Making a poster for a conference

The first of many wonderful posters

Few weeks ago I went to Spain to participate in a geology conference on mineral replacement reactions. Normally participation in scientific conferences occurs in one of the two ways: either by giving a talk or presenting a poster.

Each of these forms has their advantages and disadvantages. The talks are often considered to be more prestigious than poster presentations so the big professors rarely bother with posters, while it is the most common form of participation for students. The talk allows to reach more people but is limited in time and do not give the opportunity for much discussion. Posters are great for getting direct feedback on project and better suited for work-in-progress but you have to compete for attention with tens, hundreds or sometimes thousands of other enthusiastic posters’ owners in the room. As my main goal was to go for discussion, I went with a poster. Not as I was in a position to choose but …, oh well, the goal was successfully achieved.

But this was also my first poster ever created and quite a few lessons were learned in the process of making it. Unfortunately some of them too late.

Do’s and don’ts:

  • It is very useful to go around the department and look on the others’ posters hanging on the walls before even beginning to work on your own. That gives a perspective of a random passerby and helps to understand what attracts the attention, what makes the poster readable or unreadable and which layouts look the best.
  • PowerPoint definately is not the best tool for poster making. For basic designs it is kind of okay but generally it is a nightmare. It does not wrap the text around images, sizing and saving reduces the quality of image and options for formatting are very limited. Most people use Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator but these are expensive programs. I often use Inkscape (open source) for most of my graphics but it has problems with handling large images so I went for PowerPowerpoint instead. However the plan for next time is to try some of the other free graphics editors such as LaTeX, Scribus, GIMP, etc.
  • Less text, bullet points wherever possible and more pictures. The poster should be fully readable in 5 minutes because no one will spend more time on it. At first my poster contained an extended introduction on all the interesting aspects between the metamorphism and deformation. After realizing that even I am tempted to skip it when going through my own poster, I decided to save it for the master thesis and blog posts.
  • The poster should be self-explanatory. Mine was not. I had to guide people through it and explain the images and how different parts are related.  This time it was fine. But there is definitely a better way how to do it.
  • Some people consider poster presentation a passive and boring process where you have to stand and wait till somebody will approach you and show some interest. Instead I went around myself and brought anyone who works on similar things to my poster. Either I was lucky or extremely thick-skinned but people seemed to come willingly.
  • Never fly with Ryanair! They made me throw away my first poster in the garbage because of baggage limitations. Few things are just unforgivable. This is one of them.

In a month time I have to make another poster so any other comments and tips are welcome!

6 Responses to Making a poster for a conference

  1. You should have fought Ryanair to the teeth. Scientists fly with posters all the time. Plus, poster printing is expensive.

    As for more on how to make a poster. Adobe Illustrator is the way to go if you have access to it. Also, put BIG FUCKIN’ PICTURES. Stand out from the paragraphs of text on either side of you. I did this on my AGU poster and was talking to people for the entire duration of my poster session with pretty much no break.

    Avoid complete sentences if you can. Distill your abstract, intro, and conclusions to two or three short bullets.

    Put your conclusions up front. If you’re using the “three column” format, the conclusions should be in the first column towards the top. Maybe right under introduction or “importance”.

    Use color to tie together different parts of your poster. i.e. same box color for conclusion and interpretations section.

    My research group does practice poster presentations where we put our poster up on a projector and take the rest of the group through it. It then is torn apart and the end product (after much work later) is clear, concise and clean. Hope these tips help on your next poster!

    • Liene says:

      Fortunately the Ryanair incident happened on the way back and I had no problems with the other airline. The staff lady seemed to be the first day at work and enjoyed herself measuring every single bag, even the ones of laptop size which obviously fitted. Arguing was pointless.
      Regarding the tips, thanks a lot! I have not heard about the conclusions on the top before. It is not a traditional approach but could be interesting to try.

  2. Zigmāris says:

    I you wanna fly cheap, you have to accept their terms! :) It’s so simple. I made my first (and only) poster in PowerPoint. And yes, it’s self-marketing anyway.
    Good luck, Liene! ;)

    • Liene says:

      Thanks, Zigmār! The thing is that airlines normally do not have a special policy regarding posters and a common practice for scientists is to carry the posters into the plane together with hand luggage. It is not a problem for any other airline except Ryanair and I will never ever book them for a conference again, and do not recommend that to anyone.

  3. Klára says:

    I could have one tip for you but maybe you have already tried that. What I always do is I also print small version (A4) of the poster, more copies and put that next to the big poster so people can take that with them and read it more carefully and maybe contact you later ;-)

    • Liene says:

      I have seen people doing this in some conferences however it really reminds me of advertisement distributors in shopping-centers. Some people accept their flyers out of politeness but then, get rid of them at the closest bin.
      Maybe this is just a prejudice but I have been thinking that there is no point in making those. If somebody is really interested he will talk to me in person or will take my e-mail address for further communication (.pdf version of poster can provided by email then, if it is important). Small business cards with contacts could be useful in such cases. But if the poster and conversation had not provoked enough interest, nobody will read the A4 version of it either.
      Have you had any good experience using printouts yourself?

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