Poster Presentations: How to Plan and Display Your Best Research

January 5, 2015 at 12:12 am


Angela Wang, MD

By Angela C. Wang, MD

Poster presentations are the workhorses of the research world. They are an efficient way to present a large and varied amount of data and ideas to a big audience during meetings such as the ATS International Conference. A well-designed poster can be an powerful networking tool and stimulate invigorating discussions that can provide unexpected insights. In contrast, a poorly designed poster filled with difficult-to-read text and figures not only discourages audience participation but also reflects poorly on the presenter.

The following tips and guidelines will help you plan a well-designed poster presentation that will have you better positioned for success during your next meeting.

Determine the Poster Size

As you start thinking about your poster presentation, remember that a good poster is readable (from 6-10 feet away), legible, well organized, and concise. This will largely depend on where you’re presenting your poster. ATS 2015 International Conference guidelines provide the following:

  • Standard board surface: 8’w x 4’h (2.44m w x 1.22m h)
  • Recommended poster sizes:

o      48″w x 36″h (122cm w x 91cm h)

o      60″w x 36″h (152cm w x 91 cm h)

o      72″w x 36″h (183cm w x 91 cm h)

Start Early, Choose Content Wisely

Don’t wait until the last minute to put your poster together. Even with the best plans, something always goes wrong. Last-minute changes are stressful, and express printing is usually expensive.

After you’ve determined the dimensions, you’ll notice that you have a very limited area with which to work. In deciding what to include (and leave out!) in your poster, you need to establish a clear take-home message from the start. Ask yourself what you hope to achieve through the poster:

  • Announcing a new discovery?
  • Selling an idea?
  • Convincing people that one product or technique is better than another?

Consider your target audience. Are they people familiar with your area? What is the level of their knowledge of your subject area? Answering these questions will help you determine the level of detail you must include in your poster.

poster presentation

ATS 2014 San Diego attendees discuss new research.

What Your Poster Must Include

  • Abstract. The whole story in a nutshell. Don’t go over one page. Reread the abstract that you originally submitted. It should be informative, and it can be speculative, but it must be correct! Consider placing it to the side of the title to save space.
  • Title. Big and short. Use at least 90 pt. font size. ATS IC guidelines suggest that the lettering should be 1 ½” 93.81 cm) high. People will be breezing by your poster—to catch their eyes, the title needs to be easily read from at least 10 feet. Try posing a question. Question marks are attention-grabbing. Include the authors and their affiliations (in much smaller font).
  • For the rest of the poster, headings should be 30-60 pt., and your text should be at least 18-24 pt.
  • Introduction. Spell out the significance for the reader. Why did you do the study? Why should anyone stop and read it? Has someone else done the work before?
  • Aims. Use concise, declarative bullets. Long lines of text are wearisome to read.
  • Materials and methods. Briefly explain the experimental techniques used, and state—and justify—any assumptions you made before proceeding with the study.
  • Results/figures. Figures and graphs should be easily identified and largely self-explanatory. Try labeling data lines directly to avoid laborious. Use text judiciously to supplement the figures as needed. Lines must be thicker than usual in order to be easily visualized. Figures and text should be easily read from 5 feet. Avoid too many colors, clutter; plan on no more than four to six figures on a standard 4′ x 8′ board.
  • Summary/conclusion. Again, bullets are easy to read and focus the reader’s thoughts. Include no more than three take-home messages.
  • Speculation/future directions. Include this section only if you have room.

Review, Revise, Proofread

Once you’ve completed the first draft of your poster, ATS International Conference Poster Guidelines recommend that you ask yourself six questions:

  1. What do I want the viewer to remember?
  2. Is the message clear?
  3. Do important points stand out?
  4. Is there a balance between words and illustrations?
  5. Is the pathway through the poster clear?
  6. Is the poster understandable without oral explanation?

Poster Etiquette During Presentations

Dress professionally and wear your nametag. Engage viewers by offering to give a short synopsis and answering any questions. Afterward, let them read the poster without interruption, while staying alert. Don’t get so involved with one person that you ignore others who might also want to discuss your research. Don’t be intimidated—if you don’t know the answer to a question, this could be the perfect opportunity to ask them what they think.

Angela Wang, MD, is a specialist in pulmonary disease and critical care medicine at Scripps Clinic Medical Group in La Jolla, CA. The article above is an updated excerpt from the Career Talk Series initiated by the ATS Women’s Mentoring Program.


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