How To Present a Poster Presentation

Congratulations! You’ve worked hard, completed your research, written it up, and submitted an abstract to a conference for presentation.

Great news! A few weeks later you get an email from the conference organisers – your work has been accepted for presentation at the conference – as a poster presentation.

For me, it was quite daunting to prepare my first poster presentation, but I’m not going to address how to do that in this blog post, instead I want to offer a few tips my input on how to present your poster once at the conference. I’m no authority on the subject, I’ve presented posters at about 6 conferences – at local, national and international levels – so figured I’d share some of what I’ve picked up.

My first tip – if you care about your research and want to meet people interested in your work then stand by or ‘hover’ around your poster during conference breaks. I’m not saying dont ever leave the side of your poster, do by all means go around and visit sponsors stalls, interact and network with other delegates and see other poster presentations. Just I find it heartbreaking to see conferences with sometimes 100s of brilliant posters, which have required the creators to spend often 100s of dollars to attend the conference and prepare the poster, just sitting there with the presenter out of sight. This has a number of disadvantages:

  1. The unattended poster cannot recieve positive comments, and it may be otherwise more difficult to meet people – often influential people in the field – who want to speak to you maybe to exchange details for future work!
  2. The poster cannot recieve criticisms or questions that you may not have considered while conducting the research, which can then have important implications for future studies stemming from your work
  3. People may want to ask questions about your poster.
  4. Very often conferences have prizes for the best poster where judging panels come around to see the poster presentation. I was told by a judge on a panel that they shortlisted me for a prize because I was there by my poster when they came around!

Some people may be shy about standing by the poster, if that’s the case leave a pen & pad of paper, or some business cards with your poster so people can leave comments & ask questions. I think that’s a good idea to do so even if you intend to stand with your poster because then people who view the poster when you aren’t there – such as people arriving late to the conference and company reps at the sponsor stalls – can still view your work and get in touch or leave comments.

Me with a poster at the International Trauma Conference

Me with a poster at the International Trauma Conference

I’d say it’s also important to wear comfortable footwear as you’ll be on your feet for long periods of time, but then again it’s ALWAYS a good idea to wear comfortable footwear!

As you’ll probably be presenting your poster during the breaks in the conference it could be a good idea to slip out of the conference auditorium where talks occur early to quickly use the restroom and maybe grab a drink. Maybe leaving early is taking it a bit too far, by any means it certainly won’t hurt to keep some bottled water with you so you have keep your throat moist while presenting.

More specific things on presenting the poster itself now.

Make sure you truly understand the content of your poster and are comfortable with the material, this is especially important if you are presenting on behalf of one of the other authors of your work who may have done more of the research than you. This is an easy fix, just read over the poster in advance, and get familiar with thesises (?spelling error?), papers slides from presentations and abstracts stemming from the research the poster is presenting.

When standing by your poster there is a slippery slope you tread, where you don’t want to be too distant such that you can’t engage with delegates viewing your work yet you don’t want to be like an over-eager car salesman that jumps on anyone and everyone who passes by. I think a good middle ground is to introduce yourself to people who you see are reading your poster and let them know if they have any questions or would like any more information that you are around. Some people will want not want to speak to you, which is perfectly fine, and others might want more information or just comment how interesting and great your work is!

Remember to speak slowly and clearly when presenting your poster – you are very knowledgable about the subject you are presenting and your experience and enthusiasm in the topic can easily make it difficult to appreciate if you speak to fast and do not enunciate words correctly. I’m guilty of this myself, so I try to make a conscious effort to S-L-O-O-W D-O-W-N!

There is another concept which is very important: time. I think it’s a good idea to keep the presentation at between 1 and 2 minutes, or as I like to think of it – make it an ‘elevator pitch.’ The concept of an elevator pitch is that you present your work as if you just met someone in an elevator and had the time in the elevator to explain your work to them. Keep it relatively short and sweet, and if your ‘audience’ have more questions they will most certainly ask you! The radiologists will want to know what settings and scoring systems you using for your imaging, the lab researchers will quiz you on what kind of assay you used and what percentage of EDTA was used and why!

I attended the Association of Surgeons in Training 2010 Annual Conference in Hull recently, where one of the delegates, Mr Naveen Kachroo, an ST3 Surgeon in the UK agreed to let me film his poster presentation – which I feel is a first class presentation that I have uploaded to YouTube as ‘How to give a poster presentation’ for that very reason. The video is here:

Most importantly of all, I’d say go and HAVE FUN!

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