Secrets of a doctoral dissertation defense: how to prepare yourself

The D-Day. You have written your dissertation and now a committee would like you to defend it. That too in a room full of audience! No wonder you are a bunch of nerves. So, what is it that can make this less of an ordeal and more of a ride? Here are a few tips:

Calm down and dress up

First things first, you are the expert. Yes, that’s right. No one knows this topic better than you do, not even the members of the committee. It’s the freshest in your mind and you have the keys to the truth of how you conducted your research and the evidence supporting your conclusions.

Secondly, the crowd is on your side. It’s your day to shine and everyone is rooting for you. Everyone wants you to float through the defense and celebrate your success.

Now dress up in style. Make an effort to look your best: you are the star of the show, look your part.

Presentation

It’s essential that you have rehearsed and practiced a few times with colleagues. Practice doesn’t mean that you should rote-learn your presentation like a script. All you need is a sketch, a framework, so that you know your slides. In addition, what you are going to say about each.

Speaking of slides, avoid cluttered or kaleidoscopic ones. Stick to clean slides and viewer friendly colors. Blues and Grays work best.

With a bit of practice you can breeze through the presentation like a pro. Start with an icebreaker: an anecdote, a story, or a joke. You are performing for a mixed bag: friends, family, colleagues. A smart little joke will reach everyone and connect him or her with you. This is the point where you grab their attention, now try and keep it going. Keep it simple and ride the adrenaline tide to add force and spontaneity to your presentation.

Defense

This is where the game really begins. Again, you are the one who knows this best. Most questions will be easy for you to answer. Some will be tricky, and others decidedly painful. Buy some time when you hear a complex question. One way of doing this is to repeat the question in your own words starting with “As I understand your question….”.

Another life saving tip: eat humble pie!

All papers, all studies and all researches have weaknesses. Admit them, accept them, and lay them to rest.

Enjoy your defense. Try approaching it as your moment to shine.

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