6 Final presentation
The thesis should result in the delivery of the final presentation. We give some tips for the final presentation below.
The final presentation is a formal activity in the final project. During the final presentation you have to show to an audience that you deserve the Master degree. You have to show that you have acquired the knowledge and skills, that you are capable of presenting a logical line of reasoning, and that you can defend your ideas and results.
When preparing the final presentation you should create a mental picture of how such a presentation looks like. In case you don’t have any idea about that, you can attend final presentations of other students. Final presentations are public events, and you can simply drop by.
Think about the audience of your final presentation. Normally the audience consists of a mixture of scientists (your graduation committee and other members of research groups or organisations), fellow students, family and friends. This implies that some members of the audience may not be acquainted with the scientific and technical issues you have worked with. Therefore your presentation should have an introductory part, lasting about 10 to 15 minutes, which is intelligible for the non-experts. In order to achieve this, you can make use of metaphors, facts known from the news, or some reasoning on the societal implications of your work. The rest of the time should be devoted to the technical and scientific issues of your work.
Even before making the presentation sheets, it may be useful to discuss the line of reasoning of your presentation with your supervisors. Be sure you also agree with your supervisor about the presentation time. Normally a final presentation lasts for 30 to 40 minutes.
The sheets should not be too dense in contents, because otherwise you discourage the audience to pay attention to what you are saying. Giving a good impression of your work and stimulating the curiosity of the audience is sometimes more important than being complete. The audience can always read the detail in your final report.
The font size of your sheets should not be too small nor too big. Font Arial 20 pt to 28 pt is normally adequate. Some presentation preparation software can be programmed to give tips related to lay-out.
Most presentation preparation software allows you to produce visual and audio effects, but be careful: don’t make the presentation too fancy, because too many animations may give the impression that you have something to hide. Animations have to be functional and should help understanding your reasoning, not blurring the mind of the audience.
Be careful with the amount of sheets you prepare and schedule your presentation. As a rule of thumb you should plan around 2 to 3 minutes per sheet, depending on its density. This amounts to 10 to 15 sheets for a presentation of 30 minutes.
You should mention the presentation structure in your presentation, in order to make the audience aware of the subjects that you are going to talk about. You may prepare a separate sheet for the structure of your presentation, but be sure you have enough sheets left for the actual contents (with a 10-pages presentation this may not be the case!). Don’t forget to round up your presentation with conclusions.
Decide on what to leave out if you begin to run out of time. For example, you may anticipate the questions that will be asked, and prepare some illustrative sheets for supporting your answers. You may not show these sheets during the presentation, but save them for when the questions are asked.
In case you are not fully confident about the presentation, it may be a good idea to give a try-out presentation to your supervisor or your peers.
Delivering the presentation
You must be sure that you arrive on time at your presentation, and that all the equipment you intend to use (computer, beamer, overhead projector, etc.) is properly working. It is always a good idea to test the whole thing half-an-hour before the presentation to check if everything is working accordingly.
When delivering the presentation, avoid just reading the text of the sheets aloud, but rather explain what is being shown. Don’t forget to look at the clock now and then, so that you don’t exceed too much the presentation time.
After you have delivered your presentation there should be time left for questions. Your supervisors will probably pose some questions to you (you have to right to be disappointed if they don’t!), but also other people from the audience may do that. Listen carefully to each question and be sure you understand it. Ask for clarification if you think you don’t completely understand the question. You may rephrase the question yourself aloud before answering it. In this way it becomes clear that you understood the question (or not), but you also get extra time to think about the answer.
Some general tips on presentations can be useful if you are not used to talk in public (see Hoff, R. I can see you naked. Andrews McMeel Publishing, USA, 1992.).