I am one of those unusual (apparently) people who enjoys public speaking. I think it stems from entering competitions in high school, but I’ve never really been terrified of standing up in front of people and performing in some capacity, despite being a self-confessed introvert. Of course I still get nervous, I’m only human, but overall I enjoy it.
As part of a course requirement I had to give a fifteen minute presentation about my thesis to an audience of fellow honours students and faculty members. During the lead up I practiced my speech with a few friends and managed to more or less learn it by heart. I also attended another presentation session to get a feel for how they were run. My preparation was going well until I realised I’d made a stupid error with one of my variables, and that I also needed to adjust my analyses. This meant that although my introduction, rationale and method section were fine, I had to re-do part of my results section and run a regression the night before! With advice from my supervisor, I had a clear idea of what I needed to do. I must admit though, I ended up working rather late that night trying to get my results in order, coaxing an unruly graph into submission and explaining my findings. It was all very unlike me, I’m definitely the kind of person who likes to start things early and work slowly and steadily.
Despite the last minute mishaps, the next morning I was looking forward to giving my presentation. I was also reassured because my friend and I had a back-up plan. In case no-one asked any questions at the end of each of our presentations we had devised ‘planted’ questions for each other to get the ball rolling.
I was first-up, just like old times. Before I knew it, I had come to the end of my speech, more or less without using my cue cards and I managed to get a laugh from the audience. To my apprehension though, I was greeted by silence. Not a single question… Had I rambled? Spoken too fast? Bored them? Before I could dwell on these speculations, my friend who jumped in with her ‘question.’ Thankfully, that seemed to be the cue for everyone else to contribute. I was so relieved. Mostly, I was asked about how I might explain certain findings and what the literature had to say. These were not too difficult to answer. Someone also gave me a great idea I might pursue in my PhD, if I get that far!
All in all it went very well and I received a few compliments from students and faculty members. I was on a high for the rest of the day. Another welcome development I attribute to the thesis presentations and the looming thesis deadline is the increased camaraderie between the honours students. In the weeks leading up to the presentations it was not unusual to bump into other students in computer labs running last minute analyses, to chat about trying to make sense of data, findings that went in the opposite direction to predictions, or for some people what to do about their lack of data! It is always reassuring knowing that we are all going through the same challenges.
So, for anyone out there facing their own thesis presentation, enjoy it, it is a good experience and it can give you a fresh perspective about your project. Good luck!