First-time poster
February 6, 2017 11:59 PM   Subscribe

If all goes well, and my poster abstract is accepted -- I'll be going to a scientific conference as a presenter for the first time! I found a lot of great resources online about making my poster, and about presenting it. But I would also like your best hard-won tips on those things, and your input on my own unusual situation.

I intend to submit my abstract tomorrow for a conference, and if it is accepted, I will be first author on a poster there in April. I have been to two conferences before, in the misty past, but just as an attendee. What am I not learning online, that you can tell me about (a) ginormous conferences, (b) making my poster, (c) presenting my poster?

Also I have a factor -- maybe three or four factors -- that make my situation unusual: I didn't do the experimental work myself, nor design the experiments, nor do the stats. (Though I will be sure to know it all like the back of my hand!) Also I'll be 47 years old, have only a B.S., and work in industry. I've never been much of a self-promoter, but I would like to erm, get my brand out there, as they say -- how does one do that? My ideal next job would be much like my current job, in Scientific Affairs (or maybe QA) at another FDA-regulated big company.

Thanks for any advice you can give me!
posted by pH Indicating Socks to Science & Nature (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've presented other people's work several times - it's not that unusual (think collaborators, or supervisors), but I always design the poster myself so I know what story I'm telling. Sounds like that's what you're doing, though.

Different fields have different conventions, but I prefer 'less is more' for posters. A few clean-looking graphs/plots/schemes etc, just a handful of sentences in a big font (eg 28 point minimum), clear conclusions box with bullet points.

Many people put a photo of themselves on the poster these days, which I like - poster sessions are busy, and it can be difficult to see which of the 5 people milling around the poster is actually the presenter.

Other forms of 'extra engagement' are becoming common too - a business card dispenser of some kind, A4 copies of the poster in a plastic wallet, a QR code link to a PDF or your homepage, artefacts and samples stuck to the poster (even vials of chemicals!). Some people find all that a bit gimmicky, though.

Poster sessions are my favourite bits of conferences - enjoy!
posted by firesine at 12:49 AM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Posters are the best because I find you can get more direct personal engagement than in a presentation. As a poster viewer, I dislike when the presenter immediately starts explaining as soon as I approach. I can read faster than they can talk. So, when presenting I make it clear that I am the presenter with a quick friendly, "Hello! Please ask me any questions if you like." Then just let them read for a bit.

Same as firesine suggested; business cards and/or a flyer in a pocket. I like to do postcard sized by cutting double-sided A4 paper copies. Some larger sized handouts are also good to carry all through the conference. That way when you are chatting with someone before / after you present and they ask the inevitable, "When/Are you giving a presentation?" You can say, "Yeah, tomorrow but I know everyone's so busy, (Yeah yesterday) here's my poster." and offer a copy. I tend to be a little self-deprecating and sometimes add "Now you don't have to come see it." But if they are interested they will anyway. (And if they're not interested they aren't your audience.)

Putting the full poster online ahead of time and putting the shortlink URL on the poster itself is great.

Make sure your name and email and/or Twitter are large enough and near the top so that someone can grab a pic with their phone and get it.

Have fun!
posted by Gotanda at 1:02 AM on February 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Here's something kind of off-the-wall, but important (and very much on my mind as I sit here in an apartment in one of the biggest, most crowded cities in SE Asia with enough OTC meds in my system to stock a small pharmacy): if you get accepted, make sure you get plenty of sleep, keep your immune system healthy, and abuse the hand sanitizer abundantly, because no matter where you are, ginormous conferences (both industry and academic) are infectious disease central.

I've designed lots of posters for people to give on projects on which I've worked, and I definitely agree with the "less is more" axiom and recommend lots of white space and attractive graphics. I also recommend cards with a QR code link and your contact information. Carry them around with you, because hopefully you'll meet people at other sessions or social gatherings who will not have gotten to see your poster but will nonetheless be interested in your work, and you'll be able to exchange info. You never know who you'll run into or what kind of collaborative opportunity it'll lead to.

Good luck, have fun, and stay healthy!
posted by tully_monster at 1:04 AM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, related to tully_monster's "stay healthy," venues vary: some conferences offer more tea, coffee, and baked goods than I can handle; some have nothing; some charge you an arm and a leg. I always bring food with me to any conference. Something that won't go to waste if you don't need it.
posted by Gotanda at 1:07 AM on February 7, 2017

Don't forget to look at the other posters. I remember barely looking at other people's work the first time I did a poster at a conference and regretting it.

