Preparing a Poster Presentation

Although viewed by some in the scientific community as inferior to other forms of communication in the greater science and engineering community, the poster is an extremely powerful form of communication at professional conferences. Advantages of poster presentations over oral presentations include the length of the time allotted for discussion of posters at professional meetings. Most oral presentations unless they are invited plenary presentations are limited to about 15-minutes. Poster sessions on the other hand often allow for 2 h or more of discussion with interested visitors. In addition, at most meetings multiple oral sessions are scheduled to run simultaneously in small rooms allowing for a very limited audience. Poster sessions often take place in large rooms and accommodate hundreds of presenters. Consequently, there is greater potential exposure of your work to the greater scientific community in poster presentations.

In this section we will offer advice concerning the following aspects of poster preparation:

Preparation

Sometimes people have the mistaken impression that putting together a poster involves less work than putting together an oral presentation. Both involve a lot of advance planning and neither can be done well when the effort is initiated at the last minute. As you begin to prepare your poster, there are two key elements to consider: content and layout. So, start your poster preparation early!

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Content

Sometimes people worry too much about the appearance of their poster and forget that at the heart, a poster is simply a visual presentation of one's scientific research. The bottom line is if you don't have good science forget the presentation. At this stage of your career, the encouragement and support you have already no doubt received from your advisor should assure you that you have some interesting new science to present. Consequently your focus should be on making sure that the information presented on the board reflects the quality of your work.

Although the size of a poster may vary somewhat in general poster boards tend to be 4' high by 6' long. Since there is variation in poster dimensions, be sure to find out in advance what the dimensions of your poster board will be as this will determine what/how much information you can put on your poster. Last but not least, now that you know how much space you have, be sure to use it wisely!

The title of your presentation, the names of all the authors and their institutional affiliations should appear at the top center of your poster. So that interested attendees can quickly identify the subject of your poster, be sure to use a font size that produces lettering at least 1.5" high.

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Guidelines

Most science and engineering posters use the same general format: title, authors and institutional affiliations, abstract, introduction, methods, results, conclusions, acknowledgements and references. We will discuss the needed content for each of these sections briefly below:

  • Title - the title should effectively highlight the subject of your research in ten words or less
  • Authors and institutional affiliations - a list of the names of all those who have contributed to the project in a significant way. Be sure to consult your advisor on this subject. Authorship has serious implications with regard to intellectual property issues. For each author be sure that the department and institution where they work is identified.
  • Abstract - this is a succinct summary, usually 150 words or less, that identifies the research problem studied, the methods used, the results obtained, and the significance of those results.
  • Introduction - this section should provide a brief overview of the reasons that the research was initiated and provide a background on the materials and methods used in the study.
  • Methods - the experimental methods used to accomplish the research should be succinctly outlined in this section.
  • Results - this section should outline the results of your work. Since posters are a visual method of presentation, the bulk of this section should be graphical rather than textual.
  • Conclusions - this section should provide a succinct summary of the conclusions you have derived from your work as well as a statement of the direction of any future work if relevant and appropriate.
  • Acknowledgements - This section should credit all of those individuals who have provided assistance to you in accomplishing your work. First and foremost be sure to credit any funding sources that may have underwritten your research. This is particularly important if a federal agency or foundation provided funding for your project. As always it is best to check with your advisor in order to identify all of the appropriate individuals and/or agencies.
  • References - Since research isn't accomplished in a vacuum, you will need to credit the relevant work of others in one or more sections of your poster. As in a technical paper, you will need to include a citation for each and every source. Since the format for references differs from discipline to discipline, be sure to consult your advisor concerning the preferred format for citations.

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Layout

There are at least two frequently used approaches to poster layout: poster print and individual panels.

  • Some Thoughts about Poster Prints

    Some individuals use a single large poster printout while others post a series of 8.5" x 11" panels. The former must be printed using a special printer which may or may not be available at your institution. Posters of this type can be printed at local copy shops but they are therefore often more expensive to prepare. In addition, these can be a bit challenging to transport, an important consideration if you must travel by air to the meeting. You can purchase protective plastic tubes in which poster prints can be stored and transported. If you do choose to use this approach be sure to take your poster with you on the airplane if you are flying to/from the conference you are attending.

  • Some Thoughts about Poster Panels

    Panels can be readily printed on any personal color ink jet or laser jet printer. Consequently these are inexpensive to prepare and they present a number of other useful advantages as well: individual panels can be changed and reprinted at the last minute. In addition, this type of poster can be transported in your backpack or personal carry-on bag - ensuring that it can be hand-carried onto your aircraft and that it therefore is never separated from you during your trip. The one disadvantage of this type of poster is that it requires more effort to post it at the meeting so be sure to allow adequate time for setup if you do choose to use this type of poster.

Layout your information in a logical pattern on your poster so that visitors can readily follow your presentation. Note that there is a normal viewing pattern for posters. Think about the dynamics in a poster session. Often these events occur late at night and are accompanied by festal libations. Viewers holding their plastic cups circulate up and down rows of posters walking past them at a slow rate and reading while they walk. So, it is best to arrange your poster so that viewers read the information in columns intended to be read from left to right. You may choose to post blocks of information read in rows going from left to right but this is difficult on potentially interested viewers who must pause and shuffle back and forth like linebackers in order to read your poster. If you must insist on being an individualist in this respect, it is a good idea to unobtrusively number the individual panels of your poster so that viewers know which panel to read next.

Make sure that your poster is visually attractive and readable from a distance of 3 feet away - this includes lettering and captions on any figures and/or tables. Select a font size that produces lettering at least 0.5" high.

"A picture's worth a thousand words." Since a poster is a visual presentation of one's work, graphics rather than text should constitute the bulk of your poster. Use a minimal amount of text containing short, easy to read sentences.

KISS - Keep it simple stupid! Don't load your poster with acronyms, excessive text, or complicated figures.

If you choose to mount your text on colored paper or poster boards, use double-sided sticky tape, spray adhesive, or rubber cement to firmly adhere your sheets.

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Delivery - Presenting Your Poster

In advance of the meeting prepare a brief (2-3 min) talk about your research and practice that talk in front of your poster several times. Ask your advisor, your research group and/or friends and family to act as an audience for your poster presentation. Make changes to your poster and/or presentation as needed based on the feedback you receive from these folks.

Identify in advance the location of your poster session and be sure to arrive early (at least 30-min) to put up your poster.

Although some push pins are frequently provided, it is wise to bring your own supply of push pins with you to the meeting especially if your poster consists of a series of individual panels.

Don't be a wall-flower. Ask people if they would like to hear about your work and then begin speaking.

Plan to stay by your poster throughout the scheduled poster session. Don't be afraid to check out the other posters presented during your session but try to minimize the amount of time that your poster is unattended. If you do leave, it is a good idea to post a signup list for those visitors who wish to obtain a copy of the poster and/or wish to speak with your and/or your advisor further about your work.

You may see other presenters handing out copies of their poster at the meeting. Don't hand out any written information to visitors unless you have previously obtained permission from your advisor to do so. Public presentation of your work can become an issue when applying for patents. If visitors express an interest in obtaining a copy of your work, obtain their business card and/or take down their name, address and/or e-mail so that your advisor and you can follow up on this contact after the meeting.
At the end of the poster session, be sure to remove all of your poster materials. Anything left behind will be thrown out.

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