Defending your thesis - Knowing the audience

Praveen S
Thursday, November 9, 2023

Chapter 2

Knowing the audience

This is an easy step in most institutes. You would have already seen the thesis defense many times in your institute. You would understand the typical audience for such a presentation then. If you do not know about the audience for some reason try to learn about the audience and the expected numbers.

Knowing the audience background

There can be three types of audience. Audience frm your discipline is the first category. You do not have to typicalluy  worry about them. Most likely they will be using the same language, joargons, and type of research question that you are working on. They will  not find much difficulty in understanding your work. Their question are most expected type of question. They would be mostly asking about the key argument that you are making, their difference of opinion on the arguments, or suggesting improvements in your work. You will not find much trouble engaging with them, as typically you will find it as a natural conversation about your topic. Considering your expertise in the subject matter, often you will have an upper hand while making such conversations.


Audience from unrelated disciplines are also not much difficult. They will not try to understand  all part of your research. Their attempt will be to understand your research in themost simple terms. They will have confusions over the terms you use. Often their questions will be of seeking clarification over the definitions, categories, and dimensions of the key constructs you are using in your research. They will have difficulty in following your arguments, and hence will avoid questions on your it. If you are taking care to define you costructs clearly, and it ready to show that it is distict from commonly used English words you will be able to tackle most of the questions.

Mnay times they will also like to adapt your research contexts to some contexts in their discipline and would like to share their views on such adaptations. Showing appreciation of such adpatations make them happy, we do not need to work on that line of thinking. Since their discipline is not your area of compentency, it will be in your best interest to avoid going to their areas of expertise. Just show appreciation of their attempts, and tell that lack of expertise in that area or discipline, now you will not comment on it. In summary, dealing with audience from unrelated disciplines also will not be much of a trouble.


The third category of audience, people from related disciplines are the most difficult audience to address to. There are several reasons for the difficulty. First reason is that there could be several constructs which could have different meaning betweenin the two disciplines, however owing to the relationship between the disciplines the differences will not be perceivable. For example ‘reviewer’ is a commonly used terminology used in most consumer research contexts, referrig to the person writing the review. However, an audience from organization behaviour background would mean it as a reviewer as in employee assessment context. Even when the audience from the related discipline the difference in terminology between the disciplines, they would try to extend the relationships and theories related to these constructs from their discipline to your research contexts. There you can expect some relationships and theories in the employee review contexts informing the questions targeted at a presentation on how ‘ consume expertise determine the the type of review he writes’. 

Nother typology of audiences

Another typology of audiences would be as faclty, research students, , industry, and general public. Most faculty will be attending the thesis for their genuine interest in the topic, ro would be attending thesis that is from their department. Faculty has an additional purpose of establishing authority and instituitional politics in attending defense presentations. Dealing with faculty is the most tricky part of defense. One, you have to satisfy the requirements for displaying your intellectual capability and expertise in the topic while not displaying the politeness, and satisfying the ego related requirements, and political requirementrs of the faculty. We will explain  the typical response pattern to satisfy such a requirement in the chapter dealing with responding to questions. Anyway expecting the faculty who is expected to come for the presentation and meeting them personally one month in advance and discussing your work is a good idea to develop relationship avoid confusions to them about your work.

 Reseach students also will try to estblaish their expertise. Though it is not a requirement for them, it is taken as ameasure to get more acceptance among peers and satisfy their own needs to signal progress. The more the complex the type and number of questions asked they may feel more superior. The typical questions that they ask will be on the usage of methods, the more complex the method is they will try to rely on the awareness of  the method. The second catergory of questions will be based on the the variables that they became familiar with while reading the literature. They will try to test if the variabels that they are aware pf will influence the relationships that you are testing.

Industry participants are typically not seen in defense presentations. Most often their participation are limited to the enegineering an science subjects that informs the industry on certain new evelopmenet in the subject matter they are interested in. If they are attending, you need to satisfy their requirement by adding a section on social/ business implications of your research. They may not ask any questions, unless they themselves have got a PhD. If they do not have a PhD they will confused over how to behave in a defense and will not be interacting much. If te industry participnats aleray have a PhD you can expect questions based on their expertise an interest in the subject matter. However, using the strategies mentioned in section on answering to questions, you will be able to sail through the presentation without much trouble.

The next category of friends, relatives, and general public are least bothered to trouble you. You just have to control your impression management requirements and do not worry about their presence. If you are really worried about your friends and famility  seeing you presenting, then you ncan ask them not to come for your presentation.


Even when you are not preparing based on the audience type, or not strategizing your presentation and answers based on te audience, having thought about the audience gives you more confidence. It will also helps to avoid any surprises. People feel more confident when things things go according to the plan. When they see that the audience types they have expected ins found to be true, their confidence increases.


Final thoughts on the audience

We have explained some audience types, and what would you expect from them. Irrespective of the differences in audience types, iften you are going to face a crowd who is going to be friendly with you. They may ask you questions. However, the purpose of these questions is not to reject your thesis. They are trying to understand what you have to say, Making it easy from your part to make that process easier will remove most of the questions. They may point your mistakes. If it is a genuine mistake, you can correct them. If it is something that needs longer term intervention, you can propose to do it later. You should remember, the purpose of any researcher is to enegage in a scholarly conversation. Often this achieved using text in terms of journals, citations, conferences. Your thesis defence is a small form of enagaging in a scholarly conversation, in which you are discussing your  research with the most friendly crowd.

Remember, it is more painful to have no audience for your presentation than responding to a critical audience.