How to Do an Innovative Presentation at a Poster Session

By Ray Anthony, Barbara Boyd

Unless you’re involved in medical, scientific, or other types of research, you haven’t heard of poster sessions, let alone how to have an innovative presentation here. Also called a poster presentation, a poster session is a systematic way to present research information at a professional or academic conference.

Typically an area of an exhibition hall is dedicated for the poster session where researchers describe, explain, and justify their research using large, detailed posters. Conference attendees walk around, glance at posters, and socialize. The researchers stand by their posters to discuss their research with anyone interested in it.

A medical or scientific poster is essentially a journal article translated into graphic form by minimizing text sections, presenting key findings as bullet points, and including graphic elements to illustrate key research points.

Creating an effective poster can be challenging because you may have to squeeze results from a whole year’s worth of research onto a 3-x-5-foot sheet of glossy photo paper printed from a wide-format printer. The poster has to succinctly and clearly convey what may be a complex and comprehensive topic.

The tricky part is determining what information is most meaningful and impactful. Depict too much and it may confuse or overwhelm the viewer; depict too little and people may not appreciate the research’s value, urgency, and impact. Just like visuals in a business presentation!

If your clients are in the scientific or medical profession, you may have to make a poster presentation at some point; and two, poster session tactics are valid for business presentations. Consider the following:

  • Everything on one visual: A poster is usually a single PowerPoint slide or visual (from Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator) developed into a large-format paper visual that contains numerous key headings, text boxes, and graphic objects. The benefit is you don’t have to sequence through slides or any other visuals.

    Everything of an important and relevant nature should be on that poster. Here is a version of a smaller poster-type visual to use with one to four people as a presentation aid. As you can see the entire presentation is on one foam core poster, so the presenter can randomly talk and answer questions about any item on the visual.

    The poster format forces you to think almost excruciatingly about what to put in; what to leave out; how much should be text; what should be illustrations, photos, diagrams, or charts, and much more. The goal is to say and show a lot using the fewest words and graphics. The same should apply to business presentations.

    [Credit: Photograph courtesy of Ray Anthony]
    Credit: Photograph courtesy of Ray Anthony
  • Order and flow: A researcher at a poster session has scant minutes to cover results that have taken perhaps years to complete. He has to tell a story his listeners can quickly and easily follow. Laying out the string of information and key points in a logical order is critical. The same should apply to business presentations.

  • Getting it: Too many visuals make a poster too busy, too disjointed, too indecipherable. Consummate designers create posters so that viewers can quickly comprehend what the research is about as they walk by. Great visuals are self-evident, self-explanatory, and speak for themselves. The same should apply to business presentations.

  • Focus and proof: The key to crafting a good poster is to focus as precisely and sharply as possible on the central ideas you want to convey. The same should apply to business presentations.

Taking a cue from poster sessions, presenters who discuss projects, strategies, plans, processes, or technologies might want to create that big visual (for example 4-x-6 feet) that tells the whole story on it. With a large visual to accompany your electronic presentation, you can refer to it as long as your group can see it.

In addition, you can use a miniature version of your large board to create a valuable laminated handout using the front and back for graphics along with detailed text for descriptions, explanations, and examples. Consider using a horizontal format to print your project summary on an 11-x-17-inch sheet of paper.