Public speaking continues to take top billing when it comes to typical human fears, even beating out the fear of death! Fortunately, there are proven ways you can head into your doctoral defence with the confidence needed to successfully finish your Ph.D.

It’s undeniable that defending your dissertation can be considered public speaking times ten, since it’s much more than just giving a speech. Years of work have gone into your doctoral research project and dissertation, with so much riding on the outcome. A successful dissertation defence requires that you know your material thoroughly and defend it adeptly. 

So what can be done to tip the scales in your favour when your committee members are waiting expectantly and your nerves are poised to get the best of you?

Know your material like the expert you are. This goes without saying but the more intimately you understand the unique, key content of your research project, the better you are able to defend it. This is why it’s critical to go back through your work, even if you completed it some time ago, and ensure that you’re clear on its development, methodology and analysis. What areas of your dissertation are the strongest? The weakest? What nuanced questions can you expect? This is one of the few times that being your own worst critic can work to your advantage! 

Dress rehearse…and then repeat.  Practice may not make your dissertation defence perfect but it can take out a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. Seize any opportunity to discuss your thesis with other people, from within academia or otherwise. If necessary, bribe a colleague or relative with lunch to drill you on questions about your topic. Those dry runs help you familiarize yourself again with the structure of your own work. And providing detailed explanations aloud to others also naturally highlights areas that need tightening. (You’ll often know your weak spots when you falter or lose your way. There’s a reason you stumble in the same locations.)

Slow down, you might enjoy it. When you speak quickly, you send an unequivocal message to others as well as yourself: you’re nervous. And while examiners expect a degree of nervousness, you can display poise and self-control simply by taking your time. The key? Breathing. Slow, rhythmic breathing not only grounds you but helps you speak better, without so much air and breathiness in your voice. This rule also applies when being you’re asked a question: Take a moment, take a breath and then respond. It shows that you’re thoughtful and less prone to rapid-fire reactions. Remember that, during that all-important hour, you are the expert in your own research area. Own it.  

The good news? Research has proven some anxiety can actually help us perform better. It’s all in the way you frame it. Try to think of those butterflies as indications of excitement rather than dread. If you view your presentation as a challenge instead of a threat, those nerves can transform to increased mental acuity and fine-tuned responsiveness. You’ve got this!

Looking to defend your dissertation in the future? As an accomplished dissertation coach, I can get you to the finish line. Reach out!