Improve Your Project Defense Presentation
Few things can be as boring as a poorly prepared project defense presentation. The impression is that it will take forever to end. It gives you time to think about the bag that didn’t fall, the deadline for sending summaries, about the opponent that your team takes in the next phase of the championship, at the weekend barbecue.
Holding people’s attention is an art. And the techniques used to speak in public are in books and courses entirely dedicated to the subject. For something so frequent and important, the first assumption is that most academics have an above-average talent for public speaking.
Unfortunately, the truth is that most of the project presentations you have seen and will attend at universities are simply a drug. It doesn’t matter the years of experience and, to be honest, we think that many speakers get worse over time: 1) they no longer have the worries of starting their careers; 2) your portfolio in the field will always compliment you. Perhaps your presentations are like that?
On the bright side, this is something that can be solved with a certain amount of effort. In this article, we would like to share some ideas to improve your project/research defense presentation:
1. Be minimalist
Make simple slides, with one short message in each. Ten ideas on one slide every 10 min is much less than one idea per slide every 1 min. Don’t skimp; just make quick transitions. Never put text, and never read more than 1 line of text. Prevent your audience from being distracted by reading too much. Use images.
2. Do not mark the slides with page numbers
This causes fear and anxiety. As we earlier mentioned, the number of slides does not necessarily mean that you will need 4 hours to finish. In any case, don’t scare anyone with numbering. There is another reason: when you reach the end, people will only want you to pass the last three pages for them to leave.
Plan your presentation by putting yourself in the shoes of your audience. Think of the sequence of ideas that you will present so that your message is successfully transmitted. Never say “I will skip this slide as it is unnecessary.” Why did you put it on then? Make a presentation with care and planning.
4. Be organized
Make clear the theme and structure of the presentation. Prepare your audience for what is to come, so they will organize ideas more easily and will not interrupt to ask about subjects that will be exposed just a few slides ahead. Start with phrases like “the topic will be addressed…” and “the presentation is divided into 3 parts; in the first part…”
Try to follow a logical narrative structure. For example, 1) Motivations and context, 2) initial approaches, 3) how the game has changed, 4) consequences and 5) summary and list of open problems. Use markers to separate sections.
5. Think about whether you need to detail your research
In very few situations, you need to explain all of your contributions. In a journal club this is okay, but in most cases give preference to the “big picture” and mention how you tackled the problem. Leave the details to your advisor, students, colleagues and collaborators.
About the audience
6. Know your audience
This is the most obvious tip, but it is constantly ignored. In defense of a monograph, thesis, dissertation and course conclusion work, your audience will be the board. They are often experts who (theoretically) read your work and know (or should know) what you have done.
On many other occasions, knowing who will attend is not so simple, so ask the organizers who the main audience is. Teachers? Students? General public? This is important for the level of detail.
Generally, the presentation “type” itself indicates the level required:
- Colloquia are the most informal and most common. They are usually organized in such a way that anyone minimally “educated” in the area can attend. Example: historians invite a historian to talk about their work. Everyone has a common knowledge, but the historian will do a less detailed, more colloquial seminar.
- Seminars are the intermediate level. Using the previous example, suppose that historians invite another historian to present their work. But now suppose that among historians, there are different specializations, some research the cold war, others world war and so on. In that case, the level will be even higher.
- Lectures in journal clubs are the most specialized. Following the same example: suppose that in the previous example, everyone studies world war. The level here is the highest, and everyone can understand the minutiae of a published article.
- Defense of theses and dissertations. Even if your friends and family are present, your audience is the board. We honestly believe that here are suggestions similar to those of the journal club and you can detail the content of your project.
Note that we left out “classes” because in this case, the approach is completely different and much more complicated.
In addition, don’t read to your audience. This is the overriding rule; it shouldn’t even need an explanation. But if you are still not convinced, we’ll be straightforward: from the 4th grade of elementary school onwards, no one needs help to read. Please respect your audience.
7. Don’t underestimate your audience
Talking about familiar things does not mean talking about trivial things. Try to explain to the layman without boring the specialist.
8. Do not overestimate your audience
On the other hand, don’t assume that everyone watching knows all the details. Avoid phrases like: “I don’t need to explain this to this audience”. Even in trivial things, you can say, “let me remind you of this little detail …” New people in the area may find this type of information interesting, and it may be that this is the only idea relevant to them.
9. Be nice
Stories are successful because humans like to hear them. Use it in your favor. Don’t be topical: “We did this, and this, and then that “try something like “We tried this, but we realized it was not the most appropriate because … then, in the end, we realized that it was better because of that other…”
Try to be a friendly person, smile (don’t confuse it with telling jokes and laughing, you’re not a comedian). Make visual contact (but not with a single person). Be careful with your “presentation”, posture and body language.
It should be noted that humor helps to relax and attract the attention of your listeners. But if you are not used to making humor in your daily life, it is better to leave it than to try it in a project defense presentation. It sounds artificial, and everyone knows it.
10. Be honest
Sometimes it’s kind of tempting to read an article, see something interesting and think it’s going to be cool if you add that piece of information. If someone asks for details, will you know how to answer? If your answer is “no”, be nice to yourself and control your temptation, okay? On the other hand, never, ever, under any circumstances, try to answer something you don’t know. Do not try to curl, as people will notice immediately.
11. Stick to time
You should get to the venue early. Never underestimate the implications of Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”.) It doesn’t fail. On a presentation day, everything that can go wrong ends up happening: the room is locked, the projector won’t turn on, the microphone won’t work, and the presentation won’t open. Getting there ahead of the scheduled time can help you prevent this.
In addition, never exceed the established time, it bores your audience.
12. Take care of your appearance
Keep in mind that you will be the center of attention, so take a look at your appearance. The carelessness with the appearance gives the impression that the lecturer gives little importance to the presentation.
Things to take note of before that presentation
- Don’t skimp on examples: Present the concepts followed by examples, real or not. They are important in understanding and retaining what is being presented.
- Watch out for your posture: During the project defense presentation, you don’t just communicate verbally. Your gestures, the intonation of your voice and your posture are also part of communication. And never keep your back to the audience, okay?
- Don’t point out your flaws: Nothing is more boring than someone who apologizes all the time. Often, if the lecturer did not call attention to failures, they would go unnoticed.
- Watch out for language addictions: They are the famous “eee“, “mmm” and “there” of the project defense presentations. Grunts are usually emitted while the caller thinks. Language addiction is also difficult to stop you police yourself to end one, you end up acquiring a new one. Therefore, be constantly vigilant.