Defending a dissertation: how to stay calm and focused

Congratulations!

You are through with writing your dissertation and the people “up there” have found it worthy of a defense. How nice is that!

However and there is always a BUT, it is not something you can take lightly. Neither SHOULD you. After all, you have spent considerable time and effort doing something most people runs away from. You took the challenge, be proud of that. Now you have a date with the committee and you are going to stand in front of an audience presenting and defending your work. That can be stressful. Firstly, fear of public speaking is a common fear. Secondly, the thought of standing in front of learned people and answering their questions is scary for just about everyone. So, what can be done to manage those nerves in the days leading to your defense?

  • Practice: There is no substitute to practicing in front of colleagues and family a few times. It will give you confidence and important feedback. You do not need to do it repeatedly and obsessively though; four to five times should do the trick.
  • Keep your mind and body relaxed: Do not change your routine or do something new, like going on a new diet. Stay calm and focused. Exercise regularly, drink loads of water, and do not miss your vitamins. If nerves are causing you to roam the house all night or toss in the bed, thinking, consider drinking some herbal tea or a hot bath before going to bed.
  • Visualization: A handy and effective trick is to visualize the event in all its detail twice daily. Imagine everything and yourself including your hands, your clothes, and the people around you. Feel the rush and the tension and then do the presentation in your head. Doing it, a few times will desensitize you and the actual defense will not be as stressful. A word of caution: Do not do it in the last 3 hours preceding bedtime.
  • Get a massage: Go to a professional to get your tense muscles pounded. An hour of your time will help you relax the rest of the days.
  • Talk to your supervisor and colleagues about the dissertation, the defense, and your feelings about it. You may be surprised with the amount of useful tips and even information this will elicit. Someone may even know the kind of questions you should expect!

Remember: this is your dissertation, your work, and you know it best. You know it better than the audience and even members of the committee. Good luck

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