Making your next conference poster memorable – Part 1

Conference posters are the most abundant form of scientific communication and frequently the first incursion of scientists-in-training into dissemination — ahead of oral presentations or peer-reviewed papers. For researchers at any career stage, posters are an excellent opportunity to share work in progress, test new ideas, network, and sharpen a variety of communication skills — from graphic design to scientific writing to public speaking.

In search of the best advice, practical examples, and templates to design, create, and present an outstanding poster? The Center for Health and Science Communication invites you to check out Scientific Writing and Communication and The Narrative Gym for Science Graduate Students and Postdocs from Becker Library and to watch our recent #SciComm Seminar Save Your Poster, Save the World, featuring Zen Faulkes, author of “Better Posters.”

Here are some highlights from these resources.

Know your audience? Yes, but most importantly — know the setting and understand the medium!

Good news: the organizing committee has accepted your abstract, and you will get to boast your freshest data at the next scientific meeting! Chances are that most people in attendance will be knowledgeable about your topic or have at least enough background to follow. So, as you set about putting your poster together, reflect mainly on the environment where you will be presenting it: a noisy conference hall packed with fellow attendees who have many interesting posters to visit on a tight schedule. Some may still be jet lagged, while others may have difficulty hearing, reading small print, or telling certain colors apart. To stand out for all the right reasons, think of your poster not as a miniature paper but as a means to attract viewers and start a conversation about your research.

  • Keep it professional. Among Zen Faulkes’ Ten Simple Rules for Conference Posters: be consistent with fonts, type sizes, and color schemes; distribute and align elements evenly; and avoid clutter.
  • Posters are meant for visual impact. Consider the 20/40/40 ratio: 20% (or less!) text, 40% images, and 40% empty space. Instead of describing the methods in detail, include a diagram with your basic experimental approach. In lieu of a wordy discussion, a working model of the mechanism under study will go a long way toward illustrating your hypothesis, main findings, conclusions, and open questions.
  • Use text strategically. The title is crucial: it will be the first, and maybe the only, information that your peers see about your work. Spend some time designing a clear, concise, and informative title. Use 90-point boldface font so the title may be read from at least 6 feet away; do not go below 28 points for any other text.
  • Location, location, location! Second only to the title, the most desirable real estate on a poster is the upper middle section: consider making it the focal point featuring the key takeaways of your study. References and acknowledgments are usually banished to the bottom right and written in a tiny font — use this area instead for QR codes linking to the complete bibliography, your lab, or your scholarly profile.

Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this series for tools and tips to help you navigate the unique challenges of presenting your poster!