10 reasons your poster
will impress and amaze
at the annual meeting

After months or years of working on your research project, you now have an opportunity to present your project to the scientific community. Although you may be nervous about sharing your results with a larger audience, once you have completed the experiments, there are only a few extra steps needed to make your presentation a success.

    1. You thought about your audience: Although you may have been working on your project for some time, the audience for your poster presentation may not be as familiar with the subject matter or your scientific question. Therefore, when preparing your poster and your presentation, it is important that you think about your research from an outsider’s perspective. Will somebody who doesn’t know your research be able to follow the logic of your experiments and your conclusions?

    2. You thought about your project as a connected set of experiments: All posters should tell a story, and your goal is for the audience to follow your story from beginning to end. In this story, the audience needs to understand your scientific question, your experimental results and how your results contribute to our understanding of your scientific field. This means that your introduction should set up the question, your results should help answer the question through a logical set of experiments, and your conclusion should tie in to both the original hypothesis and the experimental results.

    3. Your figures were easy to see and understand: Given that a poster presentation is largely a visual medium, your figures should be a major focus in the presentation. While you might be tempted to include as much information as possible in the figure, the results should be clear and easily visible. Each figure should be properly labeled (each axis in a graph, for example), and the figures should be sufficiently large to be seen from three to five feet away. Appropriate controls and the reason for these controls should also be clear to the audience.

    4. You made good use of white space: Although you want your poster to be comprehensive, some basic use of blank space will help make your poster clearer, and therefore more informative, to the audience. Looking at a poster from three to five feet away, can the audience easily follow the project? By providing some space between figures and text, you can highlight certain aspects of the poster instead of having everything blend together.

    5. You kept text to a minimum: A little goes a long way. A picture is worth a thousand words. Less is more. You can pick your saying, but the conclusion is the same. Use words sparingly. Most individuals who view your poster will do so for seconds or minutes. Clear visuals (useful images and clear headings) will help people follow your poster and give them an opportunity to analyze the results and think about the significance of your experiments. Adding text only as necessary will help the audience follow the poster more easily, resulting in more useful feedback.

    6. The text you did use was easily visible: Although you will be working on your poster up close, the audience likely will be three to five feet away. At this distance, the title and the headings should be legible. Also, remember to stay away from fonts that may seem stylish but that are difficult to read from a distance.

    7. Your presentation was clear and concise: You may have 10 minutes or less to present your entire poster to your audience (usually an individual). This means that you will need to explain all of your information in a relatively short amount of time, and you need to decide which aspects of the project are the most critical for the audience member to hear to understand your project. I usually ask my students to be able to summarize their projects in 30 seconds, five minutes and 10 minutes. In this way, they can gauge the interest and knowledge of the individual listening to the poster and then provide the appropriate level of information.

    8. You used your poster strategically during your presentation: While giving your presentation, remember to speak calmly and refer frequently to your poster. While the audience should be able to follow your poster without your assistance, your presentation can walk people through the key aspects of the project and explain the reasoning behind the experiments you performed and your view of the results.

    9. You were ready for questions: Students often fear a question that they cannot answer. There are three things that will help you through this section. First, you probably know more than you think. Remember, you have been working on this project for some time, and you have been studying this material more than most. Second, it is OK to say that you don’t know. While you may feel that you should know everything about your project, part of the reason you are presenting is to get feedback. Any questions that you cannot answer will help you better understand your project and may help direct your research in the future. Finally, remember that scientists like to ask questions almost as much as they like to answer them. Therefore, think of these questions not so much as a test but as a discussion between two scientists interested in the same question. What is cooler than that?

    10. You enjoyed yourself: You spent a great deal of time getting these results, and while you may be nervous about presenting your research to other scientists, you should let your enthusiasm for your project and the experience show. Although most of my students have been nervous before presenting, all were excited about getting the opportunity to discuss their projects, and they all had great experiences.

    Photo of Quinn Vega Quinn Vega is a professor of biology and molecular biology at Montclair State University.