Presenting a conference poster

Presenting a poster at a conferenceAt most meetings you’ll be required to stand next to your poster and walk a visitor through it. But you should have designed it so that it’s understandable without you around. Here are some tips:

  1. If your conference promotes a meeting hashtag (e.g., #geekfest18), broadcast a short title and your poster’s time and location on Twitter. Here are some examples of people trying to drum up an audience in advance. If your society hasn’t advertised the official hashtag at least a year in advance, nudge them to get on board with modernity.
  2. personal-poster-stickerAttach a sketch of your research topic to yourself at the start of the meeting. Or a miniature version of your actual poster. 4×6″ sticker label paper is ideal. Add text like, “Lincoln Conference Room, Fri @ 7pm”, so people know where/when to find you. You can also opt to make the drawing on a card that matches the size of your meeting ID, and then attach with tape on back.
  3. Add your email address and phone number onto the back of your meeting registration ID. When people ask for your contact information, just flip it around and they can copy what they need.
  4. Do not refer to notes when explaining your poster.
  5. When presenting your poster, use your fingers to point out specific parts of your poster.
  6. A typical poster visitor appreciates a 2-sentence overview of why your research is interesting and relevant. Get them hooked on your question before explaining anything more about your poster. For example, you might point to the illustration of the submerged hamster in your “Materials and methods” and say, “I was interested in whether hamsters could evolve gills when subjected to repeated dunkings, which would be adaptive if the ice caps melt away.” Then point to the graph in Results section and say, “I found that hamsters didn’t evolve gills, but instead drowned.” Keep it general, and make it clear to the visitor why you find the topic interesting.
  7. Avoid vagueness such as “this figure shows our main result.” Say something concrete, like, “We found that brainectomized rats finished the maze more slowly, as you can see from this graph that plots time…”
  8. If more viewers arrive halfway into your spiel, finish the tour for the earlier arrivals first. That’s unless the new arrivals are super important, and the first crowd just a bunch of worthless groupies.
  9. When in doubt about how to act at your poster, imagine that a viewer will be considering your application for a job ten years into the future, or will be considering your graduate school application next week. This is pretty much how it all happens.
  10. Attach a few business cards to your poster. Even if you are an academic and think owning a business card destroys your soul. If you want to stay informal, just order yourself a stack of cards that feature photographs of your research organism (or star system, or whatever you work on). I’m fond of MOO (see my cards).
  11. If you must leave your poster for a bit, attach a note alerting any viewers to your expected time of return or telling them where you can be found. Put your phone number on the note. E.g., “Hey, this is crazy, but if you want to chat about this poster, text me at 800-867-5309.”
  12. Viewers stooping to read conference poster in dimly-lit roomIf you’re assigned to a dark corner in the poster session room, buy a cheap flashlight and stick it on a leash for visitors. Or, better, attach a clip-on, battery-powered lamp that can illuminate the whole poster.
  13. Attach a photograph of yourself near or on your poster so that people can find you more easily.
  14. Have on hand, but do not aggressively peddle, manuscripts and reprints of your work. If you have space on the mounting board, just pin them up for the taking.
  15. No photography stickers for poster sessionMake shrunken versions of your poster as handouts. If you have resisted the urge to shrink your font size, the text will still be legible.
  16. If a person wants to take your photograph, or wants a photograph of your poster, be warned that he or she might post a very high-resolution version of your poster on the Internet (Twitter people do this all the time). If you have unpublished research, or research that might be deemed offensive to non-scientists, attach a “Please do not photograph” note on the poster.
  17. Keep a black pen and correction fluid in your pocket in case a viewer discovers an embarrassing tybo.
  18. Pretty in pink conference posterIf you are obsessive compulsive and have a large wardrobe, try to choose your clothes to match your poster color (more people will visit). If you are color blind or fashion-impaired, please ask somebody for help.
  19. Attach a clear plastic cup full of candy to your poster, along with a note saying, “please help yourself.” People love candy.
  20. Do not chew tobacco. Nicotine patches are fine, but remember that too many patches can cause rashes and cardiac arrest.
  21. Do not chew gum. People who do not chew gum find the sight of gum chewing mesmerizing and repulsive.
  22. Keep your hands out of your pockets, especially if you are a compulsive key or coin jangler. Fill your pockets with pushpins if you think you won’t be able to resist. Don’t do this, however, if you are a hemophiliac. That would be bad.
  23. Do not wear Axe Body Spray. (For those in UK, Australia, and New Zealand, this means don’t wear Lynx Body Spray.) It’s an awful smell that advertises any number of inadequacies, if not all of them. Come on guys, just bathe in the morning and you’ll smell fine.
  24. If you’re the plan-ahead type, make a JPG of your poster (or research organism) and order yourself a t-shirt and wear it around before the poster session. It would be funny, plus would attract hundreds to your poster who might not otherwise care at all. When everyone starts doing this it won’t be as funny, so act now. 
  25. Two researchers wearing their academic postersIf you’re outgoing or just miserably unhappy with your assigned poster location, just attach some string onto the top to convert your poster into something wearable and portable, and then go find an audience. Make sure your hands are still free so that you can still point at parts of the poster. If this option sounds too fun, just go ahead an order a sandwich board, and get creative what you print on the backside.
  26. Thank your viewers for visiting. If they have stayed more than 4 minutes, you have succeeded. If they say, “This is really interesting–I’ll definitely come back later,” you have failed.

To see people presenting posters or talking about poster design, here there are thousands of YouTube videos. But note that almost all the posters featured have far too much text, so don’t emulate the formats you might see there.

Poster design overview • Section contents • DOs and DON’Ts • Bad example
Templates • Printing • Poster additions • Presenting • Resources


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