Top ten tips for Master Thesis presentations

The last two days I have been examining a lot of master thesis presentations. I also made a cynical Limerick the other week (I admit it wasn’t that good…) on a similar matter, but then for phd students presenting their research results.

There are many sources around for general tips and tricks in terms of presentations out there on the internet. With this list I’m trying to give some more master-theses-presentation-related tips-and-tricks (even though some of the bullets will come back to this).

10. Opposing

The opposition is a crucial part of any defense of academic results. This means you should put some effort into it. The questions should be intelligent and not only why you wrote “right” instead of “write” on page 104.

The opponent should ask the respondent and not the examiner. The examiner is probably not writing the report (we hope).

When you present your questions on the slide, don’t turn away from the audience and mumble the question. Talk to the respondent and the audience. Describe your question and what answer you would expect. If the answer is already mentioned – why do you even bother asking the question again?

And you, respondent: repeat the question as you think it was for the audience and then answer it. Give a more educated answer than: “I have not looked into that”.

9. Face the audience

When you are presenting your work – do not talk to the examiner. Talk to the audience! The examiner already has an idea of what you are working with (we hope). Why state the obvious again for him/her? Observe the audience and note their reactions. How many are playing with their smart phones? If they are playing with their smart phones, interrupt them by bringing up a new hot topic in your presentation.

Some more things:

  • Don’t use all abbreviations that people tend to not know.
  • Don’t use phrases like “… we all know …”, etc.

8. Present your results

Ok, so this is an academic presentation where you are supposed to show what you have been doing the last six months or so. You are also supposed to present the results within a reasonably short time (20-30 minutes, 10 minutes is too short!). How will you do that?
That depends on topic and audience, of course. But yet, sit down and ask yourself what results you want to present and not which powerpoint template you should use.

  • And… less is more: do not waste time on pointless slides.

Emphasize on what you have been doing and what your contribution is. For example, if you have worked 20 weeks, have you identified 20 bullets of things that you have done that you can be proud of?

7. Bring back the audience to your topic

Often your topic is within a narrow field of science. You have been working hard (we hope) on the topic and you should (we hope) be an expert on the topic. This means probably that your audience falls asleep after a few minutes/slides. You need to wake them up somehow. One simple tip can be to bring them back to the outline of your presentation and restart from that every time you switch topic.

  • “Now I’ve talked about this and now I will talk about this…”

6. Attendance

At our university it is mandatory to attend at least on other thesis presentation before you present or oppose someone else. There is a reason for that. Attend the other presentations and learn how it is done. Note the flaws in other presentations and learn from them. Note the questions from examiners/audience/opponents.

Notice also that on “my” presentations I require active attendance. You are required to ask questions (relevant!) to get the attendance approved. This is another way to think of what kind of questions you might get (and want) during your presentation.

5. Prove your point

A bit related to bullet 8, but what I mean here is that you also have to be proud of your results and be able to motivate and stand up for them. Before the opposition, make sure that you have practiced to answer the questions (intelligently, we hope). Have a friend practice and scrutinize your presentation/report. This makes the presentation/opposition much more interesting. Hopefully that can bring up a nice discussion during the presentation. Think of the presentation as something you can be proud of for the rest of your life.

  • Motivate why your work is important in the context. If it is not important, why?

4. Chairman

Don’t interrupt the chairman! It is not up to you as respondent to outline the defence. The examiner/chairman will introduce you to the audience and tell them and you what is expected.
You should not present a final slide with “Questions” on. It is not up to you to decide that. Even the “Thank you” slide should be omitted in my opinion … wait for the verdict from the examiner first 😉

Strangely, I see also Ph.D. students do this in their conference presentations.

Another annoying thing with the thank-you or question slide is that you withdraw the conclusions slide from the audience. Just as everyone finally woke up and were alert since you’ve stopped talking, you take away the most important slide from them.

3. Is your grandmother there?

Well, maybe she is… Anyway, some of those in the audience are probably from a different background, theoretically and culturally. (Maybe even arts-and-crafts, gasp!). This means that you need to be humble when presenting the results. Introduce the listener to the slide you present. If you see that they do not follow you. Repeat – and make it even more clear. Then it is much more easy to agree with your conclusions.

2. Enjoy the silence!

Ahh! Silencium! You do not have to talk all the time. Use silence as a way to show and emphasize your results. A 5-second delay is OK. (A 40-second delay is awkward, but try and see…) Let people read and react on the slide. Make them slightly uncomfortable and then you start over again. You will keep them on their toes.

1. Table with raw data

At some point you get to the end when you eagerly want to present the final results of your work. Then all the tables of more or less random data (for the audience) are presented. As well as waveforms after waveforms and such diagrams. These probably do not make sense unless you are very careful with the way you present them. Remember that approximately 5 seconds after you presented the table-or-figure slide people will have forgotten it.

What should a table or a graph look like to be interesting?

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