Science Fairs Inside Out
For most students, the oral presentation is the most terrifying part of the entire science fair experience. But, it’s a very important part of the project because it proves to your judges that you were the person who actually did the research and the work – not your parents.
Knowing what to expect in the oral presentation will make it easier for you to get through it. Basically, you will be explaining your project to a few judges (usually three) for about 8-10 minutes, one at a time. Then, each judge will ask you questions for about 5-10 minutes. Your presentation should pretty much be organized like your report.
Here’s a video of a student at the Canada-Wide Science Fair presenting her project about finding the best structural design of buildings during earthquakes.
Here’s an example of how you might want to structure your 10-minute presentation:
Introduction: Give your project title, your name, grade and school (if it’s not just a fair for your school). State how or why you got interested in this project and your reason you chose this topic. Give about a 1-2 minute background explanation about your project and the topic.
Purpose: State your hypothesis, and what question you were trying to solve. If you’re doing a project that you know has been done before, describe if you gave it any kind of unique or unusual twist; did you do anything differently in the experiment, or did you build a homemade device as part of your project? Creativity is an important part of the judge’s scores.
Acknowledgements: Tell where you obtained your information. Give credit to those who helped you, and any labs, museums or business where you did your work. Show your list of reference and books if you have it on your board or as part of your report. Also briefly indicate any work done in the past pertaining to your project.
Procedure: Be complete and don’t leave out necessary details. Proceed in a logical manner, telling what you did step-by-step. Point, or refer to any visuals on your boards or in your notebook such as diagrams, drawings or photos. Explain about any equipment you used or built. Explain any special safety precautions you took while handling machinery, chemicals or animals. Keep in mind that the judges will be more interested in your experiments and results than in your equipment or where you did your research.
Results: Explain both your controls and variables. As you did with the procedure, point to charts, graphs and any important data on the display, or in your notebook.
Conclusion: Wrap up your presentation with a 1-2 minute showing and explaining the results and whether your hypothesis was supported or not by the data. If your results didn’t work out the way you thought they would, make sure you explain this and any reasons why, and what you might do differently next time. The judges will appreciate that you did this, and may even award you points for being honest.
Final Words and Future Plans: State the one most important thing you learned by doing the experiment. Bring up any new questions you now have as a result of doing your project. Tell how you might plan to continue your project, or other research you think someone one might be able to do as a result of the work you did.
Ask for questions: When you’re finished, ask the judge if there are any questions they would like to ask. Think about what the judge is asking, and answer slowly. If you don’t understand their original question, it’s okay to ask them to rephrase it or to be more specific. If you don’t know the answer, admit that you don’t, and then either take an educated guess or, you might also say: “I never thought of that before but I will look into it. That’s very interesting.” Ask them for any suggestions they may have for improving your project.
Say “Thank You:” Don’t forget to thank the judge for taking the time to talk with you.
The toughest part of the presentation may come if you’re in a room with lots of other fair participants who are also being asked questions at the same time. You’ve got to make sure you stay focused and not allow the distractions interrupt what you have to say. Check out this example of a student who was asked to describe her project about the absorbency of paper towels.
Other tips for your presentation:
- Practice, practice, practice. While you can usually bring along note cards or an outline to aid in your presentation, you shouldn’t use them unless absolutely necessary (if you bring along note cards, make sure you number them in case you drop them). If you practice your presentation beforehand several times in front of parents, relatives or fiends, you should be okay. You might want to consider audio or video recording your presentation to see how you sound and look to others.
- Dress neatly. You don’t have to wear a suit (although at a state-wide or international fair you should), but you should have on nice clothes or a shirt & tie if you’re a boy. Don’t wear clothes that are tight-fitting or uncomfortable because it will distract you from giving a good presentation.
- Smile and shake hands with the judge when you’re introduced to him/her. Talk to your judge directly – look at him/her while you’re doing your presentation except when you’re specifically pointing to something on your board, notes or report.
- Do not chew gum or eat candy while talking with a judge. Have a wrapper or tissue handy to take it out of your mouth and throw it away.
- Stand off a bit to the side of your display so that you’re not blocking it.
- Avoid saying “uhm” and “like” and don’t use any slang words or swears. Speak slowly and clearly, so the judge can understand you. If you find yourself talking too fast – stop and take a deep breath, then continue.
- If you’re part of a team project, make sure each member of the team pretty much takes an equal amount of time as you, in the presentation. It is up to you to figure out the best way of doing that, but usually taking turns throughout the presentation is a good idea.
- Use gestures to emphasize important points. Make reference to pictures, diagrams, charts, etc. that are on, or in front of your display. It will get the judge more involved with your project and topic.
- Try to make eye contact with the judge…and it will help to calm your nerves if you smile and put some of your “personality” into the presentation. Always be positive, show enthusiasm and be excited about your project, and about the opportunity to share what you learned with the judge.
- Remember – there will be a lot of activity around your project area. Do not be distracted by friends or others, or act as if you would rather be somewhere else.
Some Final Words of Advice
Most science fairs limit the amount of time for your presentation. So, it’s important to use that time well. Your goal should be to impress your judges with your project, your knowledge, and your enthusiasm. But remember – you only have one chance to make a good impression; if you’re well dressed and act with good manners, you’ll be off to a great start!