Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tips for Conference Posters

This week I attended iConference 2012 and they had an impressive and extensive display of academic posters. Of all the conferences I've been to, I found this conference had the most effective posters. As the conference was for information schools (iSchools), it is not surprising that presenters would know how to effectively display information visually and succinctly.

While viewing the posters, I made mental notes of what was effective and what was not:

Poster Design
  • Posters displayed as mini research papers (e.g. with sections for abstract, intro, lit review, method, findings, conclusions, references) were overwhelming too read and dull  - I think this format is best for the proceedings publication but the poster itself should consider the demands of the visual medium
  • Standard graphic design principles apply (e.g. font, colour, spacing, whitespace, etc.)
  • Consider the unique design needs for posters - e.g. large font size, easy to read, unique, etc.
  • Colour is essential to make the poster appealing and attract attention - not too many though more than one colour is needed but probably not more than 3-4 (including shades)
  • Limit content to 2-3 points
  • Key message should be in a call-out and placed prominently - it's better when it's short and not a full abstract
  • Images should not be eye candy, but reflect the content of the study
  • Include your contact information - i.e. email address and website (I was surprised by how many people did not include this)
  • References - lots of posters didn't have these and the ones that did it took up a lot of space that wasn't useful for attendees. If they can be omitted or referred to a website for them, I think the space can be much better used
  • Moratorium needed on word clouds - I estimate that a third of posters included them. They seem trite now and aren't an effective way (e.g. legibility issues) to present main themes
Supporting Material
Take-aways for attendees are a great way to ensure that people will actually follow-up with you or read the work in more detail.  As posters are available for display outside of the official presentation hours, it is a great idea to have them pinned near or on your poster (bring extra pins for these). Take-aways can include:
  • Print-out of the poster (full colour is better)
  • Business cards
  • Postcards of the project
  • One of the main points of posters is to provide a means to connect with others interested in your work, so it's important to actually be present during the designated poster presentations (surprisingly at an iConference's poster session some presenters were not there for the entire two hours)
  • Show up early, I went half an hour before the designated time and there were a fair number of people who were also there early - this is a great time to stand out and talk to people before the hoard  arrives
  •  Consider adding interactivity or multimedia to your poster as a way to standout and offer supporting content - this is particularly effective outside of the official session presentation as people have more time (and quiet) to spend on the posters.  Two techniques I found effective at iConference, were push-button audio clips of interview excerpts and tablets running a demo of the project software.
The University of Leichester has a really good, in-depth tutorial on posters and Colorado State University has a useful poster guide

I'm hoping to present a poster in the next year, so I'd love to hear other people's tips here!

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