I am facing my Master thesis presentation (in Europe), and have read the excellent article by Matt Might on technical presentations.

Most of his points seem very logical to me (avoid too much information/formulas per slide, whenever possible simplify, and refer to your written thesis for more info, etc.)

However, I was wondering if there is specific advice compared to the talk of a paper or at a conference for the presentation of a technical (engineering) Master thesis presentation? What are the key differences?

I am tempted, as it will be graded, to "show off" my knowledge by complicating it, and I wouldn't like to follow Matt's advice too much and come off as if I don't understand the math/material.

3 Answers 3


In a thesis presentation/defence you are talking to a jury who has already read your thesis.

In a conference talk, your goal is to get an audience who has mostly not read your paper interested enough to get the general ideas and read the paper in more detail if they care.

The thesis defence protocol depends on where you are, but if you get 20 minutes or so to present, then you don't have time to get into many technical details. However, since the jury has read the thesis, the presentation is mostly a formality, and is a chance for you to show them the big picture, and how your work instantiates the expected research methodology: problem - state of the art - solution - validation.

To "show off" you should have one or two slides explicitly listing your research contributions, and the publications derived from them (if any).

Regarding the problem of looking like you don't understand the math, don't worry about it. If the examiners are in any doubt about that, they will ask specific questions after you have finished presenting, and they will refer to the thesis, not to your presentation. if you have some ideas of what they will ask, then prepare extra slides to be able to answer those questions.

Here is also some great advice from a prof in my department. (note that the first 8 slides or so refer to the specifics of the protocol in use here, duration, jury composition, etc. But what comes after is more generic and useful for anyone, I believe. Also, take it as "do as I say, don't do as I do", since these slides are choke-full of text!)

  • 2
    "In a thesis presentation/defence you are talking to a jury who has already read your thesis." - this depends a lot on the university. A more generally correct way to phrase this statement would probably be "you are talking to an audience that may contain a jury of one or more persons who either has already read, or will still read, your thesis." Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 13:37
  • Right. But in that case those who haven't read the thesis, I'm assuming, are not part of those evaluating the work... so you should tailor your presentation specifically to the jury, i.e. those who have read it. Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 20:36
  • That's not a given. I'm used to Bachelor/Master thesis presentations that essentially serve as a first teaser for the professor to get a first idea of the work, before he or she reads and eventually grades it. Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 20:59
  • I found all answers gave good advice. Yours addressed all my concerns/questions separately, thank you very much! Commented Apr 14, 2015 at 16:15
  • Just want to comment about how great is the document (great advice from a prof in your department) that was included in this answer. Thanks!
    – dresden
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 11:50

There is a key difference between a master thesis presentation and a conference-style talk:

In a talk at a conference your audience is here to learn something new from you: you focus on results, and try to give some context to make a simple story.

When defending a master thesis your goal is to convince the committee that you are able to perform good research work. The process matters as much as the results: you must show how you identified a problem of interest, came with new approaches, tested them, how you dealt with unexpected complications, what suprises you encountered...


Generally, a thesis presentation should be given and received in the same manner as any other technical talk. The main difference is that a thesis is typically scheduled for an hour-long presentation, while a top conference might give you as little as 15 minutes. Importantly, talks do not scale linearly: in a 15-minute talk, you basically have time enough to give the context and the main result and nothing else. In an hour-long talk, the context shouldn't take much longer, so you have a lot of space for digging more deeply into the rest of the ideas. There is nothing special, however, to differentiate a thesis talk from another academic talk.

Of course, you should also check with your advisor whether your institution has any peculiar preferences, requirements, or grading policies that would cause you to want to deviate from this baseline.

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