How to Nail Your Dissertation Presentation

When you are in your final year of university, you will probably have to produce a dissertation. Therefore it is often the case that at some point or other, you will need to make a presentation of your research.

Hopefully, this will not be your first presentation, but if it is, have no fear, as we have some tips to help you out.

Tip 1: Presentation preparation – don’t leave it to last minute
A presentation is different from other pieces of work: if you have not sufficiently prepared, you have nowhere to hide. The best course of action is not to leave it until the last minute. This means you will not have to rush making the slides, and you can practise sufficiently. Remember that proper preparation prevents poor performance! You should start the presentation at least 2 weeks in advance.

Tip 2: Template design
Instead of using one of the generic inbuilt PowerPoint templates, have a quick look at our free PowerPoint templates, and tie in a colour scheme or theme. This will help you stand out from the crowd by having a memorable presentation for a good reason. There are often a few marks available for a well-designed presentation, so it is a no-brainer that it looks nice.

For example, for her dissertation, a friend of mine investigated the different yeasts used to make beer, so she used the template of a beer bottle.

Tip 3: Structure
Follow the sections of your dissertation, and allow roughly a minute to speak about each slide. If you have a time limit, such as a 15-minute presentation with a questions section at the end, give yourself 12 minutes for the presentation and 3 minutes for the questions. From this you know that you need roughly 12 slides.

Tip 4: Keep the slides simple
Make sure that the audience understand what you have done but don’t be tempted to overload the slides with text, because they will not bother to read them and may switch off. A way to keep it simple and interesting is to use key diagrams and pictures and explain what they mean. If you have already written your dissertation try starting with an introductory slide, followed by a brief background, the methods, results and data, and lastly your conclusions. If you are yet to write it up, try the following points as a structure.

  1. A bit of background
  2. What you used
  3. What happened
  4. Why it happened

Tip 5: Get rid of the jargon
You may be talking to your peers but that does not mean that they know what the specific technical words are. When you are preparing, try to visualise talking to yourself before you started the research for your project. What did you know? What would you not understand? Even better would to be to go over it with a course mate, because if they don’t understand the terminology then the likelihood that your audience will not understand is high! You don’t need to use the same terminology as your thesis.

For example, instead of:
“I investigated the functional properties of the TREK-1 K2P channels as target for intestinal motility disorders.”
you can get rid of as much technical jargon as possible, and explain it in a more day-to-day way.
“I looked at a subtype of ion channels called TREK-1, to see if they could be used to treat bowel diseases.”
Not only is it easier to hear, it is easier to say!

Tip 6: Use the mark scheme
For undergraduate research presentations there is often a mark scheme available to you, so make sure you use it. It will often give specific instructions of what should be on there, such as the university logo and your student number. This will mean that you will not lose silly marks for these small things.

Tip 7: Nerves
Remember that everybody can get nervous when giving a presentation. Check out our article on tips to control your nerves.
If you are presenting to fellow students, remember they are just like you! They will be in the same boat and will understand that you are nervous.

Tip 8: Practise out loud
They say that you are your own worst critic, so use it to your advantage. This will enable you to find any gaps in your presentation and your own knowledge.

Film yourself doing the presentation as a dry run. Ask yourself if what you are saying is correct, and whether it makes sense. This will not only help with the content, but you will get an idea for time management.

Tip 9: Time yourself
As you practise your presentation, time yourself on your phone. Then you will know how to pace yourself: whether to speed up or slow down. This will also help you work out if you need more or less content in your slides.

Tip 10: Present to your course mates
Next, get hold of a course mate and present it to them. They will see any mistakes that you have on your slides, such as typos, and can give you an idea of questions that may be asked. Ask them to grill you on anything they don’t understand. It is recognised that teaching a subject is one of the best ways to learn. So by presenting to a course mate, in effect you will learning your presentation.

Tip 11: Managing the questions
Take a few seconds to think about what you know and answer truthfully. Avoid making anything up. Whoever is questioning you wants you to demonstrate your extra knowledge and understanding. In most cases they don’t want to catch you out, especially if you are being assessed by lecturers, who want you to do well because it reflects on them.