7 Tips for Preparing a Winning Scientific Poster Presentation

Presenting a scientific poster is a great way to share your research at a conference, interact with fellow researchers, and get instant feedback on your work. It also serves as a valuable networking opportunity and allows you to forge relationships for future collaborations.

Although there are many benefits to scientific poster presentations, your first attempt at preparing and presenting one can feel daunting. Graduate students are often left to figure out how to do this all on their own, which can lead to posters filled with too much text and data, and presentations that are difficult to follow.

Follow these tips to create better posters and maximize the benefits of presenting.

1. Think of your poster as a conversation starter

A scientific poster is not meant to be a comprehensive report of your research. The primary goal is to attract the attention of conference attendees so that you can begin a conversation.

With that in mind, design your poster as a visual tool to help share your research. You can use this opportunity to get feedback and ideas, and to network with fellow conference attendees—perhaps you’ll even be able to find new collaborators for your research.

2. Know your audience

Before you begin drafting the content, it’s important to know your audience. Consider how proficient the audience is on your research topic. Are you going to a broad conference where the audience may be less familiar with your niche topic? If so, try to make your content more accessible by simplifying complex concepts or ideas. Are you going to a conference specific to your research niche? If so, you may not need as much background information.

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3. Know the story you’re trying to tell

A scientific poster is more than just a collection of information and data; the components should work together to create one cohesive and engaging story that leads viewers to your main conclusion. It also needs to be concise. You may find it helpful to write a short narrative of the story you’re trying to tell before creating your poster.

4. Create an outline and draft your content

The content of your poster should be easy to digest. Your audience doesn’t have much time to spend on each conference poster. Make it as easy as possible for them to quickly scan your poster and understand the story you’re trying to tell.

Include the following components:

  1. Title
  2. Authors list and affiliations
  3. Introduction, background, or rationale
  4. A brief overview of methods
  5. Results and discussion
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

Follow these tips to make your poster easier to digest:

  • Write a catchy title containing relevant keywords to help the audience quickly recognize whether they’re interested in your poster.
  • Keep your methods to a brief overview instead of including detailed protocols.
  • Use 5 figures or less, choosing only the most interesting data that are critical to support your conclusion.
  • Use diagrams to illustrate complex concepts.
  • Be concise and only include the essential details required to grasp the whole story.
  • Ensure that the content can be presented in 5 - 10 minutes at a comfortable, conversational pace.
  • Use bullet points and short sentences and paragraphs.
  • Choose simple words (e.g. “use” instead of “utilize”).
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. Then ask a friend to!

5. Use design best practices

Having a well-designed conference poster can help you attract an audience and share your research in a way that is easy for the audience to follow. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a graphic designer to create a well-laid-out poster. Regardless of the tool you choose (e.g. Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft PowerPoint), follow these simple design tips:

  • Use a simple, light, neutral-coloured background that provides enough contrast with the text. Avoid busy and distracting backgrounds.
  • Choose one bold accent color, and use it sparingly to help your poster stand out without being distracting.
  • Stick to simple and easy-to-read fonts (e.g. Arial, Helvetica).
  • Distinguish headings and subheadings from the rest of the text with different fonts or font sizes.
  • Use large font sizes that can be read from a distance of one meter. Try to stay between 18 pt (for figure legends) and 85 pt (for the main title).
  • For the body text, set the line spacing to a minimum of 1.25 and don’t make the text box too wide. This will help improve readability.
  • Leave enough clear space in the borders, between sections, and between lines to make your poster more inviting and easy to digest.
  • Use gridlines to help you align your sections, columns, text, and figures so they look neat and evenly distributed.
  • Use your layout to create a flow that helps the audience move logically from one section to the next.

6. Prepare to network and present your poster

A poster session is an opportune time for networking and sharing your research, so you should make the most of it. This can mean updating your LinkedIn profile prior to the conference, coming prepared with business cards, and practicing your poster presentation prior.

Practice your poster presentation prior to the poster session, but avoid sounding like you're reading off a script. Ensure that you can tell your story through the figures on your poster in 5 - 10 minutes at a comfortable pace. You could also anticipate some questions that your audience may ask you and be prepared to answer those questions.

Remember, the first time you present your poster will be the most difficult. Treat it as a warm-up and do it with a trusted friend or colleague, if possible. You should get more comfortable as the session progresses and can adapt your presentation on the go according to what your audience is responding best to.

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7. Engage your audience

The best poster presenters are those who are able engage their audience by having a clear presentation, a positive body language, and a genuine conversation. Follow these tips to effectively present your scientific poster:

  • Stand on one side of the poster and avoid blocking the audience from viewing your poster or the poster next to yours.
  • Smile and make eye contact with the audience. Shake their hands and introduce yourself.
  • Ask your audience if they would like you to present your poster to them. Some people prefer to just scan posters on their own.
  • As you’re presenting, use your hands to point to the relevant parts of your poster. Look at your audience instead of staring at your own poster the entire time. It helps to position your feet towards the audience instead of towards your poster.
  • Be yourself and let your genuine personality show through your presentation and interaction with the audience.
  • If you see others waiting for you while you’re still talking to others, acknowledge them with a smile or nod so they know you see them.
  • Ask if your audience has any questions. Answer their questions to the best of your ability, and don’t be afraid to admit if you don’t know the answer.
  • If you don’t see others waiting for your poster, take the opportunity to network with your current audience or other poster presenters around you. Ask them about themselves and what they’re working on. This is also a great time to ask for feedback on your work.
  • Look for opportunities to exchange contact information or arrange to connect another time for further discussions or to explore potential collaborations.
  • Afraid of missing people while you’re not at your poster? Include your email address if you would like to be contacted by conference attendees who may be reading your poster while you’re not there.

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