How to structure your viva presentation (with examples)

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Most PhD vivas and PhD defences start with a short presentation by the candidate. The structure of these presentations is very important! There are several factors and approaches to consider when developing your viva presentation structure.

Factors to consider when developing a viva presentation structure

Structuring your viva presentation traditionally, structuring your viva presentation around key findings, structuring your viva presentation around key arguments, structuring your viva presentation around case studies, final thoughts on viva presentation structures.

A PhD viva or PhD defence is often one of the last steps that PhD students have to pass before receiving a doctorate. The viva or defence usually starts with a short presentation of the PhD candidate on the PhD thesis.

Presenting a whole PhD in a short amount of time is very challenging. After all, a PhD is often the result of several years of work!

It is simply impossible to include everything in a viva presentation.

Therefore, tough choices have to be made in terms of what to include, what to highlight, and what to exclude.

The structure of a viva presentation plays a crucial role in bringing across the key messages of your PhD.

Therefore, there are several factors to consider when developing a viva presentation structure:

  • Available presentation time : Viva presentations usually last between 10 and 20 minutes, but every university has different regulations. Developing a structure for a viva presentation that lasts 10 minutes is different from developing one for a presentation that lasts 20 minutes or more. Thus, find out how much time you are allowed to present!
  • The key contribution of your thesis: The structure of a viva presentation should reflect the content and key messages of the PhD thesis. For instance, if you have written a very theoretical PhD thesis, it makes no sense to structure your whole presentation around your data collection and analysis. Make sure that the viva presentation structure is in line with your main messages.
  • University standards: It is recommended to discuss your ideas and plans for your viva presentation structure with others, as each university may have may be different (and even unspoken) rules and standards. Ask your supervisors about their preferred viva presentation structure. And talk to your peers who defend their theses before you.
  • Clear storyline : Every presentation should have a logical structure which allows the audience to follow a crystal-clear storyline. This is also true for viva presentations. Thus, clarify your storyline and develop a presentation structure that supports it.

A very traditional viva presentation structure simply follows the structure of the PhD thesis.

This means that the viva presentation covers all parts of the thesis, including an introduction, the literature review, the methodology, results, conclusions, etcetera.

Example of a traditional viva presentation structure

The advantage of this rather traditional format is that it provides information on each thesis chapter. Furthermore, it is relatively easy to prepare.

The disadvantage of this traditional format is that it is very challenging to fit all the information in a – let’s say – 10-minute presentation.

Furthermore, it can result in a presentation that is quite boring for the examiners, who have read the thesis in preparation for the viva.

One interesting way is to structure a viva presentation around the key findings of the PhD research.

For instance, you can select your three main findings which you each connect to the existing literature, your unique research approach and your (new) empirical insights.

Example of a viva presentation structure around key findings

A viva presentation structure around key findings emphasises the unique contribution of a PhD thesis, particularly in empirical terms.

A challenge of this structure, however, is to narrow down the presentation to a handful of key findings.

Furthermore, it might be tricky to find enough time during the presentation to discuss your theoretical framework and embed your discussion in the existing literature when addressing complex issues.

A viva presentation structured around key arguments is very similar to one that is structured around key findings. However, while key findings place more emphasis on the empirical data, key arguments operate at a higher level:

Arguments are sets of reasons supporting an idea, which – in academia – often integrate theoretical and empirical insights.

Example of a viva presentation structure around key arguments

So, for example, your key argument 1 is your stance on an issue, combining your theoretical and empirical understanding of it. You use the existing theory to understand your empirical data, and your empirical data analysis to develop your theoretical understanding.

A viva presentation structure around key arguments is probably the most difficult viva presentation structure to choose.

However, if it is well done, it is probably the most academically strong and advanced way of defending your PhD.

Another common way to structure a viva presentation is around case studies or study contexts.

This structure is only applicable when the PhD thesis includes a comparative (case study) analysis, which is quite common in the social sciences and humanities.

A presentation can, for instance, first discuss the theoretical framework and research approach, then present Case 1, and then Case 2 or more if applicable.

Example of a viva presentation structure around case studies

A viva presentation structure around case studies can be easy to follow for the audience, and shed light on the similarities and differences of cases.

However, as always, you need to reflect on whether the structure supports your key message. If your key message does not centre around similarities and/or differences in cases, this is not the structure for you!

Every PhD thesis is unique, and therefore also every viva presentation structure should be unique.

The key to a good viva presentation is to choose a structure which reflects the key points of your PhD thesis that you want to convey to the examiners.

The example viva presentation structures discussed here intend to showcase variety and possibilities and to provide inspiration.

Never just copy a viva presentation structure that worked for others .

Always think about what fits best to your thesis, asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is the main message of my PhD that I want to share during my viva?
  • How do I develop a crystal clear storyline to bring this main message across?
  • How can I structure my viva presentation to support and facilitate this storyline?

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PhD Dissertation Defense Slides Design: Start

  • Tips for designing the slides
  • Presentation checklist
  • Example slides
  • Additional Resources

Purpose of the Guide

This guide was created to help ph.d. students in engineering fields to design dissertation defense presentations. the guide provides 1) tips on how to effectively communicate research, and 2) full presentation examples from ph.d. graduates. the tips on designing effective slides are not restricted to dissertation defense presentations; they can be used in designing other types of presentations such as conference talks, qualification and proposal exams, and technical seminars., the tips and examples are used to help students to design effective presentation. the technical contents in all examples are subject to copyright, please do not replicate. , if you need help in designing your presentation, please contact julie chen ([email protected]) for individual consultation. .

