How to Have a Successful Poster Presentation at a Conference

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Everyone has been there or seen it: that lone presenter standing by their poster in the giant room full of thousands of others, hoping someone will stop and ask them a question. They look eager, hopeful, anticipatory—but people just walk by. Meanwhile, two posters down, another presenter has six people surrounding them, all engaging in conversation. How do we make THAT happen?

No matter what conference you will be showing your poster, the amount of information swirling around is overwhelming. You will have fantastic information to share, and the goal is to make the information, the presentation of the poster, and your presence inviting enough that people will want to stop and learn more. These are my tips.

 

The Poster
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel—someone has a template you can use with your institution’s logo, pattern, and poster template. Use it.
  • Double-check your poster is the right size and format as dictated by the conference requirements.
  • Make the title clear about what you want to say with as few words as possible.
  • KEY POINT: Don’t put too many words or too much information on the poster. If there are long sentences and the entire poster is full, it’s overwhelming. Use short bullet points, particularly in the conclusion, and give the “browser-by” the ability to have a quick look at what you are trying to convey.
  • HAVE A CONCLUSION, even if it’s only your conclusion so far.
  • Make the graphs, tables, and pictures relevant, and even better if interesting photos of patients’ airways, x-ray’s, etc. They should be clear and big enough for people to see the key data as they walk past.
  • Good colors help, but don’t overwhelm.

 

The Data
  • Have a “story.” Whether it’s the patient’s case or a scientific question, have the process organized in your head by what you wanted to know and what you have discovered (so far) so you can clearly present it.
  • Know your information backwards and forwards.
  • Know the conclusion/summary—the key point(s) you want to make.
  • Be honest—if you haven’t done something, say “that’s a good question” and “we should do that,” or engage with why they would want to know that piece of information. Do NOT make up information. If you don’t know; you don’t know.

 

The Presence, The Presenter
  • Be “present”—don’t be looking at your phone or walking away. Look like you want to share the amazing information you have and are excited about it.
  • Engage with the presenters around you. You will be in a section of similar research—learn what they are doing.
  • PRACTICE your elevator pitch. Be able to say in one minute (or less) what question you asked and what answers you have so far. And, after you have practiced it, practice it again. If you do a good elevator pitch and the subject is something the passersby have interest in, they will ask more questions and then you can give the details of your graphs, tables, cases, etc.
  • If someone stops to look, don’t immediately start talking to them about your data—they probably want to read the poster first. Just ask them to let you know if they have more questions.
  • If it’s a poster presentation in a small room where you get 5+ minutes to present it, you still need a story. Practice it again and again. Being in a room full of people listening just to you can be daunting. The more you practice, the better you can present even when nervous, as your body can go into autopilot.
  • Don’t assume people know abbreviations, unless truly common, and watch peoples’ faces as you talk—you can tell if they didn’t understand.
  • Look professional.

 

Doing a poster presentation is fun, engaging, and a great way for you to learn the key points you wish to present, in addition to great networking. It’s a skill learning how to highlight the most important information and how to present it so people will want to hear it. Attendees at all levels of training and skill still present and view posters as it’s often where the beginnings of new data emerge. Go and enjoy!

 

References
  1. https://www.scientifica.uk.com/neurowire/less-is-more-advice-for-keeping-your-poster-concise
  2. https://www.scientifica.uk.com/neurowire/how-to-make-your-scientific-posters-stand-out
  3. PLoS Comput Biol 2007 May; 3(5): e102, Ten Simple Rules for a Good Poster Presentation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1876493/

 

Ashley G. Henderson, MD is a Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). She is currently the Fellowship Director for the Pulmonary and Critical Care program, the Co-Director of Undergraduate Medical Education for the Department of Medicine, and her clinical practice includes a COPD clinic, a multidisciplinary vasculitis clinic, attending in the medical intensive care unit and pulmonary consults, and of course, precepting fellows’ clinic. Her days are never boring.

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