Most of the times I've presented a poster at a research conference, I’ve won a prize. This isn’t because of my groundbreaking work it’s because I’ve learnt how to play the game. Here are my top nine tips on how to Develop, Design and Deliver a prize winning poster.
Develop You’ve just had a poster accepted at a conference – brilliant! But don’t dare go near PowerPoint yet. It is time to develop your ideas.
1: Why bother? Ask yourself what you want to get out of the experience. Collaborators? Ideas? Different perspectives? To show off? To win a prize? Knowing what you want from the experience will help you drive towards getting it.
2: Central message
I am firmly behind poster-presentation-researcher Mike Morrison when he says the days of traditional posters are dead and it is time for a better poster format. Mike’s freely available Better Poster design advocates a strong central message, and this is a perfect starting point. Imagine one month after the conference you bump into someone who visited your poster. They greet you with a friendly “Oh hi, I think we met at the conference a few weeks ago. You’re the person who is _______________ aren’t you?” Fill in the blank. What are you the person doing? People will likely take one short idea away from your poster so don’t make them work to find. Know what your message is and have your poster focus on it.
3:Structure The traditional poster format follows the traditional talk format: Introduction, method, results, discussion, conclusions. Tradition is the enemy of innovation. You can get away with this in a talk because the audience is forced to experience the talk in a linear way – but posters are a whole different game. When someone arrives at a poster they won’t read through it to finally arrive in the bottom right hand corner for the conclusions. Open with your strong message and build on it. Add the sections you feel you need and that best tell your story with the most important parts in the most prominent locations. Think of your poster like your shop front. Have your special offers displayed in the prime locations and let the the milk, bread and beans take care of themselves. The further below eye level you go, the less important the information should be. Imagine your poster in thirds – everyone will look at the top third, half of people will look at the middle third and a quarter will glance at the bottom.
Design Once you have your message and structure you can think about what your poster will look like.
There is always one person who gets it wrong, don’t let it be you. Check the programme or ask the organisers for the dimensions and orientation of the posterboard. Know the space and how to use it.
Also check when the posters will be displayed, if they will adorn the halls of the conference venue for three days then they need to be stand alone and contain all the information a reader might need. If, however, there is only a singular scheduled poster session, then you can plan your design based on the assumption that you will be with your poster to explain and give additional information.
There appear to be four main schools of thought on poster format, below I describe them along with their advantages and disadvantages.
Format 1, The Traditional: You’ve probably seen several examples of this – effectively a paper printed out on A0.
The Good: Familiar and likely to please older academics. The Bad: Alienating appearance and often communicates central messages poorly.