Poster papers, which PNSQC is designating as concept papers going forward, are just that: A concept that you bring to life in a compact, visual format that encourages informal discussion, debate and exchange of ideas, in a relaxed atmosphere of peer engagement and review.
In other words, the poster/concept paper is a snapshot into the presenter’s mind that can be savored and digested along with the appetizers and beverages located conveniently nearby. Ideas for poster/concept papers should be submitted to CMT (see author instructions for details). Submit a Poster Paper and attend the technical program for half price. Check out the blog post “Concept Papers – Simple Rules for a Good Presentation” and plan to attend the technical program for half price.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, we found a set of guidelines for creating a successful poster/concept paper written in 2007 by authors Thomas C. Erren and Philip E. Bourne for the journal PLOS Computational Biology. Because it is an open-access article, we are using it as our template, although we are revising it for space and clarity and, frankly, the passage of eight years. Following are Erren and Bourne’s “Simple Rules for a Good Poster Presentation,” as revised.
Rule 1: Define the Purpose
Is your paper a one-shot deal, a single step in a longer process, or a presentation you’ll use repeatedly? That’s the first question you should ask. Then ask yourself the following follow-up questions:
What do you want the person passing by your poster to do? Engage in a discussion about the content? Learn enough to go off and want to try something for themselves? Want to collaborate? All the above, or none of the above but something else?
Once you have answered these questions, you’re ready to begin.
Rule 2: Sell Your Work in Ten Seconds
First impressions matter, and Erren and Bourne recommended giving yourself 10 second to sell your concept to whoever’s wandering by. They suggest posing your work in the form of a decisive question, which you then address as best you can. Example: “Can you rearrange your team’s workflow to achieve a 50 percent increase in output?” “Yes, you can, if you adopt the following process.” Once you have posed the question, the focus of your poster should be on addressing that question in a clear and concise way. And remember to have visuals, even if they are a bit rudimentary. People are drawn to visuals.
Rule 3: The Title Is Important
The title is a good way to sell your work. It may be the only thing the conference attendee sees before they reach your poster. The title should make them want to come and visit. The title might pose a decisive question, define the scope of the study, or hint at a new finding. Above all, the title should be short and comprehensible to a broad audience. The title is your equivalent of a newspaper headline—short, sharp, and compelling.
Rule 4: Many of the Rules for Writing a Good Paper Apply to Posters, Too
Identify your audience and provide the appropriate scope and depth of content. If the conference includes nonspecialists, cater to them. Just as the abstract of a paper needs to be a succinct summary of the motivation, hypothesis to be tested, major results, and conclusions, so does your poster. The advantage of the poster/concept paper over the technical paper is that you can stand there and enthusiastically promote it!
Rule 5: Good Posters Have Unique Features Not Pertinent to Papers
The beauty of the poster/concept paper is its basic simplicity and flexible nature. It is a distillation of your work, one that retains the most important elements while dispensing with the annoying details that actually prove your point. Posters can be speculative; you’re hoping to get immediate feedback and then more feedback later from those who take an interest. Posters are visual, allowing you to experiment with images. They can be a way station for handouts to further distribute your ideas. And you never know where a discussion with just the right person will lead you. Think of it as speed-dating on a highly intellectual plane, with all the potential and none of the heartache of the dating scene.
Rule 6: Layout and Format Are Critical
There’s no page turning involved in absorbing a poster/concept presentation, so offer your visitors a bit of eye candy and freedom to romp about your canvas. Guide the reader with arrows, numbering, or whatever symbols and images make sense in getting them to move from one logical step to another. Try to do this guiding in an unusual and eye-catching way. Look for appropriate layouts in the posters of others and adopt some of their approaches. Finally, never use less than a size 24 point font, and make sure the main points can be read at eye level.
Rule 7: Content Is Important, but Keep It Concise
Everything on the poster should help convey the message. The text must conform to the norms of sound scientific reporting: clarity, precision of expression, and economy of words. The latter is particularly important for posters because of their inherent space limitations. Use of first-rate pictorial material to illustrate a poster can sometimes transform what would otherwise be a bewildering mass of complex data into a coherent and convincing story. One carefully produced chart or graph often says more than hundreds of words. And don’t be bound by technical paper tradition. Allow a figure to be viewed in both a superficial and a detailed way. For example, a large table might have bold swaths of color indicating relative contributions from different categories, and the smaller text in the table would provide gritty details for those who want them. Likewise, a graph could provide a bold trend line (with its interpretation clearly and concisely stated), and also have many detailed points with error bars. Have a clear and obvious set of conclusions—after the abstract, this is where the passerby’s eyes will wander. Only then will they go to the results, followed by the methods.
Rule 9: Posters Should Have Your Personality
A poster is a different medium from a paper, which is conventionally dry and impersonal. Think of your poster as an extension of your personality. Use it to draw the passerby to take a closer look or to want to talk to you. Scientific collaboration often starts for reasons other than the shared scientific interest, such as a personal interest. A photo of you on the poster not only helps someone find you at the conference when you are not at the poster, it can also be used to illustrate a hobby or an interest that can open a conversation.
Rule 9: The Impact of a Poster Happens Both During and After the Poster Session
When the considerable effort of making a poster is done, do not blow it on presentation day by failing to have the poster achieve maximum impact. This requires the right presenter–audience interaction. Work to get a crowd by being engaging; one engaged viewer will attract others. Don’t badger people, let them read. Be ready with Rule 2. Work all the audience at once, do not leave visitors waiting for your attention. Make eye contact with every visitor.
Make it easy for a conference attendee to contact you afterward. Have copies of relevant papers on hand as well as copies of the poster on standard-sized paper. For work that is more mature, have the poster online and make the URL available as a handout. Have your e-mail and other demographics clearly displayed. Follow up with people who come to the poster by having a signup sheet.
The visitor is more likely to remember you than the content of your poster. Make yourself easy to remember. As the host of the work presented on the poster, be attentive, open, and curious, and self-confident but never arrogant and aggressive. Leave the visitors space and time—they can “travel” through your poster at their own discretion and pace. If a visitor asks a question, talk simply and openly about the work. This is likely your opportunity to get feedback on the work before it goes to publication. Better to be tripped up in front of your poster than by a reviewer of the manuscript.