Dissertation defense presentations can feel a bit intimidating. Although you have mastered your topic and content, defending your work to a critical committee may be daunting. Your committee will engage you in a discussion of your research; their intent is not to see you stalled out. Set your sights on preparing your presentation so that you can confidently discuss your research and you will be well on your way to breezing through your defense! Below are some tips to consider.
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Do not overdo your slides: Your defense presentation should provide your audience with enough context to understand the purpose, need, and direction of your study. Power Point slides may serve as a visual aid to support your verbal communication. However, the slides should not eclipse the salient information that you will communicate. Your slides should contain concise, bulleted information to, and should not contain long blocks of narrative text. Power point slides are intended to guide you and the audience by supporting and summarizing the information you deliver verbally. Long blocks of text will bore and distract your audience. If your audience is busy reading text on your slides, they are paying less attention to what you are actually saying. We suggest having 5-6 bullets per slide at most; fewer is better.
Know the focus of the presentation: Depending on the type of defense (i.e., proposal or final) the focus of your presentation will vary. The proposal defense presentation will cover the background, problem statement, purpose statement, research questions, hypotheses, theoretical framework, and planned methodological approach (including sampling, data collection, and data analysis). The final presentation may touch very briefly on the areas covered in your proposal defense, but almost all of the focus will be on the results of the data analysis, interpretations of the findings, recommendations, and limitations of the study. The final defense presentation may also include the implications for practice, future research, and social change.
Talking vs. reading: Although it may be tempting to create a script to speak from for the defense presentation, please note that it may hinder you more than it may help you. Consider compounding your anxiety related to defending your dissertation with concern over ‘memorizing your lines’! You can create notes or an outline to help guide you, but whatever you do, do NOT just stand there and read your notes (or worse: your slides) word for word. Practice your presentation as much as possible. Try to do mock presentations in front of friends or family. This will help you get comfortable with speaking through your content and gaining familiarity so that discussing your research feels conversational.