Poster presentations are a staple of academic conferences. They’re a valuable way to share research visually, and it pays to know how to design one well. The good news is, we seem to be living in a time of a new poster renaissance!
There’s been a lot of recent debate about how to create better posters, with Ph.D. student Mike Morrison leading the charge for designing more visually appealing posters that state results clearly.
Here are some other ideas for how you can take your poster presentation to the next level.
Encourage Written Audience Feedback
Poster sessions may only last for an hour or two, but your poster may be displayed for much longer than that. How do you engage and interact with your audience when you’re not there?
Put Post-it notes and pens next to your poster, with a sign encouraging visitors to write down their questions or comments.
You can even add a space directly to your poster for audience comments. When my adviser and I wrote a code of ethics for insect collectors, we wanted to hear what others in our field had to say about it. We split our poster into two halves, with the code of ethics on one half and an empty space for audience comments on the other half (see image above). We presented our poster at that year’s Entomological Society of America meeting in Denver and received many helpful comments from other researchers on how we could improve our code and turn it into a useful classroom resource.
Beyond the QR Code: Videos, Augmented Reality and More
A QR code is a great addition to a poster; you can create a code to link to your website, publications or whatever you want, and anyone who scans the code will be able to instantly access it.
You can take this further with augmented reality apps like HP Reveal (formerly Aurasma) and DAQRI. Using apps like these, you can link pictures on your poster to videos so that when viewers scan them with their phones, it will bring your poster to life with sound and moving images.
Another way to engage your audience when you’re not standing at your poster is to create handouts. For our poster on insect collecting, we printed out pocket-size versions of the code of ethics we had drafted.
I’ve also seen some researchers print out postcard-size versions of their poster so that attendees could take a copy of the poster with them. Many researchers will also leave business cards in a pocket or folder at the bottom of their poster so that researchers can get in touch with them.
Giving Permission (or not) for Photography and Social Media
When you’re presenting your research publicly, there’s a good chance that someone is going to take a picture of it. Make it clear to your audience members whether they are allowed to take pictures of your poster and share on social media (or not) by including “no photography/social media” or “photography/social media allowed” (see the social media guidelines here for examples).
In the future, conferences might provide these icons as stickers that presenters could add to their posters, but until then, it’s best to either print these as fliers to display around your poster or add the icons directly to your poster.
Printing on Fabric
Printing and transporting paper posters can be cumbersome, especially if you’re traveling by plane. One way to avoid the hassle is by printing your poster on fabric -- this way, you can fold your poster up and pack it in your bag rather than having to lug a poster tube around the airport or conference hall. It’s also much harder to rip fabric than paper, so there’s less worry when hanging up and taking down your poster.
Printing on fabric can be expensive, so this might be a better option for posters you will display multiple times. But it can be worth the money if you don’t have to purchase a poster tube or pay extra airline fees for bringing it on the plane.
Proactive Printing: Plan Ahead!
Whether you print on fabric or paper, try to print your poster ahead of time in case there are any problems. I had a few colleagues print a poster at the conference hall to save time, only to end up with a poster that was a quarter of the size. Unfortunately, they didn’t have time to reprint the poster and had to present the miniature version.
Some print shops can only print up to a certain size and will have larger posters printed at a central location or third party and shipped to you. This can take more time, so plan ahead -- make sure your print shop can handle larger jobs, and print your poster early so you can deal with any mishaps that arise.
Also, don’t forget to plan how you will hang your poster. Bring extra pushpins and/or Velcro. Even if you don’t need it in the end, there’s sure to be someone else there who will -- and be sure to help out your neighbors!
Sharing Your Poster After the Conference
You don’t have to stop sharing your poster just because the conference is over. You can publish your poster online in an open-access data repository like figshare, which gives your poster a unique digital object identifier (DOI) that you can use to cite your work. You can also upload your poster to your institutional repository (Penn State uses ScholarSphere) or websites like ResearchGate so you can continue to share it with the research community after the conference is over.
As for your physical poster, don’t just throw it in the trash after the conference. If you have any bare walls in your lab or office space, old posters make great decorations and conversation starters. Many departments will also display posters to show what their students are accomplishing, so if the walls in your building are looking empty, talk to your department head and see what you can do about it.
In addition to the ideas above, there is one place you should always share your poster after the conference -- on your CV. This is valuable public speaking experience that you should not overlook, especially after all the time and effort you spent designing your poster and presenting your research. Don’t ever sell yourself short.
Do you have any other ideas for how to take poster presentations to the next level and make them pop? What was the best poster presentation you ever saw? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
A special thanks to Shelby Kilpatrick for her insightful comments and contributions to this post.