21. Thesis Defense: The Oral Presentation

All students are required to make an oral presentation of their thesis project. This valuable part of your thesis generally consists of a twenty-minute presentation with a five-minute discussion period with the supervisor and at least one other faculty or staff member. Your supervisor will arrange your presentation. Students completing off-campus thesis research at work usually arrange the oral presentation with their company supervisor, even if the final document is not completed there.

Supervisors are responsible for arranging oral presentations. The supervisor may include the quality of the thesis presentation when assigning the final grade.

Hints for Oral Presentations:

Time Topic
2 mins Introduction: Background, Motivation, big picture
1 min Statement of Objectives, the Problem, the Hypothesis
3 mins Overview: Approach, Methodology
10 mins Most Important Thing: More Detail Here [example, substantive accomplishments
2 mins Results
2 mins Conclusion: key lessons, need for future research

Note that you spend almost half of your time introducing or concluding.

  1. Practice in front of friends, supervisor, and mirror. Practicing gives smoothness and polish. Do at least one complete 'dry run' for timing.
  2. Keep it short. Budget your time. Wear a watch or put it where you can see it, and stay aware of the time. Don't rush by talking fast. If you're running long, go straight to your conclusions, and omit detail.
  3. Don't read, but use notes or an outline. Speak clearly and more slowly than seems reasonable. Make eye contact. Don't turn your back to the audience to look at your poster! Have an outline you can refer to.
  4. Be extremely organized and use a logical structure. Avoid getting bogged down in excessive detail. Give the Big Picture quickly, but mostly talk about your thesis project, not the total research project. Consult your supervisor for advice about which parts to cover in more detail. Here is a possible structure for a 20 minute talk:
  5. Use a few (<10) professional-looking slides. Projectors may be reserved in advance from the You don't have TIME to use the blackboard. Don't clutter up slides with many equations; keep them simple. Use figures, diagrams and pictures.
  6. It's better to be too formal than too casual. Dressing up and speaking properly may help cover lack of sleep and nervousness. This doesn't mean your speech has to be humorless or lifeless.
  7. Your target audience is neither your supervisor nor a freshman, but your fellow Masters students in Computer Science, as well as other interested faculty and staff.