Dissertation Defense Prep Power Series: Part 1- Preparing the PowerPoint


Dissertation Defense Prep: A 4-part POWER series.

The good news has finally arrived! You’ve spent hundreds of hours (but what probably has felt like millions of hours) working on your dissertation. You’ve been planning, brainstorming, proposing, outlining, drafting, researching, writing, screaming, kicking, crying, celebrating, and everything in between, in order to finally get your initial draft completed. You’ve submitted this draft to your adviser and other committee members and, finally, you’ve received the initial approval.

However, there’s one more step, just one more task to accomplish so you can finally get to the PhD end zone. You get a call from a university staff member (or perhaps your adviser) informing you of the date and time for your dissertation defense, in other words, for the session you will be presenting your dissertation in front of your committee, and defending it from their questions, comments, and concerns. So, at this point, all that is standing between you and your PhD is that presentation.

           But, as thousands upon thousands of students every year find out after failing their defense, doing this is much easier said than done. However, Dissertation Consulting Company is here to help. We’ve gathered over two decades of dissertation experience and combined them into a special four-part blog series focused on helping you defend your dissertation and finally acquire that PhD (or Master’s Degree). You should also keep in mind that this series is fully applicable to Master’s theses, not just to doctoral dissertations. In fact, you can replace the word ‘dissertation’ with ‘thesis’ at any time and do nothing to decrease the content’s usefulness or credibility.

           Now regarding the defense of your dissertation, you should try to look at it as four distinct parts, as four important stages that you must go through to reach that finish line. These include:

  1. Preparing the PowerPoint
  2. Dealing with technical requirements
  3. Shifting into the right mindset
  4. Conducting the actual presentation

Based on these four stages, Dissertation Consulting Company created the “Dissertation Defense Prep” POWER series consisting of four separate blog articles each related to a particular stage in the defense prep process. Here’s some information about what each part contains:

Part One: Preparing the PowerPoint

Part Two: Dealing with Technical Requirements

Part Three: Shifting into the Right Mindset

Part Four: Conducting the Actual Presentation

Now, here is PART ONE of Dissertation Consulting Company’ ‘Dissertation Defense Prep’ POWER series.

PART ONE: PREPARING THE POWERPOINT

           When it comes to the actual presentation of your dissertation, the PowerPoint itself plays a crucial role in helping give you a knockout defense. Most universities today require some sort of PowerPoint presentation during the thesis or dissertation defense and, even if it’s not required, you should use it for your defense anyways.

PowerPoint Format

Now, first thing’s first. Most schools require their students to follow a certain PowerPoint format for their dissertation or thesis defense. So, you must first understand exactly what format your university or faculty requires. If this isn’t clarified in the overall dissertation or thesis guidelines, simply ask your adviser. If your adviser mentions there isn’t a particular format mandated, or if he or she is too busy in providing you with a satisfactory answer, then try to ask a colleague of the same faculty for a PowerPoint that was very recently used in a successful defense. For this latter suggestion, it should be obvious that one would use the PowerPoint structure of a successfully-defended presentation. However, as it turns out, there was a student one time that formatted his PowerPoint based on the format of another PowerPoint he borrowed from a friend. Well, his friend’s PowerPoint was not just horribly structured, it was also part of a presentation that badly failed the defense. Because of this, the student had an atrocious structure to his presentation. In case you’re wondering, the student dialed miserably in his defense.

If you still don’t have the answer you’re looking for, do not worry since just about all dissertation or thesis PowerPoints follow a general formula. Basically, the format of your PowerPoint should contain guidelines similar to the following:

  • A PowerPoint of about 20 total slides (do not to aim for more than a 20-slide presentation).
  • A presentation that is accommodated for  20-30 minutes maximum (again, your university may have specific requirements)
  • A presentation that includes only the most important and salient information. In general, it should have the basic points of the following sections:
    • Title page – include the same information you have on the title page of your actual dissertation (not necessarily the same format, but the same information)
    • Background & what sparked interest in the topic
    • Problem statement (in brief)
    • Purpose & Significance of the study
    • Literature Review (only the most essential studies – be as brief as possible here)
  • Visuals/Charts/Graphs – anything to aid you in visually representing your ideas

Keep in mind that there may be additional parts required for your PowerPoint and, either way, you must refer to your university guidelines for the exact structure. The above proposed structure and guidelines simply act as a guide to help you understand the expectations of the power point in general. Of course though, you will submit a draft of your PowerPoint to your adviser to make sure it is up to university standards.

A Word about Visuals

To keep reading bullet points and text, text, and more text from a PowerPoint is not a good way to defend your dissertation unless you want to completely bore your committee. Therefore, you always want to try to include visual representations of your information and, in particular, for data found in the results, analysis, and discussion sections. Try to use charts, tables, and graphs whenever possible in order to replace boring text. You will find that doing this is immensely useful.

