As the "new normal" of social distancing due to the pandemic continues to be necessary in many circumstances, The Graduate School has gathered resources on conducting defenses using distance technology. All suggestions may not apply to every defense. Consider your particular situation and consult with your committee frequently during preparation. Please note, original resource content has been adapted to reflect FSU policies or procedures as needed.
Please notify us of additional resources you discover that would be beneficial for this page or simply share any advice from personal experience to the email address provided below.
1. Planning for Remote Defenses
Adapted from Dr. Ethan White, Associate Professor in Ecology and Informatics at University of Florida
Advice for the Presenter
Presenters should give themselves extra time and have back-up plans in case things do not go as expected. Set up the connection early (15+ minutes) and request committee members connect early to ensure everything is working prior to when the audience is expected (if any).
For the presentation, either ask all participants to mute themselves at the start or have whoever is managing the call mute them all centrally. Participants can easily forget they are not muted and accidentally interrupt the presentation. Use the “hand raise” function for Q&A to avoid voice collisions.
A 2-monitor setup will let the presenter (or committee) see attendees plus slides and notes. Of course, if it is less stressful present without seeing the audience, perhaps take the opportunity of defending remotely to not have to see them. (View Zoom support for video layouts. See "Gallery View" for larger groups.)
Remember, this may not be the ideal conclusion of years of hard work, but that does not change that it is a huge accomplishment. Celebrate in whatever (publicly responsible) way you can (e.g., have a video-based lab celebration).
Advice for the Committee
- Have someone on the committee other than the defending student set up and manage (“host”) the Zoom (or other system) call. The student does not need to juggle that on top of presenting and answering questions. Consider designating co-hosts, including the student, when scheduling the meeting so that more than one person can manage.
- If there are bandwidth issues, the host may want to have the audience stop their video. Since the presenter often cannot tell if there are connection issues, the committee member managing the call should manage this via chat to avoid interrupting the presenter if possible.
- When screen-sharing, only a handful of other participants are visible. If they all have their video on that can still be really helpful for making it feel like an in-person talk. In order to see more people, screen share from one computer and join the call from another computer to see all the participants. (See link for Zoom video layouts under "Advice for Presenter" above.)
- Have a plan for how to have the student "step out of the room". One good solution (if using Zoom) is to use a breakout room for the committee to talk and then return to the main room when done (above recommendation for committee member setting up Zoom supports this). Another option for having the student "step out of the room" is to put them "on hold."
- Definitely use video if possible during the private portion of the defense. This is an inherently stressful activity and a lot of the usual positive/encouraging social cues get lost with voice-only communication. That said, if a committee member is “freezing” during questions, it is probably because of local wireless/upload bandwidth which may be helped by turning off the video.
- Be kind and supportive. Frankly committees should always do this, but it is even more important now because everyone is under a ton of extra stress. This doesn't mean committee members cannot probe the work, just do it in a positive way focused on helping the student.
- Minimize required changes for the manuscript itself. Many of us are not focusing well right now and revisions are often due on a tight timeline. Clearly distinguish recommendations for changes prior to submitting papers for publication from those required prior to manuscript submission for graduation.
- Communicate your excitement at a student passing clearly and effusively. This is a big deal even if everyone is stressed and cannot celebrate in the usual ways.
Advice for the Audience
- Audience members should mute themselves immediately.
- Audience members should participate with video (barring bandwidth issues). Live video faces can help fill the challenging lack of normal audience engagement during a remote talk. That said, video may need to be turned off in the event of wireless/upload bandwidth issues.
- Consider exaggerating positive non-verbal responses. With lots of participants, everyone is small on the screen. Clear head nods, thumbs ups, or big smiles can all help mimic normal positive audience feedback.
Set ground rules for your presentation from the very beginning. In a typical defense, you might dive right into your talk. Instead, take a moment to explain how the technology works (e.g., how to mute/unmute; submit written questions). If you have an audience, set the rules clearly . This will help them understand their role and know when it is okay to speak up and how. Describe the format and what the audience can expect (e.g., how long you will present slides; how long you will you leave for Q&A).
Hope that everything works, but expect something will not go as planned. Your internet connection might go out, or a committee member might lose their connection. Explain to the audience in advance how they can reconnect, if needed. You may have to redo a few slides, so prepare for that scenario to help yourself avoid getting flustered if it happens.
After the public part is over, either remove everyone else from the video chat for the committee questioning/exam portion, or start a separate virtual meeting for the questioning part. It can be helpful to have your committee chair manage this part of the defense. The committee chair can serve as moderator by selecting who asks the next question. Then that individual can turn on their microphone and ask the question. They can set that up at the beginning or via an announcement ahead of time.
Plan ahead for how you and your group will celebrate. Celebrate with your roommates, immediate family, or a friend or two (with social distancing!); whatever way is safe for you and for public health. Celebrate virtually with your team, but plan to celebrate in person when things return to normal. It is not the same as if you got to present and celebrate in person, and it is okay to feel grief at the loss of something you worked towards for many years. Wishing you all strength as we adjust to our new reality.
Find a Suitable Space and Technology
While we are all learning to be more flexible about random children noises and dog barks in the background of professional digital meetings, consider in advance how you will react to that during a high-stakes presentation and whether the additional stress can be avoided. Figure out what will fluster you and adjust accordingly.
Consider the background behind you, and don’t present in front of a window. Will you need a whiteboard or can you draw digitally and share your screen? Will you stand or sit? Is there a quiet space at home? If not, will your university allow you to use a classroom?
If you are permitted to be on campus and you can practice social distancing, there may be seminar spaces available with decent webcams and remote presentation equipment. On campus, wireless internet can also be more reliable. Consult with your department's IT staff about rules for set up and assistance during this time. Please do not break any COVID-19-related rules set forth to protect public health.
- Once you have a suitable space designated, practice using that space with the exact same technology you will use during your defense. Have your committee chair or someone else test that they can hear you and see your slides. Do a practice run — see if your lab members can provide feedback remotely, just as they would when watching the live event. Speak slowly and remember to pause frequently — audio and video sometimes take a second to catch up.
- Format your slides for easy viewing online — try to eliminate any transitions or animations because they may be glitchy with overloaded video conferencing platforms. You can save your slides as a PDF to ensure there will be no animation issues. Use bigger font and include less on each slide — the viewing screen is smaller than a regular presentation. Number each of your slides in one of the corners so it is easy for everyone to navigate to the same one if needed. Distribute slides to your committee in case they have any difficulties seeing your screen share.
3. Securing Your Defense Against Unwanted Interruptions
Visit the Zoom FAQ's on the FSU ITS Website ("What are some ways I can secure my Zoom meetings?") for More information on each of these options:
- Generate Meeting ID Automatically
- Require Registration
- Require Meeting Password
- Turn Off Participant Video Upon Entry
- Mute Participants Upon Entry
- Disable Join Before Host
- Enable Waiting Room
- Designate a Co-host
- Lock the Meeting
- Remove a Participant
- Place Participant on Hold
- Stop a Participant's Video
- Mute All
- Set Screen Sharing to Host Only
- Allow Participants to Chat with Host Only
- Disable Participant Annotations During Screen Share
Have Additional Resources, Suggestions, or Questions?
Please feel free to contact our Manuscript Clearance Advisor, Laura Minor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.