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Effective Poster: Planning, Preparing, Presenting

Award-winning posters have something in common, and it’s not just the science presented. Presenting effective scientific posters can lead to interesting scientific discussions, opportunities for networking and collaborating, and even job offers. When you are planning, preparing, and presenting a poster, it is important to remember that it is a visual tool for science communication.

PLANNING

Determine the poster’s main message: The first step is to define your message and keep the focus on it throughout the poster.

Find out how much space is available: Use the provided space effectively. It is not wise to have your poster occupy only one-third of the space provided or to have parts of it hanging from the sides of the display board. Most scientific events provide guidelines for preparing posters including the space available for each. If not, request this information from the organizers.

Allow yourself plenty of time to prepare: Even if you have all figures and tables ready, you should still give yourself enough time to prepare the poster. Laying out the figures in a logical and aesthetically appealing manner requires a considerable amount of time. In addition, you need time for editing. Asking your peers to look at the poster is a great idea, but this too requires time.

Decide whether to have your poster printed: Consider whether you have the time and money to have your poster printed. If not, one option is to print each section on separate pieces of letter-sized paper and assemble them on the poster board.

PREPARING

Content: Ask yourself what information is absolutely essential for conveying your main message, and avoid all other details. If necessary, you can mention other details during your presentation. Avoid the common mistake of repeating the same information in the “Summary” and “Conclusions” sections. The “Summary” section should present results; the “Conclusions” section should interpret them.

Title: Choose an interesting title.

Layout: Be sure the poster is organized, has a logical flow, and can be understood by the viewer. A typical format is Introduction, Goals/Objectives, Methods, Results, Summary, and Conclusions. Don’t count on being able to explain everything during your presentation. You might not be standing by your poster the entire time, especially if you had to hang it up well before the session.

Text: The biggest difference between a scientific paper and a poster is that a paper tells and a poster shows. For a poster, have attractive graphics and figures. Use text sparingly; sentences and text blocks should be short and to the point. Keep in mind that everything—including figure legends and labels—on your poster should be readable from a six-foot distance.

Colors: Colors can make your poster more attractive, but too many colors or too-bright colors quickly become distracting and even tiring on the eyes. Choose contrasting colors: dark letters on a light background. (Avoid using light letters on a dark background.)

Editing: It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of editing. You should perform scrupulous editing, avoid typos, and ask your peers to check your poster as well.

PRESENTING

Presentation is everything: Careful planning and preparing are important for a successful poster presentation, but they will not matter much if you don’t prepare well for your presentation.

Practice: Practice your presentation before a test audience.

Adapt your presentation to your audience: For people in your immediate field, a lengthy introduction may be boring. For others, be ready to provide more background information. Often your audience will include scientists from a wide range of disciplines, so be ready for their questions.

Provide the context for your project: Show your audience the big picture and then narrow their attention to your project. Interpret and relate results to the big picture.

Show enthusiasm: Avoid jargon, and explain your work simply and clearly.

Engage your audience: All your efforts in planning, preparing, and presenting a poster should be made by keeping in mind that the measure of success for a poster presentation ultimately comes to how well you engage your listeners.

For more information on preparing posters, go to http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1955747/ and https://www.training.nih.gov/assets/GSC-PosterTips.pdf.