Whether you think that poster presentations are an easy or daunting task, they are a great way to network with other researchers in your field and receive feedback on your work. Poster presentations also provide you with the opportunity to communicate the essence of your research with other scientists. Here are some best practices for communicating your research effectively through posters:
Know thy format
Each conference will have their own format and they will also upload specifications regarding the size of your poster, its orientation (portrait or landscape), and other guidelines about font size or layout. The conference website will also provide you with maps and information about timelines and schedules. It is important for you to check and download these instructions ahead of time before you begin working on your poster.
Organization is key
Your poster should have a logical flow with boxes and headings. The layout is generally prescribed by the conference, but it usually includes the following components:
- Poster Title: Your poster title should be short and informative. Because one of the purposes of poster presentations is to network with others in your field, you should include key words that would spur people in the relevant field to come look at your poster and capture the attention of interested parties.
- Authors and Affiliations: Here, you should include all authors that have contributed to the research. The order in which the authors are included should be decided beforehand. Usually, the order of authors listed signifies their contributions to the project.
- Introduction and Theoretical Background: Here, you can provide some background to your research and the rationale for why you were interested in investigating your research question. You can also include your hypotheses in this section.
- Methods/Experimental Setup: Explain the “how” of your research. This can also be done as a figure highlighting different procedures that were followed in the research study.
- Results: Your results should preferably be displayed as a figure that is clearly labeled, has images that are clear and not distorted, and includes captions.
- Conclusions: In this section, you should interpret your results and their implications. Your poster should be self-sustaining, that is, even without you around, people should be able to understand your research and its take-home message.
- Acknowledgements: In your poster, it is common courtesy to thank people who helped you in your research (e.g., proofreading, providing feedback on drafts of the poster, assisting with data collection, etc.) and organizations that have funded your research.
- References: Some conferences might not require you to include references but adding a few can help other academics understand how your research is situated vis-à-vis past literature and theoretical frameworks. You can reduce the font size here to save space or present your references in an abbreviated format.
Figures over text
If your poster has too much information in text or is poorly organized, it’ll be hard to capture the attention of your audience. Many people might look at your poster from a distance or from an angle and attendees would rather not read so much text in such situations. Large blocks of continuous text can also make it hard for audiences to read and understand your take-home message. For the results section, it is especially important to display your results as a figure (with appropriate captions) because that is what most attendees will focus on during your presentation. Avoid using as many colors as you can. Rather, try to use colors to effectively communicate your research (for example, to emphasize something or differentiate between two groups). Adding some white space between different sections and reducing clutter can also help make your poster clear and easy to understand.
Practice your presentation and elevator pitch
A typical presentation lasts anywhere between 5-15 minutes. You can begin by introducing yourself - this is especially important if you’re on the job market. In your presentation, you should make sure to hit some key points about your research. Resist the temptation to read your poster and instead, use the oral presentation to supplement details that are in your poster or to draw attendees’ attention to specific sections. Be ready to be flexible during your presentation: some people might ask you questions after your presentation while others might ask you questions during your presentation. Some people might also stop by to learn more about you or informally talk to you about your research.
Dress to impress
One way to make a good first impression is to dress professionally. You should also consider wearing comfortable shoes because you might need to stand for several hours while presenting your poster.
Keep your contact information handy
Some people share business cards while others add QR codes to their posters to share their contact information with interested parties and potential collaborators. Sharing your contact information and following up with people after the conference can go a long way in developing positive professional relationships and collaborations with others.
It can be exciting to talk about your work and listen to other people’s research on topics that interest you. You will usually see or meet other academics you admire or peers who share your interest. Even with so much going on, don’t forget to have fun when you’re at the conference.
The links below are some excellent resources for designing your poster and effectively presenting your research at a conference. These resources also have sample poster presentations or might include templates that you can use for your own presentation.
- The University of Wisconsin-Madison - Creating a poster
- Ohio State PRESSBOOKS - Scientific poster guide
- Nature Education, Scitable - Poster presentations
- University of Wisconsin-La Crosse - Poster presentation guidelines
- The University of Tennessee, Knoxville - Research posters
- Enago Academy - Dos and Don’ts for making a poster presentation
- Monash University - Designing your poster
- Plunkett, Scott W. | California State University, Northridge - Tips on poster presentations at professional conferences
- John Hopkins University Educational Resources - Effective poster presentations