How to create a great scientific poster
The scientific poster is one of the main, primary forms of presenting scientific results. It outlines a piece of research in its entire, condensed form, so it is like a large, detailed infographic: on a minimum surface of 90 x 120 cm, the scientific results are illustrated with diagrams, pictures and tables.
However, since it takes an average 8 seconds for conference participants to decide which poster to read next, you may ask: why is this method so popular? How to put together a good scientific poster? In this article, we’ll explain what a scientific poster is and give you some tips on how to make one!
Main features of scientific poster presentations
The scientific poster is in fact an established form of communication in the scientific world. At conferences, a representative of a particular discipline presents the results of his or her research in a poster – with minimal text, but rather with an eye-catching title and summary, topic specific images and diagrams. The target audience is usually familiar with the discipline, so those with a deeper interest in the research can get more information, most often in a leaflet, pdf or a business card with a website.
Most people prefer the poster as a presentation method because the images and diagrams on the large surface are incredibly spectacular and therefore can be really convincing. It is not just that it is easy to achieve its purpose, which is to present a piece of research in a concise and eye-catching way: the format itself is much less constrained than, for example, a frontal presentation. Photographs and colour diagrams mean that our research material needs far less explanation than if we would only take notes for our audience.
On the other hand, a poster can be used for informal discussions, questions and feedback – since, unlike a time-limited PowerPoint presentation, there is usually no strict order of speakers. The method is therefore not the last resort in terms of time usage. Some researches (e.g. in science or medicine) can be much more accessible and understandable through pictures and diagrams than by long, text-based theses.
But a scientific poster will only serve its purpose well – of course – if our audience becomes interested in our research. But what if the conference room, where your poster will be displayed is huge – so you have to “compete” with many posters? In this case, measuring your success in terms of how many people stopped to talk to you might be unrealistic, and also unnecessarily questioning your work’s worth. It is more important how many people contacted you afterwards, even days later. In other words, how much substantive feedback have you received after the flyers or business cards you took – whether in the form of online enquiries or even phone calls.
Criteria for a scientific poster
Now that you know how useful and informative a poster presentation could be, you may have thought about planning your next conference participation in this format. If you’re thinking about it, there are four important things to consider when designing your poster:
1. Shape and size requirements
For most conference websites, the formal requirements are clearly defined by the programme committee. In general, however, poster margins are requested to be 2.5 cm in most places (bottom, top and on both sides), and titles are reduced in font size from top to bottom. In many places, authors are asked to include their academic degrees and titles – as well as their place of work – in the presentation.
The size of the poster is also variable: some expect a 70×100 cm surface, but others stick to the standard 90×120 cm poster. The size of the poster changes according to the conference, but the most common size is A0 (841 x 1189 mm). Orientation of posters are usually portrait but in some cases one can meet with landscape orientation as well.
2. Style and visual expectations
Here, on the one hand, we should strive for the earlier mentioned conciseness – both in terms of the amount of data and the words. On the other hand, depending on whether the research is theoretical or empirical, the poster should be divided into the following visually distinct units:
a. theoretical research
1. Title, including authors and contact details, and, if available, the name of the grant won for the research
2. The actuality of the problem, relevance and literature
3. The author’s position on the issue
4. Arguments in favour of the author
5. The problem’s relations with other sciences, relevance assessment
6. Conclusions, bibliography and discussion
b. experimental (empirical) research
1. As for the theoretical part (title, including authors and contact details and, if available, the name of the grant won for the research)
2. The theoretical background of the research
3. The questions of the study, the researcher’s hypothesis
4. Research methods
5. The results
6. Also the same as for the theory (conclusions, bibliography and discussion)
3. The content
In addition to the elements already listed (authors’ names, titles, title of the poster, etc.), the most important elements of the poster are:
⮚ Introduction: the aims of the paper, the relevance and importance of the material – this is where the reader decides whether he or she is interested in the paper!
⮚ Database(s) and methods used
⮚ Results: as this is what most people want to see (so the first thing they look at), if the topic is easy to illustrate, do it as much as possible with pictures, diagrams and graphs, and less with text! However, it is also important to make sure that the presentation is not dominated by any topic more than it is necessary for the presentation.
⮚ Bibliography, acknowledgements
6 tips for preparing and presenting your scientific poster
1. Key elements of the poster
In Anglo-Saxon areas, the so-called “5W rule” is used to design the main parts of posters: who, what, when, where and why. If your research gives your audience clear and obvious answers to these five questions, you are one step closer to a successful presentation!
2. Should we make it or have it made?
Both versions have their advantages and disadvantages. If you do it yourself, you become more in control of the material during the planning process: you can see it also literally, so your presentation can be more confident and focused. However, getting the right paper or good quality images and diagrams at the right resolution is not cheap, and it takes time.
If you hire professionals to create your poster (i.e. graphic designers for the visuals, technical writers for the copy), your poster will definitely have a flawless image, outstanding from the crowd and you won’t have to spend time on it. The only drawback of this method is that you have to “learn” to present all the illustrations authentically.
3. Watch out: the content of the poster
The perfect poster is a well-functioning machine: a perfect blend of content, title, graphics, colours, fonts and look. But because we are talking about a harmonic whole, it will immediately be noticeable to the audience if even one element is out of context. That’s why it’s important to avoid too long texts and fonts that blend in with the background and blurred images!
4. Get ready for the questions!
At conferences, it is common for posters to be organised by topic, with 5-20 in each session. These usually last 60-80 minutes and are led by a guest chair. However, before and after a few minutes of presentations by the authors, there is also an opportunity for an informal exchange of views between the audience and the researchers – think about what you would like to ask yourself before the presentation and be prepared with answers!
5. Use your time wisely!
A poster can be presented in even 3-5 minutes – and it’s easier than you think! The trick is not to talk about the research itself and its components, but from the poster specifically: what parts of it are the most important, why, and where people can find it.
6. Win your audience – with a single sentence!
It is not enough to impress your audience with your words and your presence. You will also need them to be impressed by someone else: themselves.
What does it mean? Just to make them think: “wow, I thought of that, but for some reason I never thought of it all the way through!”. So put the message of your research in everyday language, but from an unusual perspective – in just one sentence. With this trick you will achieve your goal: your audience will think about what you have said after the presentation. And in their eyes, you become a genius for having so cleverly drawn their attention to a “simple” correlation!
You didn’t misread: the poster conference is a very real concept, and has been since the 1970s. And the first posters, on which it is based, were first made by Martin Luther in the 16th century, with Lucas Cranach, sr. Although the above may make it seem complicated to create a poster, don’t be fooled by appearances! In fact, just think about the reasons why you click on a post on Facebook: people will click on your poster for surprisingly similar reasons. So your work will fulfill its function: it informs about your own research and promotes it at the same time, increasing your prestige.
To sum up everything about the posters: if you avoid too much text and explain not the research itself, but your illustrations and pictures, you will not fail to succeed! You can draw inspiration from our tips above and confidence from using them.
However, organising a conference – whether it is online, a live or a poster conference – is a complex job that requires professional implementation. At AKCongress, our mission is to make your event a success: whatever the type of conference, you can count on us! We are at our clients’ service with the most modern equipment and a professional team.
Photo: Daniel Végel