Poster Presentations: Telling Your Story

 In PhD/Postdoc Blog

So you’ve got some exciting data, and your boss wants you to send in an abstract to present your data at an upcoming conference. You’re super excited until you realize you’ve never made a poster. Poster sessions can be a great way to share new data, but they can also feel daunting. I was extraordinarily nervous about my first poster session, but as I’ve done more and more of them, I’ve gained confidence as well as a few tips that you might find useful.

Start Early and Know Your Expectations

Perhaps one of the worst things you can do while preparing a poster is to procrastinate. It is even more important to avoid if you’ve never made one before. It’s tempting to push it off, especially if you’re hoping for more data. There are things you can’t control, but preparation will help you overcome. Sometimes unexpected delays happen, for example, the company printing your poster needs more time. If there’s a mistake on the proof of your poster, you’ll want to make sure you have time to fix it and re-print it. I would recommend checking with your local printing resources and base your submission time on the turn-around time. Our printing resources will have the poster done 24 hours after proof approval, so I usually submit it an entire week before to make sure I have extra time.

Different conferences have different poster standards; it’s essential to figure out what your conference requires. These standards are often available on the abstract submission webpage. The biggest thing to note is the size of the poster. Most conferences will either give exact dimensions or a size range. Some for specific items on the poster, such as abstract numbers.

Find a Template

If you’ve never made a poster before, just getting started can be daunting. The best option is to talk to a colleague in your lab and see if they have a template or an old poster that you can use as a template. If that’s not an option, different software programs have free templates available. My go-to program for designing posters is PowerPoint, and you can find some great, free template options for it from PosterPresentations.com.    

Tell a story

Posters are a great way to tell your research story. It can be difficult if the story still has pieces missing, but it’s still doable. Before beginning designing my posters, I like to think about the data I have and the story it tells. Sometimes I’ll write out an outline. Afterward, I’ll try to organize my data and pick what best contributes to the story I am telling. I look for holes I need to fill and then either address them in a “Future Work” section or leave them as question prompts for my audience. The great thing about poster presentations is you aren’t expected to have a complete story like you are for a paper. They allow you to share preliminary research and get a conversation going.

Pay Attention to Aesthetics

Whenever I give a talk, I like to make sure my presentation emphasizes pictures over words. The same should go for poster presentations. It’s harder to focus on posters that have a lot of words on them. Pictures can often convey more information and in a way that helps people focus. You also want to look at how your poster flows. The order of the figures and how your audience might go through the poster should make sense.

Ask For Reviews

Before you send your poster to the printers, share it with colleagues or your mentor for feedback. This is more than looking for typos. They can tell you whether or not your poster is conveying a clear story. They may identify confusing areas that you can improve. If you’re particularly nervous, you can do a mock poster session. As you go through the practice, you may identify areas that you need to tweak.

As with most things, the more posters you make and present the better you’ll get. Poster sessions are exciting avenues to share your research. They can be difficult to prepare, but by giving yourself lots of time to develop your story, put your poster together, and get feedback you’ll be setting yourself up to give a great presentation. If you’re looking for more tips for conferences in general, here is a great post to check out about them.    

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