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BLOG: How FameLab has improved my confidence and communication

We asked Jonny Brooks, our 2014 FameLab UK contestant to write a blog about how FameLab helped with his confidence and communication. Here’s what he had to say…

I started my DPhil at the University of Oxford (a DPhil is the equivalent of a PhD) back in October 2012. At that time I already had some experience of public speaking. I worked as a student ambassador during my undergraduate degree, which meant that I would go to various schools around Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and give presentations to school children.

One day towards the end of 2013 I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I saw an advert for FameLab. I learned that it was a competition where contestants had to give a 3-minute presentation about a topic in science, maths, engineering or technology (STEM subjects) without the use of visual aids (e.g. Powerpoint slides).

The presentations would be judged on the 3 C’s: content, clarity and charisma. In that heat I gave a talk on Euclidean geometry in mathematics and I was lucky enough to go through to the regional final in Oxford. I would eventually go on to win the regional final and get a runner-up position in the national final which took place in the Bloomsbury theatre in London.

The experience of competing in FameLab completely changed the way I thought about science communication. Being forced to explain mathematical topics such as Fourier transforms, Euclidean geometry and coupled sets of differential equations to a non-specialist audience in 3 minutes without the use of Powerpoint slides makes you focus on the specific message that you want to get across.

By far the most important skill that I developed was the confidence in my ability to present complex topics in front of experts. No longer do I worry so much about someone else’s level of experience over my own. I know that no matter who I present in front of, I can make my presentation clear and engaging. I don’t need to rely on slides that I could hide behind.

Experts, including academics, are just people. This means that they want to be engaged, they want a presentation to be clear, and they want a presentation to be fun. Knowing this fact inspires me to think about all presentations in the same way that I would go about creating presentations for FameLab back in 2014.

These skills have become essential for me to this day. In October 2016 I gave a presentation in London about a data science project. After the talk, I was approached by two members of the audience who would ultimately become my employers. They mentioned that my presentation was so clear and engaging that I should consider a job at their company. One month later I accepted an offer from them and the rest is history.

I’ve come a long way from the inexperienced scientist I was back in 2012. Aside from maturing as a researcher and scientist, I have developed arguably the most important skills that I now possess: confidence and communication and it all started with my decision to enter FameLab.