So you have been successful in having your topic selected as one of the conference posters. Good job! Presenting a poster at a scientific conference is a real art. You want to be able to attract the eye of people walking through the poster hall, as well as displaying all the important and relevant information for your research.
That requires you to understand a few basic things about designing your conference poster and how to get the most out of the experience.
Conference Posters – how to get the most impact
Do a little research
Scour the conference materials and find out the following information (don’t assume anything):
- Know the size!
- Know the orientation – is it landscape or portrait?
- Know the mounting medium – will you need Velcro dots, pins or tape?
If you can’t find this information, call or email the conference organizers and ask them for it.
Nothing says ‘rookie’ or even ‘disorganized’ as a poster that is too big, wrong orientation and hung badly. These simple things stand out.
Conference Posters Designing Tips
Check the conference materials and follow their suggestions for how to display the title and authors of the poster. After that, you have a blank piece of paper to present your science. But here are a few tips to help you stand out from all the other papers.
- Reduce your content. Don’t try and get every piece of detail in your poster and end up with tiny print that no one can read. Summarize the important points and just display those in large print. You can provide a handout with more details on your project.
- Have clear and impactful images. Like the text, you don’t need to show each and every graph of data, but one or two diagrams that summarize data are best. They need to be large and easy to read.
- If you have spatial data (maps, images etc) then show a location guide of where that detail is from. If it is a large international conference, then you need to show that guide for the world. If it is a local conference, then use a state or country map.
- Don’t waste space showing a list of references. Include those in a handout.
Take multiple copies of a handout that has more details that your poster, so people who are interested can walk away with something that completes your scientific story.
Get yourself some business cards. They are cheap to have printed, or even print them yourselves on business card blank sheets (like these). Have them on you the whole time at the conference and hand them out!
At the conference
How to dress
“Dress like you mean business and you will be treated like you mean business.” My father taught me that, and it has always worked well for me. At a conference, especially when you are presenting, you should dress like you are going to a job interview.
What to do at your poster
You want people to feel like they are welcome to approach you. The best way to do that is to smile, make eye contact and say hello. It is amazing how people respond to that simple gesture. And if they don’t then that’s ok too.
People will stop…and they fall into these categories:
- Other poster presenters in your session. These may be people working in the same field as you (especially if you have a poster in a themes session, and so it is a great way to meet other colleagues working on the similar projects. Some of the deepest collaborations come over time because of meetings like this. Ask for their business cards and/or contacts
- Senior people who work in the field. These are people who have a deep interest in the topic because they have been working in the same or similar field for their entire career. Often, they are the bastions of the topic. Here there are two classes. The most important and wonderful are those who want to mentor people who are just starting out in the field. Let’s call them Field Mentors. They ask questions and provide positive and constructive comments about your work. These are people to whom you want to listen and ask them if they would mind you keeping in contact. You can never have too many of these mentors in your life. Ask for their business cards and/or contacts. The second is the Field Dictators. They deeply criticize people working in their field. They are not interested in any ideas or new theories. They have no interest in your career or progression but gain pleasure by making sure no one rises up. Fortunately, they are few and far between. Be polite, but avoid them. If they give you a card, mark it and later dispose of it!
- Poster Hall Recruiters. These also fall into two groups. The first is college faculty who are looking for either new faculty or students for their college. They tend to be interested in your scientific depth and background and experience in teaching. Even if you are not looking for a position on a college/university, these people can be great contacts. The second group is industry representatives. They tend to be more interested in your broader skills like field experience, communication skills, team skills and willingness to learn new ideas and skills. They are looking people to fit into their company’s culture. Again, even if you are not looking to work for a company, these people are great to have in your wider network. Get the cards and/or contact details from all these people.
- Looky Lous. These are people who have no background in your field and are walking the halls looking to encourage you to continue in your field, tell you their story or just chat. While these can be wonderful friendly people, I would make sure that they don’t take up all your time and you miss opportunities from the other people.
After the conference
Send a brief but thankful email to the people who stopped by your poster. Thank them for spending time talking to you and how much you appreciated their interest.