Last month I presented a poster at the WSB14 conference in Barcelona. This was the first time I’ve presented in this format and I have to confess to having a prejudice against posters. Some years ago, whilst completing my Masters, a housemate I lived with had to produce one or two posters for his degree. I recall the sense of inner superiority I felt at not having to engage in such ‘Mickey Mouse’ activities!
So when I was informed that I had been allocated a poster rather than an oral presentation at the WSB event this year I couldn’t help but feel rather deflated. I expected to be standing forlornly in some dark corner with a handful of other despondent poster presenters, trying to cheer ourselves up by feigning interest in each others work… I couldn’t have been more wrong!
The poster area was in the main exhibition hall along with all the other commercial exhibitions stands and the atmosphere there was buzzing. Far from being a second class option, my co-presenters included, among others, the head of the German Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (It’s a much shorter title in German!). I discussed my work and exchanged business cards with an Australian researcher whose papers I have read and frequently cited… All in all it was a very rewarding experience.
So I confess, I was wrong! Posters are a valuable format with unique benefits compared to oral presentations. What they lack in reach (posters are unlikely to attain as wide a public as an oral presentation) they make up for through much more in depth interactions with the audience.
So what tips can I share for those who have the chance to present a poster at a conference?
Whilst I’m pleased with my poster, I’m no graphic designer so I won’t try to give advice on that side of things. There’s already some great resources on designing posters available if you google it and opinions will differ from one field to another as to what style is most appropriate.
But my top tips for getting the most from your conference experience when presentating a poster are as follows:
- Be Bold: If anyone takes more than just a cursory glance at your poster make sure you engage them in conversation. You need to work your audience if you want to get anything out of the experience. No matter how awkward you might feel, the onus is on you to engage people, not the other way around. You don’t need to be pushy but do make sure you at least break the ice and then if they dont want to talk then that’s up to them. I found good openers are to ask if they have an interest in the topic or to invite them to tell you if they have any specific questions for you once they’ve read the poster.
- Be Interested: Don’t just rattle off your rehearsed spiel at everyone you talk to. Find out who they are and why they’re interested in your work. People are far more responsive if they sense you take an interest in them and don’t just bombard them with your findings.
- Be Strategic: If you get into conversation with someone you think would be a useful contact to keep then look for an opening to establish that contact outside of the conference. This could invovle asking them to email you a paper they happen to mention, or offer to email them some information that you think might be interesting for them. Find an excuse to email them and make sure you do so within a day or so of meeting them. You are much more likely to be remembered if you have some follow-up interaction with someone than if you only chat in front of your poster.
Finally, for those interested, my poster is available to download on ResearchGate
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