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Opinion: Student competition gives quick lesson in brevity

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William Shakespeare famously wrote that brevity is the soul of wit. That sentiment was on display in impressive fashion at a recent competition put on by the Missouri State University Graduate College.

I was fortunate to be invited to participate as a judge at the college’s Three Minute Thesis competition earlier this month. Besides it being a professional honor to be a part of the group of judges – alongside Greene County Commissioner Harold Bengsch and Springfield Public Schools Superintendent John Jungmann – the competition also was extremely insightful from an analytical standpoint.

While the rules of the competition are simple, the execution is difficult.

As concocted by The University of Queensland in Australia, the competition nicknamed 3MT requires students to present their research in a convincing, charismatic, thoughtful and understandable approach in just 3 minutes. If they go over the 3-minute mark, they’re disqualified. Interestingly, only one of the 16 students who competed went over 3 minutes during the MSU competition – and it was only by a couple of seconds.

The audience in MSU’s Glass Hall were treated to top-tier research presentations by some extremely bright minds. Topics ran the gamut, and in one case, the competing ideas of beef production and veganism were put at odds. Ultimately, Kafayat Yusuf won the competition with her research on novel chemotherapeutic agents for fighting cancer. She earned $300 and the right to compete in the Midwest Association of Graduate Schools’ 3MT competition next year. It was a well-deserved honor, and as Bengsch put it, her research reflects very well on MSU.

Beyond the classroom setting, the 3MT idea is inspiring on its own from a professional standpoint.

Consider the attention span of our society, which has only gotten shorter with the advent of the internet. Information is everywhere, and if you are able to gain a captive audience, you may only have a few moments to make an impression.

The same is true in the workplace, where compounded with the societal attention shift, people have a lot to do and rarely enough time in the day to get it all done.

Here are five ideas on brevity to get things moving quickly and efficiently in this fast-paced world.

1. Practice your elevator pitch. If you can’t succinctly summarize your idea or business plan, it’s best to head back to the drawing board. The audience, or customer, must understand your concept quickly, or you risk losing them.

2. Come prepared. Put together an outline for how best to present your idea, keeping the audience in mind. What do you need to say in this particular meeting? What can wait until later, and what is worth scrapping altogether?

3. Be personable, but don’t overshare. We’ve all fallen victim to the colleague who tells way too many personal stories, eating up chunks of the workday. Don’t be that person, but do exhibit the positive traits of your personality. You’ll save time and make yourself look professional simultaneously.

4. Get to the point. The reason why you’re talking should be obvious with the audience. In journalistic terms, don’t bury the lede. Get people interested upfront, and keep the audience engaged throughout the pitch.

5. Consider your own time constraints. Just as much as anyone else in the workplace, your time is valuable. Set reasonable expectations for your own time when engaging in workplace discourse. Be polite, but assertive, in implementing your tactics.

Lest I sound hypocritical, I should take my own advice and wrap things up. Brevity is the soul of wit, as they say.

Springfield Business Journal Web Editor Geoff Pickle can be reached at


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