We have all been there. You have done your research for a while, got your first results and want to go to a conference to present your work. What then? At least I and my colleagues wanted to start with having a poster presentation. I did not have enough data (or confidence) for an oral presentation, so poster it is! These are my opinions and experiences about making a poster, feel free to disagree :).
Think about your title
For larger conferences, you need to send your abstract months beforehand. It is really difficult to prepare it so early, since you may not even have all the data by that time. With an abstract, you need to come up with at title. I would advise to use a lot of effort in planning your title. It is the first step where audience decides, if they want to see your poster or not. Use keywords in your title and be precise enough. Think in advance, what kind of audience you would like to attract.
How to do it?
Conferences usually have guidelines for posters – check them! In Europe, posters are usually smaller than in North America, most often size A0. Also, European posters are typically as portrait, compared to American counterparts in landscape. It is really disappointing to prepare a poster just to find out that it doesn’t fit in the poster stand at all.
What would you like to tell in your poster? As a young scientist, it is tempting to present everything you have done. For my first poster, I was feeling a bit insecure and embarrassed to be such a newbie, so I wanted to show all my work in order to appear more professional. Stop right there, it’s the worst plan ever! Think about your most important/interesting result and focus on that. It is better to highlight an exciting point than tell a little bit of everything.
This leads to the next step – compress, compress and compress. A text overload is a common mistake and it makes the poster look dull and scare the audience away. Leave only the most important content to your poster. Use columns, figures and pictures to make it more readable. Use different colors and font sizes, play with layout to emphasize your main message.
If there was a poster like the one below, it would have to have an extremely interesting title for me to stay and read. And even in that case, I’d prefer to have a handout and read it back home. If I have hundreds of posters to see, the time spent on one poster is something between few seconds and couple of minutes.
Fonts Use large enough fonts. I would think twice before going below 30 pt (and I would use this small font only for footnotes, captions etc.). Things you want to highlight could be with a larger font, e.g. conclusions. Print a colored A4 copy of your poster and put it in front of you, arms straight. If you think your professor might have even slightest difficulties reading the text – make it larger! Another tip is to set screen to 100 % and look at your poster from 1.5-2 m away. For body text, serif fonts are easier to read. Titles are ok with sans-serifs.
Figures can help you a lot. You can use them to balance your layout and to convince your audience. But be careful with the figures, they have to be self-explanatory. You are not standing next to your poster for the whole day, people need to understand it without explanations. And they need to be understood without reading the whole poster. Show a figure to a friend or a colleague that doesn’t know your work that well. If he/she understands it in no time, you are fine to go. Also, it is not the best idea to use red and green to separate “good and bad” in your results, quite many people have problem with distinguishing red from green.
Colors As we noted in our earlier post (Here), it is advisable to use colors. A dull poster does not attract the attention. However, you don’t have to overdo it. I think I had a bit of that problem with my first poster shown below. Make few different color versions, ask opinions from other people. And remember that the colors in the final poster may not print exactly the same as in your printer.
Software Use the software you are familiar with. If you have an opportunity to learn a new one (e.g. Adobe Illustration), go for it. But don’t do like me and waste too many hours struggling with too difficult software, finally giving up. With Power Point, you can actually go quite far.
The final touch
Finally, proof reading. Read your poster carefully for several times. Let other people read it as well. Print a copy and read that, sometimes you spot the mistakes better from a print. Note that in final printing, bits from the edges of your poster may be cut out (trimming edge). Therefore it’s good to have margins not to lose any of your important content. Make sure that you have your contact information on the poster (email and postal address). It is also a kind gesture to mention your sponsors somewhere on the poster.
Have enough time for printing and possible errors in the process. In our group, we have sometimes needed two re-dos for a poster and that may take a lot of time. Maybe you have made too many spelling errors or something has gone wrong in the printing company. When you finally get your poster from printing, check everything one more time. Hopefully, you don’t find any mistakes at this point. Additionally, print A4-sized handouts to give out in the conference.
For me, making posters is not an easy task. I don’t have a natural eye for making interesting and practical layout. My sense of color is non-existent and I get easily stuck with my initial (often bad) ideas. Time, practice and friends help though. I was actually a bit proud of my latest poster. But, a great way to get better is to follow the more talented colleagues. Our research group used to have a “Master of Great Posters” researcher Inna Nybom, who has won best poster prizes with several of her poster. I don’t know yet, how she always manages to create such delicate, beautiful and informative posters. But I continue to look her work closely, hoping to get to her level one day.
Text by Kristiina Väänänen