Directing the Poster Sessions

This year the conference I am on council for will be adding poster sessions. Serendipitously I was on the CHE and found a post with some great ideas. I am quoting them here, so that I will remember to talk to the other folks about them.

My advisor used to tell me to follow the 5-5-5 rule when making a poster. Someone should be able to read your poster in 5 minutes, from 5 feet away, after drinking 5 beers.

The posters also recommended cash (or free) bars. That is not going to happen at this conference, since it is on a dry campus.

Long post advice:
1. Provide guidance on poster aesthetics, audience, word count

Conferences are announced a year in advance on web pages, and those pages should give presenters more than just the desired dimensions of the posters and the due date. If you say, “Try to keep your word count under 800, and design for scientists outside your field,” you might find that poster sessions are better attended and enjoyed. And about that word count suggestion — just choose something, since “keep your word count low” means “under 5,000 words” to the average poster designer. If you can provide the above guidance, make sure it is added to a stable page on your society’s main web site, not just on the temporary page associated with the upcoming meeting.

2. Show examples of good posters

Scientists learn how to design posters from other scientists. That’s really alarming. So find a few good posters on the internet and link to them as examples. (Again, house this on a permanent page.)

3. Provide links to helpful poster advice

Find a web site or online PDF that pitches advice appropriate for the kind of conference you are organizing. If you don’t provide a link, most attendees will just wing it, and that doesn’t really work out. (Again, house this on a permanent page.)

4. Don’t provide templates

It’s tempting to post a PowerPoint template online, but that encourages attendees to use PowerPoint, which was not designed for posters. Another reason not to provide a template is that doing so would result in all the posters looking the same…and that would make for a mind-numbing session. Also keep in mind that if you post a template with lapses in aesthetics, color choice, font size … everyone at the meeting will adhere to those lapses.

5. Don’t require logos or banners

Branding attendees’ posters doesn’t really add to the quality of the poster session. Mandating logos at the top of all the posters squishes titles to be smaller than they should be, and adds visual distractions that compete with good design. If you really want to brand things, give attendees free t-shirts and temporary tattoos.

6. Don’t require an abstract on posters

A poster is too short to need an abstract like a manuscript does. But it’s totally great to include a poster abstract in the conference booklet, to help people figure out which posters they’d like to visit.

7. Post judging criteria, evaluation form online prior to meeting

If posters will be judged for prizes and awards, tell attendees what criteria will be used. Something more specific than “for best poster.” Post the forms that the judges will be using. (On a permanent page.) And, please, don’t give top award to the poster with smallest font and most graphs: that just encourages people at future conferences to use even smaller fonts, and include even more graphs.

8. Provide 4 x 6” shrunken-poster stickers to presenters

If you can get all presenters to upload PDFs of their posters prior to the meeting, you can print them all onto small stickers that are given to the attendees when they arrive. Then people can slap those on their shirts and advertise their posters prior to the poster sessions. Doing this would energize the entire meeting, not just the poster session. E.g., people will proudly point to their mini-posters and explain their research.

9. Sponsor a fun “people’s choice” award

Even if you have official judging, set up a box near the poster session room for attendees to vote for “most enjoyable / creative / novel” poster. There’s always one at a conference, and it would be fun to give them credit somehow, even if the judges didn’t give them any love.

Related links:
from PennState “Tips for Designing Effective Presentations”
Poster Session: Guide for Preparation
NCSU offers An Effective Poster, which I have used with my social science students
Advice for attending Poster Sessions, which included

The poster session is not just about the data in the abstracts:
Networking: The poster session is a great time for networking. Are you planning on a career in research with a particular niche in say, IBD? Go to the IBD posters and introduce yourself to the authors. Walk around with your mentor and ask him/her to introduce you to other specialists in your planned area. Have your business card readily available for collaborations or career opportunities. Even if you aren’t nearing completion of fellowship, meeting people in your field is one of the best ways to get your name in their minds.
Future research ideas: A poster or chance encounter may spur you to think of several new research questions. I carry a small digital voice recorder to record any ideas that pop into my head. You might never use these ideas, but the poster session is great for brainstorming for future reference. Take note of the poster numbers and the people you talked to so that you can refer back to them if you ever get around to that particular research question.
Poster formats: If you are not a veteran poster creator, you can learn a lot about creating a well-structured poster. What worked well? What didn’t? Did the title “draw you in” to see the poster? How cluttered were the posters? Was there a lot of verbiage or more graphics? Was the conclusion easy to find?

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