Question: if you didn't generate the data, or do the analysis or design the experiments, how are you first author on the poster?
posted by sciencegeek at 4:00 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Question: if you didn't generate the data, or do the analysis or design the experiments, how are you first author on the poster?

Hahaha good question. Nobody else raised their hand? I'm writing the manuscript, because nobody else wanted to do it (except of course the contract lab, for $$$). I think industry may be different from academia in this respect.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 4:08 AM on February 7, 2017

Depending on how the poster session is organized, you might not be able see any/many of the other posters if you're standing beside yours the whole time. Feel free to abandon your poster for a little while to go see some of the posters you want to see and wouldn't otherwise get a chance to.

Stay hydrated and consider bringing something for your throat. Poster presentations involve a *lot* of talking.

Better posters is a blog about scientific poster design.

I don't see many posters with extra handouts or pictures of people's faces on them (I thought that was why people wear name tags!), but its been a while since I went to an absolutely massive conference.
posted by quaking fajita at 7:48 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

(a) ginormous conferences, (b) making my poster, (c) presenting my poster?

(a + c) There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of posters at the most ginormous of conferences. Want your poster to be seen? Be an active presenter. Make eye contact with people walking by, ask them how they're enjoying the conference. If they glance at your poster, give immediate cues that you'll be quiet but will be right here if they have any questions. If you strike up conversations with people at the conference, mention your poster and suggest people stop by and read it.

(b) It's really common to present work carried out by others, especially when the list of authors gets long. Does your company have a template it prefers? Some companies and organizations have a production department that will either create or spruce up a poster, based on your notes and text, or even just a high resolution logo or other useful tidbits. Otherwise, you'll probably be building your poster from a template in Powerpoint. It can be a drag, but be patient! Save little tweaks for the end--focus on getting your text just right, and selecting the best figures and images, before you get down to making sure things are aligned just right.

People won't read text-heavy posters. It should be there to say, in big, graphic form, the 2-3 Big Things About The Research. Leave out detail that's covered in the paper, even if it's supporting those 2-3 Big Things. Instead, come with a few copies of related papers for additional info (unless your paper is already available by then).

Tack an envelope on to your poster board with your business cards in them, in case people are interested but come by when you're not there. Put another envelope up for people to drop their cards into.

Some people print out legal-sized copies of their posters for people to take with them. I used to do that, but now I just put a QR code or a link to the poster on my org's site on the poster. The linked page includes all the references cited on the poster and other, relevant links and documents (plus, I can track how often the page is visited).

Ask an event staffer to get a picture of you in front of your poster. Your company might like to use it in a staff meeting or internal publication or what have you.

Good luck!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:14 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I want to Nth the suggestion of a letter-size copy of your poster with all your contact details for people to take away with them.
posted by freezer cake at 10:39 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's a poster not a paper- keep text to a minimum (with a large font size) and make sure the main points and results are presented clearly- tables and figures are best, and boxes with bullet points also ok for intro/conclusion/wordier sections. Also depending on the format and culture of the conference the poster sessions can get a large crowd or barely anyone. When they do it as a separate session (especially with free snacks and alcohol) they tend to be quite lively and interactive. When the poster session coincides with lunch most attendees will be busy having meetings, getting food etc and posters tend to fade into the background. Hopefully yours will be the former!
posted by emd3737 at 12:54 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

The above suggestions are all great. Consider having your "elevator pitch" ready - a 20 second summary, in case someone says "tell me about your study"
posted by leslievictoria at 6:15 PM on February 7, 2017

What type of congress is this? I do Medical Communications as a living and would be happy to share some trends if it is that industry. Good luck on acceptance. Exciting!
posted by Lil Bit of Pepper at 8:50 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's Experimental Biology 2017. Love to have your thoughts, all the same!
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 9:19 PM on February 7, 2017

Thanks so much for all the advice! I acted on some of it already, and made a webpage for the work, to which I would have a QR code point from my poster -- and the other members of the research team were like, "Ew! You did what? Are we Marketing or science?" So, yeah, that's a data point. I guess they're old-school, or maybe I'm doing it wrong?
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 10:47 AM on February 8, 2017

Thanks so much for all the advice! I acted on some of it already, and made a webpage for the work, to which I would have a QR code point from my poster -- and the other members of the research team were like, "Ew! You did what? Are we Marketing or science?" So, yeah, that's a data point. I guess they're old-school, or maybe I'm doing it wrong?

You're kidding. Really? QR codes on posters have been a thing for a long time, certainly in CS and applications science. Have they even BEEN to science conferences in the past decade?
posted by tully_monster at 10:29 PM on February 8, 2017

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