The insertion of images and visual data representations like charts, graphs & tables will not only add a dynamic flow to your
presentation, which will keep your audience engaged and interested, but will also keep you relaxed since visuals are able to do much of the ‘talking’ for you, therefore keeping things simple, putting you at ease and increasing your confidence.”

For your PowerPoint: SUMMARIZE CHAPTERS 1-3 AND FOCUS ON CHAPTERS 4-5

It is extremely important that your PowerPoint revolves around the results & conclusions of your study. In other words, you should focus on Chapters 4 and 5. The purpose of all you’ve done in your dissertation is to add knowledge to your field of study by conducting research that should lead to useful results which, in turn, should spark interesting discussion and, even if not discovering some kind of valid theory, at least sparking enough interest leading to follow-up research into related areas of study, building on the findings of your research.

           Therefore, your PowerPoint in general should conduct a very brief overview of chapters 1 – 3 of your dissertation (Intro, Literature Review, and Research Methodology). Meanwhile, you should emphasize the information contained in the Results and Discussion chapters of your dissertation.

Avoid too Much Detail

Avoid too much detail as you are creating your PowerPoint. Make sure you’re not drowning your PowerPoint in too many facts & figures, especially those that don’t seem to relate to each other. Many times, students start to focus too much about a particular point only to begin veering off course often times doing so by explaining a point with too much painstaking detail, going into definition of non-core terms, discussing counter-arguments, and more. Avoid doing this when you’re creating your presentation and inserting its content. Moreover, a presentation with too much information will undoubtedly lose the interest of your audience. So avoid it at all costs.

Keep a Simple, Conservative, and Professional Format

Remember that you are creating your PowerPoint for nothing more than having it there during your presentation to help YOU! The defense is not a sales presentation and there’s no reason you should use glitzy styling, fancy coloring, distracting animation between slide transitions, and all that other stuff. Keep your layout simple, professional, and easy-to-read by keeping the following things in mind when creating your PowerPoint:

  • Keep a simple & conservative layout – Simplicity is the key here. Don’t go for anything fancy regarding theme, layout, and design. In addition, use conservative colors (like blue & black for example) and try to stay away from bright colors.
  • Avoid any special animations during slide transitions – Microsoft Office PowerPoint gives you the ability to implement some nice styling and animation as you’re transitioning from one slide to another. To be as brief as possible, please don’t use these animations as they will decrease and eliminate any academic ‘feel’ to your presentation.
  • Use clear & easy-to-read font – Since you want your PowerPoint to focus on simplicity, it is only natural you apply this principle to your font as well. Some simple fonts include Calibri, Times New Roman, and Arial. Also, make sure you use decently-sized font. Don’t ever cram content on a slide by trying to be clever and using smaller font. In the case of too much information, either create another slide or remove unnecessary information.
  • Proofread to perfection – I hate to be forced to insert obvious advice into a blog article but I feel I have to because, even though it is obvious that one would proofread their PowerPoint before presentation, I cannot begin to tell you how many defense presentations I’ve attended where student’s faces changed to strange colors after my colleagues and I noticed typos, misspelled words, or other content mistakes. Most of the times, their faces would turn red from embarrassment, but there were other times they would turn completely yellow from nausea (hit the ground for cover!) or, worst of all, their faces would turn a pale off-white which would either be a sign of a faint spell … or of a coming seizure! The point is, please don’t put yourself in this position. After you completely finalize everything on your PowerPoint, basically when there’s nothing left more to do, begin proofreading and do so as many times as you can!

Have Your Chair Review Your PowerPoint

When you finish this draft of your PowerPoint (and proofread it), send it over to your adviser to get his or her take on things. Now keep in mind that they may take some time to reply so you should go ahead and start with the next phases of the process which include taking care of the technical requirements and shifting into the correct mindset. Regardless, make sure you send it over to your adviser. This way, if there are major issues with the PowerPoint itself, you will have news of them before, and not while, you’re conducting your defense.

Last words about your PowerPoint

Before you move on to the next part, there is something important that you should keep in mind. When you complete your PowerPoint in this initial phase, and even after you get the approval of your adviser for this PowerPoint draft, don’t expect it is going to be the same exact PowerPoint that will be in front of you during your actual dissertation presentation/defense.

When you finish your PowerPoint here and have your adviser review it, you will be preparing with other aspects such as rehearsing and taking care of technical requirements. Especially while rehearsing, you will undoubtedly find areas in your PowerPoint that could be improved, and you will probably modify the PowerPoint in several places.

So, to conclude this part, just keep in mind that when you initially complete your PowerPoint presentation and have it approved by your adviser, you will probably slightly modify it several times later in the process.

If you have questions or require assistance, please contact us today!

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