Presenting with authority

Topic Progress:

Authority over your research

Many of us have difficulty in talking about our research, even in informal situations. For example, you’re at a social function and someone says ‘I heard you’re doing a PhD. What’s it about?’ How do you answer? For many of us, our research seems too complex to answer in one or two sentences. However, one way to help us feel in control of the ‘big picture’ of our research is to always have a ‘BBQ statement’ ready. This requires a bit of thinking about the important aspects of your research and you’ll need to practice saying it. It will also change slightly as you work through your degree (e.g. you can add key results and discussion points when you reach this stage), but it’s one way to help you focus on the argument in your thesis: what you’re doing and why it’s important.

This will also help you feel authority over your research; projecting authority is an important element when you’re presenting it in a formal situation such as your confirmation of candidature presentation. This is your chance to ‘sell’ your research to your audience, particularly your review panel.


What is your experience of presenting? How did you feel? Were you confident? What, if anything, would you have done differently?

To present your research with authority:

  • practise, practise, practise. Do it in front of a mirror and in front of colleagues and family. As often as possible
  • make your main points clear to your audience, identify the main sections and show clearly how the ideas relate to each other. Here’s a tip-sheet on using signalling or transition words to help you do this
  • don’t read your notes!!! There is nothing more mind-numbing to an audience than a presenter with their head down reading their notes. Use the key points in your PowerPoint slides as prompts and engage with the audience
  • use body language that suggests confidence – even if you don’t feel it. Stand up straight, face the audience (not the screen!), and make eye contact by sweeping your eyes over everyone periodically. Project your voice so the audience will hear you easily, and make your key points slightly louder, particularly when you’re giving the rationale for your proposed research
  • don’t rush through your presentation. In particular, slow down when introducing each new key point. When you practise your presentation, get the timing right so you won’t run out of time
  • show some enthusiasm. No doubt you are interested in your research; you need to convey that interest to your audience (you’re not delivering a eulogy)

Handling Question Time

So you’ve got through your presentation and now you’re feeling relieved. But confirmation presentations have around 10 minutes of question time so you still need to get through this. The best way, as in all things, is to be prepared. You can do this in two ways:

1. Predict the questions you could be asked and prepare and practise possible responses. Think about aspects of your proposal that might attract questions and prepare your response. Is there anything controversial? Are you proposing an unusual methodology or theoretical perspective? Are there particular key points that the audience might want more detail about? When you’re responding, paraphrase or repeat the question to clarify it, ensure that the audience heard it, and buy yourself some time to think of your response; e,g,

‘So, you’re asking if…’
‘So, the question is…’
‘So, you’d like more information on…’

2. Prepare and practise responses to questions you can’t answer. It’s OK that you can’t answer every question. Here’s some suggestions:

‘That’s a really good question, but I’m not sure of the answer. Can anyone else answer this?’
‘Thank-you for the question. I don’t have an answer at this stage.’
‘I’m sorry, but I don’t know the answer to that yet.’
‘Unfortunately, I don’t have that information with me.’

Of course, as well as questions, you’re likely to get comments, observations and suggestions. This is an opportunity to learn from others, so accept it, learn from it,  and enjoy it!

Assessing presentations by others

One way to improve your presentation skills is to watch others and identify what they do well and how the presentations could be improved. You’ll find presentations to critique at:

  • school or college-based conferences
  • external research conferences
  • the three-minute thesis (3MT) competition.

Keep an eye out for the school-level play-offs in the 3MT  competition and the final between the three colleges. You’ll find plenty of previous winners from many universities by searching the web for ‘youtube three-minute thesis competition’. Consider entering the competition!

To learn from presentations by critiquing, it’s useful to have a list of key elements of research presentations to watch out for. For example, How clearly do they identify the research questions? How well do they situate their research within what’s already known? We have a quick checklist to take with you, as well as a more developed rubric you can use as a checklist for your own presentations.

What do supervisors say about presenting a research proposal?

Associate Professor Craig Batty.  School of Design & Social Context

Dr Emily Gray.  School of Design & Social Context

Associate Professor Madhu Bhaskaran.  School of Engineering

Dr Konrad Peszynski.  Business IT and Logistics

Discussion Forum

Don’t forget to engage in the Discussion Forum by sharing your experiences and strategies. Here are some starter questions:
• What is your experience of presenting?
• Do you get anxious?
• Do you have strategies to share on preventing anxiety and building confidence?
• How do you plan your presentation?

Workspace Forum

Here’s your chance to get some feedback on your presentation skills.
• Share five PowerPoint slides and notes you will use to discuss these slides. They can come from any section of your proposal.

Further Resources

  1.  A large set of online resources specifically designed for research students will soon be available on Learning Lab. This includes resources on preparing yourself for your research degree, various aspects of research writing, critical reading, and maintaining motivation. When available, we’ll alert you through the GR Bulletin.
  2. The Academic Phrasebank from the University of Manchester is  a useful resource that identifies phrasal elements commonly used in academic writing.
  3. The Study and Learning Centre also provides writing and study skills support.
  4. Below is a list of resources on writing a research proposal and reviewing the literature.     

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