Poster presentations are an integral part of science conferences since the 1960s (Rowe, 2017). Google spits out millions of tips about how to design posters and in terms of content. But how do you present yourself during the poster session? How do you maximize attention? How do you position yourself as an expert in your field? The online tips are so far – well, very modest. This blog post is meant to change that.
Do you know your goals?
Every successful presentation is preceded by knowing your personal goals and preparing yourself accordingly. Are you a PhD student? Then you certainly want to achieve more than just participate in the conference. The poster presentation is not an annoying duty, so that you are financially supported and present your project. Rather, it is a good opportunity to introduce yourself, your project and your expertise.
I guess one or more of the following are on your agenda:
- Gain new insights into your project through stimulating discussions
- Make new contacts through active networking
- Win the poster prize and thus attract additional recognition
- Win new cooperation partners for an ongoing or follow-up project
- You position yourself visibly as an expert in your field
Not an easy task if you want to achieve these goals appropriately. By preparing accordingly, you will reach these goals faster. It is one of the basics to share a compelling poster story.
Your poster story
One would think boring presentations are out-of-date. Reality looks different: Even the titles of the posters often discourage a closer look: Too complicated, too incomprehensible and littered with acronyms only insiders know. Certainly a successful strategy for those who only want to discuss in a small elite circle. For the vast majority however, this is not the case.
The poster story starts with the title of your presentation: Unlike in a publication, scientifically formulated sentences are not decisive here. In most cases, keywords and abbreviated sentences are sufficient. What you need is an expressive eye-catcher to get attention and interest people in your project. An original or provocative title can open the door to a stimulating discussion.
My poster, with which I got by far the most attention, had the title “Reddening as climatic indicator? Investigations on Quaternary soils and soil sediments of the Balearic Islands”. The introductory question in particular attracted numerous colleagues – who I had not known before – so that we discussed the title question extensively, well beyond the poster session.
Often a short title also helps, as demonstrated by the following example:
Original title: “Changes in community structure and transcriptional activity of methanogenic archaea in a paddy field soil brought about by a water-saving practice – Estimation by PCR-DGGE and qPCR of 16S rDNA and 16S rRNA”
Abbreviated title: “Water-saving practices change community structure in paddy field soil”
The title of the presentation would be reduced by about two thirds: from 205 to 69 characters, from 95 to 19 syllables and from 33 to 9 words.
The point is that as an author as well as speaker, you should set clear priorities instead of listing too many details – even if you shorten the content. In the example, the transcriptional activity of methanogenic archaea and the estimation base would no longer be immediately recognizable. If these were of major importance, the title could be as follows: “Transcriptional activity of methanogenic archaea in a paddy field soil: Estimations by PCR-DGGE and qPCR”.
If, however, the location is decisive, e.g. for a presentation in the respective administrative region, the title should also reveal the location.
In any case, it helps to reduce nouns and replace them with verbs. It may sound provocative: Here, science can learn a lot from the advertising industry, with brief messages quickly getting to the point.
Develop your Science Pitch
What do you share during your poster presentation? During the guided tour introducing all the posters, you will have the opportunity to share your research in about two minutes. But the poster is already a compact summary. So how do you keep it short? It is not about reciting the entire content: Introduction – Methods – Results – Discussion – Literature Sources – Acknowledgements. You better emphasize particularly interesting aspects and findings in a “Science Pitch”: As in the Elevator Pitch, it is important that you get to the point quickly instead of giving too many details.
Start with a short introduction so that your audience knows the setting – i.e. question and experimental setup or place of action. Then you briefly present the one or two decisive results that advanced your knowledge. In order to stimulate later discussion, you can introduce open and controversial questions at this point.
Instead of speaking to the poster, you address the audience: as in a presentation, eye contact is important as you speak.
Ideally you should present a couple of particularly exciting pictures or photos on your poster. Attract your audience’s curiosity by relating your findings to earlier results. The best way is to refer to findings of recognized experts and especially of your colleagues who are also presenting at your session. This stimulates discussion and at the same time positions you as an expert in your field.
How you keep in touch
Ideally, it will continue for you after the presentation. Like any elevator pitch, your Science Pitch prompts your participants to take concrete action. You can invite for further discussion during the poster session or the next coffee break, or ask your audience questions yourself. Or you can provide each of your listeners with an A4 color copy of your poster on extra strong paper, of course together with your business card and a verbally communicated invitation.
If you receive business cards or contact information yourself, you can initiate the follow-up contact by writing to your colleagues via e-mail or even calling them personally.
This sets you apart from most others and ideally conveys not only your expertise, but also your openness and interest in the content. Combined with a visually appealing and up-to-date poster, you will stand out positively and position yourself as an expert.
This post is also available in: German