Presenting a Poster Session at an Academic Conference

I just finished attending an academic conference in Denver (AERA, 2010).  I always enjoy presenting and viewing poster sessions.  It is an opportunity to discuss in greater depth than is possible in a typical paper presentation or round-table.

For those who are new or inexperienced to preparing a poster session, I have a few thoughts that I would like to pass on to future poster session presenters:

  • Poster – It is called a poster session for a reason!  Go ahead and spend the $20 to $30 and get a poster made, it will make a big difference in the appearance of your presentation and will bring more people to speak to you about your research.  DO NOT use printed PowerPoint slides!  It looks cheap and tacky.  Most people that I have observed skip over the boards filled with slides. And no, backing the slides with colored construction paper doesn’t help.
    Usually the conference will give you size guidelines.  A minimum size is 2 feet by 3 feet.  If it’s allowed, go ahead and prepare a 3 feet by 4 feet poster.  It is worth it!
  • Color – Use it!  Do not just have a bunch of text describing your research.  You need photos, graphs, and charts!  The more the better!  A colorful, well-designed display will attract far more attention than something that is full of text.
  • Font size – People are trying to read this from several feet away to determine if they want more information.  Make sure your title is readable.  Lettering should be at least 1 inch tall.  The rest of your text should at least be ½ inch in height.  Bigger is better, as long as it doesn’t look like your trying to just fill space.
  • Flow – How should the poster flow?  I suggest top to bottom, left to right.  For some reason, reading left to right, top to bottom is not what happens at a poster session, and people who posted PowerPoint slides in a left to right, top to bottom were just skipped over.
  • Paper – Bring your paper to hand-out!  Your poster was (or should be) based upon a paper that you have created.  Have enough copies to hand out to everyone who asks for a copy. This will help you create contacts and have a better opportunity for follow-up.  How many copies?  It depends on the size of the conference.  Usually 25 to 50 copies will be sufficient (the earlier or later in the day your presentation time is, the fewer you will need).
  • PowerPoint slides – Did I say don’t use them?  There is one exception.  Sometime you might have additional information that became available after the poster was prepared.  If you need to add some updated content, it is acceptable to print 2 to 6 slides (in color!) to add additional information.
  • Cards – Bring your business cards.  This is your opportunity to meet people and form new collaborative opportunities.  Take advantage of it and meet people!
  • Travel – This can be a real pain with a poster. I recommend getting a good tube to transport your poster in.  I opted for a traditional 3-foot tube from my local UPS store.  It cost about $5 and should last me for many conferences.  Many had spent a little more and purchased a plastic tube with a strap, which would have been really nice as I walked around the conference.  I will be upgrading to a telescoping plastic tube with a strap for my next conference.
  • Software – I use Microsoft Publisher to create my posters.  It easily allows me to set the size and design the poster.  It also allows you to save to pdf, which most printers use for their projects.
  • Etiquette – This is a sore topic with me.  There are far too many faculty and doctorate students that think they are knowledgeable about everything.  They will monopolize everyone’s time so that they can show how much they think they know. They frequently will go off topic so that they can speak knowledgeably.  I have seen this with many paper-reviewers for peer-reviewed conferences (HELLO! You either like it or you don’t! It’s not your job to correct their research or tell them how it could have been done different).
    When you are visiting a poster session it is to learn about their research and see if there is the potential of it influencing your research and possibly make a new friend to collaborate.  It is not your turn to talk about your research unless they ask you about your research.
    When presenting your poster, and the traffic is slow (or you meet a potential collaborator, or just they’re just really hot), it is appropriate to ask interested parties about their research.
  • Bring gum or breath mints.  Coffee breath is far to common and not always appreciated. -Specializing in Cheap Flights

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