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I Won Science Fair with A Failed Project: The Skill of Presenting Failures

I Won Science Fair with A Failed Project: The Skill of Presenting Failures
The Skill of presenting Failures

For my first three science fairs, I received a participation ribbon — no prizes, no other acknowledgment. For my fourth, I walked away with $600, a first place award from AFCEA, a Discovery Science award and the Yale Science & Engineering Association Award.

My science fair project that year wasn’t any different from my past projects: I failed to prove anything, learned nothing about science, and did the project in order to receive a grade in my science class, rather than any interest in the project. The real difference was in my presentation skills. I had learned that I could present a failure just as well as success.

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The fact that I could talk about my project, whether to one person or a group, gave me a head start on the competition, no matter how good their projects were. Even successful science fair participants could get flustered by a question or thrown off by shyness. They practiced their material like it was a speech — they just had to repeat it and they were done. Problem is, science fair judges ask questions in order to get a better idea of the project — it’s also their chief technique for ensuring that a student did all of their own work with no help from his or her parents.

Five Questions For Presenters

When I began preparing for my presentation, I made a list of the questions that I really didn’t want to answer about my project. Uncomfortable as that process was, I figured out how to answer those questions. I even felt comfortable talking about each of those points and included most of my answers in my presentation. The questions boiled down to the five below.

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  1. What went wrong?
  2. What could I have done, in hindsight, to prevent the problem?
  3. What parts of this project is salvageable?
  4. Can I still meet the goals of this project? How?
  5. What is the future of this project?

These questions have to be the focus of your presentation if you aren’t able to talk about successes. It can be uncomfortable to talk about these points, especially because they tend to lead to discussions of who takes the blame for any problems, but these are the questions that your audience will be interested in.

Preparing for the Actual Presentation

Creating a good presentation, even about a bad topic, isn’t just about planning what you will say. It’s about taking that standard tri-fold science fair board and turning it into something that stands out from the other three hundred boards in the gymnasium — or creating a professional PowerPoint or other presentation materials. It’s about learning background material and preparing to take questions, from people who haven’t ever been exposed to any of the information you’re talking about, as well as people with advanced degrees in your topic. It’s not any different than preparing any other presentation.

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When you’re preparing to talk about a project that, for any reason, just didn’t work out, though, your presentation materials need to be just that much better. You have a plan for every question, too. You may not be able to answer every question, but you should be able to point towards resources or describe a way to answer it. Your presentation needs to reach a higher level if you don’t have results to back up your talk. I haven’t focused much on the generalities of presenting here — if you need more information about planning a general presentation, consider starting with this roundup of past posts.

How I Presented My Failure

Science fairs can be all-day propositions. I probably presented my project twenty-five times, and each time someone asked to hear about my project, I started out the same way. I admitted my failure right off the bat. I talked about what had gone wrong and shouldered my responsibility.

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I found that the fact that I didn’t try to explain away my failure went a long way to improving the judges’ perception of my project. I was able to clearly point out what I would do differently if I was to start the project over; I knew what I could do to build on my project. Future plans were the key: I got more attention by talking about what steps I could take next than by discussing hypotheses and the scientific method.

It also helped that I didn’t use my failed project as an excuse. I completed my experiment even after it was clear that the project was a dud. I still went all out on preparing my science fair presentation board and talk, and it showed.

Playing to My Project’s Strengths

I know you’re wondering what sort of project could obviously fail, yet win awards. The title of my project was “The Effects of Everyday Radiation of Household Objects on the Regenerative Capabilities of Planaria.” My biggest award was from the AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association), and I know exactly why. The judges assigned to choose recipients for the AFCEA came to see my project because my abstract mentioned that I was testing the radiation of electronic objects like televisions. They stayed because it only took a pointed question about radiation to get me talking about why such research is necessary and where it could go. I wasn’t listed with the engineering projects: I shouldn’t have been on their radar at all. I was able to answer their questions, though, because of the strength of the preparations I had made for my presentation.

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Last Updated on June 13, 2019

How to Quit Your Boring Life and Start Living an Interesting One

How to Quit Your Boring Life and Start Living an Interesting One

Think you have a boring life?

The definition of boring is dull or not interesting. Maybe you’ve been doing the same thing and living the same life for too long, or maybe your daily routine is limiting your growth and happiness. Whatever your reason is, the following list of 20 things can definitely make any day more interesting. Some of them are silly, while some are more meaningful, so hopefully just reading the list makes your life less boring and sparks your creativity.

