How to nail an academic poster presentation

Creating the poster

First up, you need to make sure you know what the specifications of your poster are. Things like whether the poster is landscape or portrait, and what the dimensions are. Stick to these specifications – you don’t want to turn up to a conference and have your poster hanging off the space you were provided or fall down because it is not the right size.

Once you know the details, you can start thinking about the content. I created a worksheet to help me whenever I am preparing a poster which contains a number of questions which helps to determine what information you want to put on your poster, what information needs to be on your poster and what you want the overall message to be. You can access and download that ‘worksheet’ here for your own use.  The questions include:

  1. Who is my audience?
  2. If my viewer only took away one thing from this poster, what would it be?
  3. What is my poster about?
  4. Why am I doing this and what do I hope to add to this field of research?
  5. What methods were used?
  6. What were the main conclusions of the research?
  7. What are my recommendations based on this research?

These (rough) notes then become your content, you can write these up into one document and use this as the basis for your poster.

Consider whether you will want to include pictures, figures, graphs or tables to illustrate any of your points. Sometimes a visual representation can attract viewers more than lots of text, especially if they are made distinctive with a border around them. On a similar note, you want to make sure you have plenty of ‘negative space’. Don’t run content up to the edges of the space, you want minimal information on the poster, just enough to get your points across – remember you are most likely to be talking through the poster so you can keep that info in mind when discussing your posters with viewers.

Next it can be useful to draft out a bit of a design, consider how you want the content to flow – do your eyes naturally read left to right or top to bottom? Then you can get to work. There are some ‘golden rules’ to academic posters and you might want to bear these in mind when creating your poster:

  • Simple fonts that are easy to read. Use bold, italics and underline of the same font rather than lots of different ones.
  • Bullet is best – some conferences specify that content should be written in bullet points, whether you actually use the bullet point or not, the content should be short and snappy and in bullet point style, rather than lengthy bits of text that you might expect to see in a report or journal
  • Left alignment is the most preferred option, mainly because our eyes are trained to start reading on the left hand side of a page
  • Limit use background – keep them plain if possible, and consider how those who are visually impaired might see your poster
  • In terms of font size, your main title should aim for 90-150 point and body text is best for reading when it is between 26 and 32 points
  • Graphs should have a title, figures should have a caption and images should be relevant to the study
  • Less is more in terms of content, stick to you key points. What does this mean? The points that are essential for getting your point across. You can keep all the descriptive, interesting and ‘bonus’ info for when you are chatting with people
  • Keep thinking back to your audience – it should be relevant to those attending the conference, understandable by them and appropriate

Producing the poster

There are a couple of options nowadays for getting your poster printed. You might want to go down the traditional printed on paper route and take the poster in a poster tube. This is usually a cheaper option and is good if you have a small poster or you are not going to be travelling on a budget airline that doesn’t allow poster tubes in your hand luggage!

Alternatively you could opt for a fabric poster. I was skeptical about these originally but I got one done for an academic conference back in March where I was travelling with only hand luggage – and I was really impressed. Even stood close to the poster – it was hard to tell it wasn’t actually a traditional poster. It folded up into a nice box and was easy to transport.

Producing additional resources?

This is optional, but it can be good practice to take along a handout. Perhaps a smaller version of your poster with some other additional points beneath. This can give you a chance to extend the content of your poster but also gives viewers who don’t have much time the opportunity to take away your poster. You could even have a little ‘notes’ section in the corner so that viewers can record notes of your conversation if they want to.

Something I did for the conference back in March was took a handful of business cards and put them in a little plastic pocket beside my poster. This was great to hand to people who wanted to continue our conversation (always remember to make a note of the main points on the back of your card so they know what they spoke to you about). It was also super helpful when people said ‘I’ll email you a paper that you might be interested in’ as it had my contact details.

Presenting your poster

I’d highly recommend hanging your poster up at the earliest opportunity – that way you can make sure it hangs ok and that you are happy with it.

When you come to stand by your poster, it can sometimes feel super awkward! My top tip would be to make friends with your neighbouring poster presenters – this can ease the awkwardness. It’s a good idea to not stand right next to your poster, and definitely to not block it, but make sure you are close enough so that you can see if people would like to chat to you about your poster.

People might just be browsing and it’s important to remember that your research, though precious to you, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – and that’s fine. Let them move on if they don’t look interested, but there is also no harm in asking people who stick around for a few seconds than those browsers if you’d like them to talk you through the posters, or if they’d like to ask any questions.

Posters sessions are usually quite casual, so don’t be afraid to be yourself and try to enjoy the interest in your poster and the opportunity to share your work with people who are on the same wave length and are likely to understand what it is you have done.

Posters are a great way to make connections and to have really great conversations about your research, to get feedback on it and to get suggestions for future research.

I’d love to hear if you have any other top tips for producing and presenting posters and look out for my post next week about preparing oral presentations.

Until next time 🙂

How to nail a poster presentation


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