STI workshop feedback was collected at the end of the day. The day included a number of talks and activities so direct feedback about the STI workshop was limited and the pupils may not have remembered it clearly among all the things undertaken that day.

Overall both were successful events, enjoyed by both participants and speakers, which I hope to be involved in next year.