Let’s dive in the list to quit your boring life and start living an interesting (and meaning) one!

1. Channel Your 7-Year-Old Self

What would he or she want to do right now? Color? Paint? Run around outside? Play dress up? Eat with your hands? Play that instrument hiding in the back of your closet that you haven’t touched in years?

Just because you’re a grown up doesn’t mean any of this stuff will be less enjoyable than you remember it. Give yourself permission to play.

2. Go Play with Kids

Speaking of little kids, if you have your own or access to any (in a non-creepy way, like they’re your niece or your best friend’s kid, you get the idea) go play with them!

They didn’t create an entire show called Kids Say The Darndest Things because kids aren’t hilarious. They also keep things so simple, and we can really stand to be reminded of this and stop allowing ourselves to get bogged down in boring details.

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3. Order a Hot Dog

While you’re eating it, Google: “What’s in a hot dog?” You decide whether or not you want to finish it.

4. For the Ladies: Wear Your Sexiest Lingerie Under Your Work Clothes

Your “little secret” will leave you feeling anything but boring all day!

5. Play Cell Phone Roulette

You’ll need at least one buddy for this. Scroll through the contacts in your phone, stop on a random one and call the person.

You could spark an incredible catch up session or be incredibly awkward. Neither are boring.

6. Fill out a Pack of Thank-You Cards

Give them to random people who probably don’t get thanked too often for doing what they do ever day.

Ideas: police officers, librarians, servers, baristas, cab drivers, sanitation workers, teachers, people behind any check out counter, receptionists, your friends, the guy at the falafel stand, etc.

7. Sign up for a Class in Something You’ve “Always Wanted to Do”, or Something That Makes You Really Uncomfortable

Ideas: pole dancing, salsa lessons, improv, pottery, cooking, knitting (yup, there are classes for this, too!), karate, boxing, something techy like the workshops they run in Apple stores, get Rosetta Stone and learn that language you’ve always wanted to speak, etc.

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What’s good about joining an interest class is that you will also meet new people!

8. Interview Your Grandparents About Their Lives

You can bet they’ve had some crazy experiences you probably never knew about.

9. Get up on Stage at an Open Mic Night

Whether you’re funny or not, get up on stage and just talk funny. And if you’re not, memorize a few of your favorite jokes and tell those!

10. Do Something for Someone Else That You Wish Someone Would Do for You

We all have a few ideas on this list. I promise you will feel amazing after and anything but bored.

11. Start a DIY Project in Your Home

It doesn’t have to be super complicated. If you need ideas, there’re plenty on Pinterest. Or you can also check out these 30 Awesome DIY Projects that You’ve Never Heard of.

12. Plan a Weekend Trip or an All-Out Vacation

This will give you something to look forward to.

Even if you don’t have the time or money to go on a vacation, plan for a staycation, which is same fun and relaxing!

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13. People Watch

Find a bench in a crowded area (centers of transportation like airports, bus stops and train stations are great for this!) and just observe.

People are infinitely interesting.

14. Eat Something You’ve Never Eaten Before

Bonus points if it’s a random fruit or veggie.

15. Dance

You can get your friends together for a night on the town or just pull up a video on YouTube and bust a move from your own living room.

If you’re feeling extra brave, you can even dance in public and get other people involved.

16. Go to YOUTUBE and Search “Funny Pets” or “Funny Babies”

This is also a great quickie ab workout as you will be laughing hysterically.

17. Pick up a Book and Start Reading

Check out the NY Times Best Sellers lists and grab a new book you can get lost in.

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18. Step Away from the Computer and Go Get Some Time with People You Care About in Real Life

Facebook stalking doesn’t count as real social interaction. You can even share this post with your friends and vote on which one you’d like to do together!

19. Check out a Museum You’ve Never Been to Before

OK, depending on your interests, this one might actually be boring. If you love learning, art or different cultures though, this one is for you!

20. Write a List of Things You Desire and Truly Want

This is a great way to help you figure out the real reason why you’re feeling bored about your life. Maybe you haven’t really done things that you truly enjoy? Maybe what you’ve wanted to do all the time has been left behind?

Think about the list of things you really want to do, and ask yourself why you aren’t doing these things (yet). Then start taking your first step to make what you want happen.

Now go make your life interesting and live your dream life!

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Featured photo credit: Kev Costello via unsplash.com

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