Two researchers wearing their academic posters

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. Because it’s not all about you. 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. Attach 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.personal-poster-sticker
  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. If 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. I found one for $7.99 on Amazon that might work. But buy three so you have good coverage. I don’t get any kickbacks, fyi. I’m just trying to help you out.Lamp for illuminating posters
  13. Attach a photograph of yourself near or on your poster so that people can find you more easily.
  14. Have on hand, but don’t aggressively peddle, manuscripts and reprints of your work. If you have space on the mounting board, just pin them up for the taking.
  15. Make 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.No photography stickers for poster session
  17. Keep a black pen and correction fluid in your pocket in case a viewer discovers an embarrassing tybo.
  18. If 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’re color blind or fashion-impaired, please ask somebody for help.Pretty in pink conference poster
  19. Attach a clear plastic cup full of candy to your poster, along with a note saying, “please help yourself.” People love candy. Stand off to the side of your poster, then swoop back in when victims take the bait.
  20. People are more likely to visit if they see other people already crowded around your poster, so ask your friends to stop by and linger. They can leave when they fulfill their job.
  21. Do not chew tobacco. Nicotine patches are fine, but remember that too many patches can cause rashes and cardiac arrest.
  22. Don’t chew gum or tobacco. Most people find the sight of chewing repulsive. I’m just the messenger here.
  23. 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.
  24. 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 that you’re insecure and single. Come on guys, just bathe in the morning and you’ll be fine.
  25. 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 people to your poster who might not otherwise care at all. When everyone starts doing this it won’t be as funny, so act now.
  26. If 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 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 your backside.Two researchers wearing their academic posters
  27. 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, 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