How to create an effective Master's presentation

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This post aims to help students who are about to present the master’s dissertation to the committee. I hope it is helpful to you!

If you are presenting a Ph.D. thesis, the depth of each slide changes a bit (and the time you have also increases by some minutes, to 20-25 minutes), but the order and structure are the same.

First, ask your supervisor how long is the meeting expected to last. Usually, it is about 1h, but it can vary from school to school.

Then, ask how long you have to present. Usually, master students have about 15 to 20 minutes. When you find that out, assume this is your most important rule to follow. You have to stick with the expected time.

Assuming you have 15 minutes, you should not create more than 7 to 8 slides (9 to 10 in total, see below). Assume 2 min per slide. Professors won’t pay attention to presentations with 20, 30 slides.

Remember that professors in your committee are experts in the topic of your dissertation. So don’t bother them with unnecessary explanations. You have to show that you know what you are talking and you are all over your work, but remember that you are the rockie in the room. So stick to the time that is allocated to you.

If you have 8 slides, you should use the first 2 to a) give the context of your work, b) motivate your research, c) justify why it is important, d) discuss the research question. This order can vary throughout the slides, but it is almost mandatory to present these four topics. You can use chapter 1 of your dissertation to create these slides.

Then, slide #3 should contain the theory that you used in your work. Avoid long paragraphs (nobody will have the time to read them while listening to you) and prefer to cite articles using bullets. You must be prepared to discuss each of the articles you mention in this slide (and all articles you cite in the dissertation, for that matter). You can include one or two short sentences to aggregate somehow the articles you cite, but do not include full paragraphs in your slides to discuss an specific article (you can use the appendix for that, see below).

You use slides #4 and #5 to discuss your empirical design. Again, avoid entire paragraphs and discuss using bullets, equations, and perhaps figures. Also, discuss the sample, any instrumental variable, any adjustment you made, etc. Be prepared to talk for around 3 to 4 minutes about these 2 slides since professors will pay a lot of attention to this part of your presentation. This might be the most critical part of your talk.

You have 2 slides to present the results. Avoid tables, but you can use part of them with extreme caution. If you want to include something from a table, include only the part that matters (and draw professors' attention to the pages of your dissertation where the table is). It is always a good idea to come out with a figure to present the results if you can have one.

Finally, use the final slides to your concluding remarks. Again, avoid entire paragraphs, and prefer using bullets.

There you go! 8 slides to a 15-min presentation!

This is how I see a nice master presentation, but these are not rules. If you feel you need 1 or 2 more slides, you can have it. However, do not use more time than expected!

In total, you may have 10 slides because you can use the first slide to include the title of your dissertation and your name, and the latter to include the same information again with a “Thank you for your attention” message. You do not spend time with these slides; they are there only to “initiate” and “conclude” your presentation, respectively. They are usually the slides that you keep on the screen while the real discussion is happening.

Appendix

If you feel necessary, you can include additional information (perhaps an entire paragraph or a table) that you did not have in the first 8 slides of content. Include any information you want after the “Thank you for your attention” slide. You will not use these slides in the original 15 minutes you have. You will only use them if professors ask something you do not have in the first 8 slides.

These are the slides to make you comfortable that you will not forget anything about your work and have the means to explain parts that you did not have time to explain in the original 15 minutes. The appendix is like your insurance, that you can answer all their questions.

Additional comments

  1. Come prepared to discuss all parts of your work. Professors will probably ask for clarifications about specific details that she or he did not understand. More specifically, after you use your 15 minutes, your supervisor will provide time to each member of the committee to ask you questions, make comments and say anything they want to say. Usually, each professor uses about 15 minutes, but your supervisor will not cut their time if they need more.

  2. This experience is one of those moments in time that you learn a lot about your own work and academia in general. So take notes of all comments that professors make to you. Prefer taking notes by hand, since handwriting increases learning, boost memory and is more friendly than typing.

  3. Almost always, professors see issues in your main text and make recommendations for dealing with these issues. Your notes will help you later to make such corrections. Your supervisor is not obliged to take notes for you.

  4. Almost always, you will have to provide a second version of your dissertation correcting the issues professors see. So, if you do not take notes, you will have trouble making such corrections.

  5. After all professors state their comments, your supervisor will invite them to a closed room to decide the result of your presentation. They usually take 15 minutes to discuss your work to reach a conclusion. These days, when most presentations occur via Zoom, most likely, your supervisor and all professors go to a breakout room, while all other participants stay in the main room.

  6. When professors are done discussing, they come back to the main room to announce the result. The outcomes vary from school to school but are mainly one of these three: 1) you are not approved and receive 60 to 90 days to make all corrections asked and present your work again to the committee; 2) you are approved, but you have to provide a second version of your work with all corrections made, 3) you are approved without modifications asked. The most common outcome is #2, but it can be #1 or #3.

That is it! Good luck with your presentation!

Henrique Castro Martins
Henrique Castro Martins
Assistant Professor of Finance
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