Congratulations! You have had your abstract accepted, and you can now develop a poster to present at a conference. This article describes what type of information you should include and how it should be structured into a poster format.
Why is there a need to present a poster?
Posters enable a larger number of scientist to present their data than would be viable through oral presentations. It provides the presenter with an opportunity to present their current data to the scientific community. The posters can be displayed before the authors are present, this gives the attendees the chance to read the information, and get an understanding of the data prior to discussions with the presenter. A poster enables the researcher to:
- Showcase data from a current project to experts in the field.
- Enable discussion of the data from an ongoing project with colleagues.
- Develop collaborations with colleagues/labs to progress the work.
- A networking opportunity to learn about job opportunities.
- Attendees can ask in-depth questions into the presenter.
A starting point
You need to start compiling resources to develop a poster well in advance of the conference, maybe up to six months in advance. Experiments/data collection can be ongoing and added nearer the submission date, but knowing you have the majority of the information in place will reduce stress and need to rush, which can result in errors. Useful information to starts with:
- The title and abstract submitted and accepted by the conference.
- Availability of supervisor/colleagues to check and discuss project/data and poster.
- Institutions resources to print poster, in good time to be ready for conference.
Planning the poster
When planning the poster you need to adhere to the guidelines for poster presentation at the conference you are attending. It is also important to make the poster understandable on its own. This is because it may be viewed by an attendee when you are not present at the poster, or you are speaking to another colleague. The poster is likely to be displayed in the hallway of you institution post-conference, and passer-by will need to understand the work on its own. Other considerations are:
- Select a clear, specific topic and present only the highlights.
- Choose interesting images and figures that will present the key messages to attract viewers.
- Only use a small amount of text, in a large clear font (about 500-1000 words).
Development of poster
Start designing and developing the poster well in advance of the conference presentation day. Even if you haven’t got all the data yet for the poster. Keep the poster simple. This is by having a simple story for the data, have a lot of white space, with a small amount of text and clear simple figures. High-quality figures can attract readers to the poster, and make complex data more coherent and easier to understand. Other considerations:
- Make sure the text and images are big enough for attendees to read easily.
- Draft the writing well in advance, in order to revise, grammar, sentence structure and data points. Get feedback on your writing from a colleague.
- View your poster from the perspective of a conference attendee. Is it a presentation that you could understand and enjoy reading?
Arrangement of Poster
The abstract submitted to the conference should form the basis of the poster but is not usually included on it.
- Include substantial white space.
- Have 3 to 5 columns of content on a poster in landscape format.
- Organise the poster in a simple manner, for example;
- Introduction, Methods, Results, Conclusions, References & Acknowledgements.
Preparing the poster
Keep the title as short as possible, using large type (about 2.5 cm high, 72 point type). It should make the attendee want to read the poster. It should be concise and fascinating. It could highlight a new finding or pose an interesting question. Perhaps, only use capital letters on the ‘main’ words. For example:
- Enhance the quality and duration of peoples’ lives.
- Enhance the Quality and Duration of Peoples’ Lives.
These include graphs, flow charts, photographs. Make sure you use colours effectively and that contrast well. It is usually better to use graphs rather than tables, as they may require less studying.
- Label all of the images.
- Make the images simple and uncluttered to increase understanding.
Proofread the text carefully, and keep the word count low.
- Use large enough type (at least 18 points).
- Use bullet-pointed or numbered lists, rather than paragraphs.
- Keep paragraphs short if needed.
Organisation to be ready for the day:
- Carry your poster with you, not in your checked luggage. In a heavy duty teletube.
- Have a backup of the poster on a USB stick and on email.
These tips will enable you to stay calm when travelling to and during the conference. Carry the poster with you will reduce the likelihood of it being lost.
Carrying it in suitable luggage, such as a teletube, which you may be able to borrow from your lab/department, will keep the poster in good condition, without being folded, creased or marked.
Having backup copies of the poster on a USB stick and/or email will enable you to present the work if the poster did get lost. Printing out paper copies would also be a useful option.
Professional and welcoming impression:
- Dress smartly and avoid a colour clash with the poster.
- Smile, and be approachable and ready to talk.
Dressing smartly on the day can give you more confidence, and a professional impression to colleagues (who could be potential collaborators/employers) when discussing your work.
Be welcoming to attendees, have an open stance, smile and say hello. Point to the relevant parts of the poster as you talk to your audience, which could be one or a small group of people. I someone new comes along as you are talking, acknowledge them with eye contact, and ask them at the end of your chat it there is anything they missed, or that needs further clarification.
Preparation – know your subject:
- Make a list of questions you could be asked about your work.
- Prepare descriptions of your work of different length.
- Ask questions, to gain more knowledge and information about your project area.
It is important to know your subject, from researching the background to your subject and the classic and current literature. With this information is had, jot down some potential questions and rehearse answers with friend/colleagues prior to the poster presentation. It you do not know the answer to a question it is important to be honest and say so, perhaps asking the attendee for their ideas and thoughts.
Descriptions of various lengths should be prepared for your poster. A short ‘elevator pitch’ this could be a two minute summary of your study, explaining 1) What is the research subject? 2) What have you discovered? 3) Why is that important?
It this information has interested the audience, you can carry on to a longer description of the study described on the poster. They could take in the region of ten minutes, answering the three questions, above, in more detail.
Networking during and after the conference:
- Take advantage of the opportunity to network and get feedback on your work.
- Have business cards available.
- Consider having handouts and/or people signing up for further details.
Business cards and handouts, for examples, an A4 copy of the poster, a synopsis of key findings, or additional data can be useful materials. They enable attendees to consider your work over a longer time scale and contact you after the event, for further discussions. Handouts can prevent some people engaging with you, preferring the ‘easy option’ of taking the handout and moving on.
Erren, T.C. and Bourne, P.E. (2007) Ten simple rules for a good poster presentation. PLoS Comput Biol, 3 (5), e102.
Gastrel, B. and Day, R.A. (2017) How to prepare a poster. In: How to write and publish a scientific paper. 8th edition. Cambridge, pp. 183-187.
Purrington, C. Academic Tips. Designing conference posters. [Online] https://colinpurrington.com/tips/poster-design [Accessed 28th December 2017].
Scientifica. NeuroWire: Tips for presenting your scientific poster at a conference. [Online] http://www.scientifica.uk.com/neurowire/tips-for-presenting-your-scientific-poster-at-a-conference [Accessed 28th December 2017].