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How to Prepare for a Poster Session

This guide provides information to help you become prepared for a successful poster session.

Components of a Poster Session


Prior to the poster session, you should prepare and practice a 1-2 minute "elevator pitch" or "lightning talk" about your research project. In preparing for your presentation, think about how much information can reasonably be conveyed in 1-2 minutes. Since your poster already contains a lot of information, your presentation should aim to complement and highlight the information on the poster, not repeat it. Present information that provides context for the information on your poster, while following the organizational structure of the poster. 

One simple approach is to think about a unique experience or insight that adds a human element to your research. What makes your project interesting? How did you become involved in this work to begin with? A brief anecdote may be useful, and can serve as a way to catch people's attention and get them interested in learning more about your research.

In preparing your presentation, it's important to think about your anticipated audience. Are you presenting at a conference likely to be attended by specialists in your field, or are you presenting at a multidisciplinary event that will be attended by people with different backgrounds and levels of expertise? In either case, a good rule of thumb is to minimize your use of jargon or overly technical language, and this is particularly important for events that will draw a more general audience. Try practicing your presentation for a friend who doesn't have any background in your area of research. If they find your presentation difficult to follow, this is a good indicator that you should work on simplifying your language to make the information more accessible. 

Finally, think about what sorts of questions people may have for you. If you are able to practice in front of someone, encourage them to ask you questions about your research. And don't worry if you don't know the answer to someone's question. Thank them for your question, and offer to the follow up with them later after you've had some time to think it over. 



While your presentation is arguably the most important element of a poster presentation, the poster itself is generally what catches people's attention. This portion of the guide discusses the role that your poster plays in presenting your research. For information about formatting and designing your poster, see the Designing Your Poster page

The role of the poster is to provide a visual outline of your research project. It should not aim to represent the project in full detail. It may be helpful to think of your poster as a highlight reel of your research project. It is important to strike a balance between including enough information so that the poster is informative, while avoiding including too much information as this can make your poster difficult for people to take in, or create information overload. Aim to strike a balance between text and visuals. The question of what types of visuals are appropriate will depend on the details of your project, but some possibilities are data visualizations (e.g. charts or graphs) or photographs. 

The best approach may be to think of your poster as a visual aid for your presentation. So in preparing your poster, consider what you can cover in your presentation, and how this might be enhanced by visual material that you can include on the poster. What might it be useful to refer to on your poster in the course of giving your presentation? Visuals are especially useful when they can convey information that is difficult to express with text alone. 



The final component of a successful poster presentation is a handout. While handouts are generally not required, they can be beneficial for a number of reasons. First, they provide you with more space with which you can convey additional information, information that may be important to convey, but not quite important enough to include on your poster. Handouts also serve as a way to help attendees remember you (so be sure to include your name and contact information!). 

In most cases you should limit your handout to a single sheet of paper which can contain information on both sides. On one side, consider including an image fo the poster. This will help attendees associate the handout with their interactions with you during the session. Color printing can be expensive, so it's alright to use a black and white image of the poster so long as it's clear and legible. You can always include a URL to a full color image of the poster online. In addition to supplementary information, you can use the handout to list URLs for your website, or any place online where people can learn more about your research.