  • Example Slides Repository
  • Defense slides examples Link to examples dissertation defense slides.

Useful Links

  • CIT Thesis and dissertation standards
  • Dissertations and Theses @ Carnegie Mellon This link opens in a new window Covers 1920-present. Full text of some dissertations may be available 1997-present. Citations and abstracts of dissertations and theses CMU graduate students have published through UMI Dissertation Publishing. In addition to citations and abstracts, the service provides free access to 24 page previews and the full text in PDF format, when available. In most cases, this will be works published in 1997 forward.
  • Communicate your research data Data visualization is very important in communicating your data effectively. Check out these do's and don'ts for designing figures.

Power Point Template and other Resources

  • CEE Powerpoint Slide Presentation Template 1
  • CEE Powerpoint Slide Presentation Template 2

Source: CEE Department Resources https://www.cmu.edu/cee/resources/index.html

  • CMU Powerpoint Slide Template

Source: CMU Marketing and Communications

https://www.cmu.edu/marcom/brand-standards/downloads/index.html

  • Use of CMU logos, marks, and Unitmarks

Email me for questions and schedule an appointment

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Top 7 tips for your defense presentation

1. show why your study is important, remember, your audience is your committee members, researchers in other fields, and even the general public. you want to convince all of them why you deserve a ph.d. degree. you need to talk about why your study is important to the world. in the engineering field, you also need to talk about how your study is useful. try to discuss why current practice is problematic or not good enough, what needs to be solved, and what the potential benefits will be. , see how dr. posen and dr. malings explained the importance of their studies..

  • Carl Malings Defense Slides with Notes
  • I. Daniel Posen Defense Slides with Notes

2. Emphasize YOUR contribution 

Having a ph.d. means that you have made some novel contributions to the grand field. this is about you and your research. you need to keep emphasizing your contributions throughout your presentation. after talking about what needs to be solved, try to focus on emphasizing the novelty of your work. what problems can be solved using your research outcomes what breakthroughs have you made to the field why are your methods and outcomes outstanding you need to incorporate answers to these questions in your presentation. , be clear what your contributions are in the introduction section; separate what was done by others and what was done by you. , 3. connect your projects into a whole piece of work, you might have been doing multiple projects that are not strongly connected. to figure out how to connect them into a whole piece, use visualizations such as flow charts to convince your audience. the two slides below are two examples. in the first slide, which was presented in the introduction section, the presenter used a flow diagram to show the connection between the three projects. in the second slide, the presenter used key figures and a unique color for each project to show the connection..

phd viva powerpoint presentation

  • Xiaoju Chen Defense Slides with Notes

4. Tell a good story 

The committee members do not necessarily have the same background knowledge as you. plus, there could be researchers from other fields and even the general public in the room. you want to make sure all of your audience can understand as much as possible. focus on the big picture rather than technical details; make sure you use simple language to explain your methods and results. your committee has read your dissertation before your defense, but others have not. , dr. cook and dr. velibeyoglu did a good job explaining their research to everyone. the introduction sessions in their presentations are well designed for this purpose. .

  • Laren M. Cook Defense Slides with Notes
  • Irem Velibeyoglu Defense with Notes

5. Transition, transition, transition

Use transition slides to connect projects , it's a long presentation with different research projects. you want to use some sort of transition to remind your audience what you have been talking about and what is next. you may use a slide that is designed for this purpose throughout your presentation. , below are two examples. these slides were presented after the introduction section. the presenters used the same slides and highlighted the items for project one to indicate that they were moving on to the first project. throughout the presentation, they used these slides and highlighted different sections to indicate how these projects fit into the whole dissertation. .

phd viva powerpoint presentation

You can also use some other indications on your slides, but remember not to make your slides too busy.  Below are two examples. In the first example, the presenter used chapter numbers to indicate what he was talking about. In the second example, the presenter used a progress bar with keywords for each chapter as the indicator. 

phd viva powerpoint presentation

Use transition sentences to connect slides 

Remember transition sentences are also important; use them to summarize what you have said and tell your audience what they will expect next. if you keep forgetting the transition sentence, write a note on your presentation. you can either write down a full sentence of what you want to say or some keywords., 6. be brief, put details in backup slides , you won't have time to explain all of the details. if your defense presentation is scheduled for 45 minutes, you can only spend around 10 minutes for each project - that's shorter than a normal research conference presentation focus on the big picture and leave details behind. you can put the details in your backup slides, so you might find them useful when your committee (and other members of the audience) ask questions regarding these details., 7. show your presentation to your advisor and colleagues, make sure to ask your advisor(s) for their comments. they might have a different view on what should be emphasized and what should be elaborated. , you also want to practice at least once in front of your colleagues. they can be your lab mates, people who work in your research group, and/or your friends. they do not have to be experts in your field. ask them to give you some feedback - their comments can be extremely helpful to improve your presentation. , below are some other tips and resources to design your defense presentation. .

  • Tips for designing your defense presentation

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phd viva powerpoint presentation

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  • Last Updated: Dec 11, 2023 1:36 PM
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  3. Presentation of PhD Viva

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  4. Powerpoint Presentation of PhD Viva

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VIDEO

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