Recently, a very close friend of mine and a student at Loughborough University defended her thesis and let me tell you that it wasn’t easy for her to answer questions that she did not expect the audience to ask. Luckily, she was one of the best students and held the record for the shortest time to achieve a degree in the university with a 30k plus job lined up for her.
With little or no professional experience on her side, it also meant that it was the first time she prepared and presented in front of the audience. When I talked to her I found out that there are certain actions that every individual or student should undertake before the big talk at their department/college. A well-defined presentation approach can help even at a higher level, such as when delivering a speech at a conference or seminar in a professional environment.
Sometimes you may get questions from you audience that are little or not at all relevant to your research. If this is the case then you should not become nervous and try to answer them to the best of your ability. Be humble or honest when answering questions. If you get a question that you don’t know the answer to, simple let them know that “I don’t know”. There is no harm in speaking the truth. Rather than making up an answer that is completely irrational, a better approach will be to remain humble and honest to your audience. Remember that it is simply impossible to have precise and accurate answers to ever question thrown at you.
Be comfortable with what you know
You should be comfortable with the amount of knowledge you have gained as part of the research activities and thesis defence preparations. Demonstrate your confidence through your words and body language to impress your supervisor and other faculty members of the thesis committee. Remember that professors are like sharks who are able to smell fear just like sharks smell blood in water. Stop being nervous. Full stop. !!!
Also Read: How to communicate with your Supervisor
Are you comfortable with the equipment and room?
Before defending your thesis, it will only be helpful to inspect the equipment, room and other facilities that you are going to be using. It is absolutely vital to use the same facilities in front of a fabricated audience to make sure that you are comfortable with your surroundings. Test the equipment including your laptop, data cables, projectors, pointers etc to minimize surprises on thesis defence day.
Don’t wait until the last minute
As suggested before, you should take time out to get involved in practice talks to get valuable feedback from subordinates, friends, and classmates and possibly from your supervisor. Take action sooner rather than later. Allow yourself at least 2 to 3 days to prepare for the presentation so you can identify and incorporate any changes that might have to be made. Practice, practice, practice. After all, practice makes the man perfect.
Know your audience
Improve your knowledge about the audience. If possible prepare a list of those expected to participate in your talk so you can do some research to find what their research interests are. This will further help you to determine the type of questions that they may ask.
Related: How to Manage your time in exam Days
The ability to justify yourself
“An introduction is more than just a history of your field up until now. That is, it’s more than a literature review. You need to review the current literature, but more importantly put your research into context. What have you done (or what are you doing) that no one else has done?”
The little stuff is as important
DO not think that you audience only wishes to know about your major research findings because they will be as interested in knowing about the little details. Some of them might even be upset or angry if you do not pay attention to details. If possible, dedicate considerable time to each slide to explain the graphs, diagrams and other major trends.