How to make a good conference poster

After seeing some of the posters here at EGU I decided that a little guide on poster creation might be good. I remember that last year I was disappointed as well, so if only one person reads this before next years conference and it helped them to improve their poster a bit I’d be very happy! I am going to show some posters from the EGU. I want to emphasise that criticism is only directed at the layout of the posters and by no means at the science behind the posters or the authors! If you find your poster here and want it removed let me know.

What are posters for

Posters, or poster presentations, are a way to communicate you research to fellow scientists (and in some cases the public as well). Ideally, the communication should go both ways, your poster and you reach out to the viewer and transfer your ideas to him/her while he/her then can feed you his/her thoughts about your research. To improve the chances for a good communication your poster has to be attractive to the by-walker because what does it help if you have the best ideas in world but no one to discuss them with? The point behind posters is to get your key points across and then start a discussion. The key point is: Few key points. It can be really hard if you spent three years of time researching a certain phenomena and now you want to show off all your good work to limit yourself to 3-4 key points. But please do! And if those points cover very different areas, limit yourself to 1-2. Your poster will have much more impact if people remember 1 or 2 key points afterwards than if they leave with confused thoughts about 5+ ideas that were somehow related to your work! Posters are also great to start a discussion about some research that is not finished yet and that might need some more input/ideas. Make sure you got something to write down ideas that come up during discussions!

What are posters not for

So many times I have seen how people put a paper on a poster. Literally, I have seen printed out papers than then covered the space a wonderful poster should have covered. A poster is NO scientific paper. Just noooo (sorry, but everytime I see such a felony I die a little bit inside 😦 ). The same is true for theses. There is no way you can adequately put a thesis (which often consists of work worth several papers..) onto a poster. Pick out the key points of a paper and think of how you can present them in a poster format.

A poster that could be improved at the EGU.

A poster that could be improved at the EGU.

Layout

Layout, or the way a poster looks, is something that is very dear to me. So dear, that I actually design the layout of my posters before I think about any content. You do not have to go that far. But please, pretty please, have a good thought about how you want your poster to look like. The goal of your poster is to attract people so you can share your research. Attract. That is the key word. Kind to the eye, dragging people in because they want to know more, maybe even daring,provoking. But not dull, hard to read, grey. I think geoscientists have no excuse to make boring posters. They have so many possibilities to create amazing images for all the research they do. Even theoretical geophysics can have good images! But enough theoretical stuff, how do we actually create a good layout?

  1. Check what size your poster can be. This varies from conference to conference, often A0 is a standard size, but if you can make a bigger poster, why wouldn’t you?
  2. Decide if you want to do a landscape or a portrait oriented poster. Landscape is the preferred orientation and most conferences have poster boards that are in landscape orientation. It has also been proven that landscape images are better processed by the human eye. But if you want to do portrait, do portrait (but have a good reason for it!)
  3. Take a piece of paper, if possible as big as the actual poster size, and use two or three coloured pens to design your poster by hand. You probably want to do several versions before you decide which one you want to make. Do not skip this step! Going directly to a digital working environment makes you lose a lot of imagination. The best people in advertisement (and that is what you are doing here…) always draft the first versions by hand.
  4. Once you know how your poster should look like use a software to make it. A common choice is PowerPoint but many people prefer to use a Vector Graphics editor like Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw.
  5. Ratio of text:images:empty_space should be somewhere around 1:1:0.4, or in other words 40% graphics, 40% text and 20% space. Less text is more!
  6. Fonts: use the same fonts throughout your poster, use double spacing (!!) and make sure you can read the text from 1.5 meters away:

    Title:                       96pt
    Sub headings:        40pt                

    Text:                       24pt (at least)

  7. Put a picture of yourself on the poster. People will find it easier to identify you.
  8. It’s great if the distance between boxes (if you want to use boxes) is the same everywhere on the poster. And if the boxes are all similar in shape.
  9. If you decide to colour your background use a pastel shade.
  10. In general, avoid using to many colours. But at the same time use colours! Bear in mind that quite a few people are colour-blind so use colours accordingly, both in your graphs and on your poster.
  11. Put captions to your graphics and reference your graphics in the text.

Content

Now obviously the content of each poster will differ (dramatically). But there are some things that can make a difference:

  1. Get your audience hooked in, visual and verbal. Great for this are questions as a title (see below) and good graphics. Like maps. Everyone loves maps! 
  2. Tell a story! Make sure that everything from introduction to conclusions follows a clear idea. This also means that you need to focus on main findings (as outlined above).
  3. A good headline makes all the difference. This means, short, not very technical and exciting. A title phrased as a question will hook people in, but make sure you actually answer the question.
  4. Hook people with your introduction: Short, about 120 words, no jargon and try to explain what you do by answering Why, Where, When, Who, What and How you are doing. Be interesting and bold, most people will read your introduction and, if you are lucky, your conclusions.
  5. Put contact information on your poster!
  6. If you are one of those people who are very modern you might want to put a QR code on your poster that links to a downloadable version of your poster! Very fancy.
  7. Make sure that images/graphics you put on your poster have the right resolution! This is important for printing later on as well (see last paragraph of the post).

Some DON’Ts

This is something sadly too common. Instead of a poster the author puts up a paper. If you get a poster presentation, please make a poster!

This is something sadly too common. Instead of a poster the author puts up a paper. If you get a poster presentation, please make a poster!

This is also not a poster, but more a power point presentation printed out. Not too uncommon either.

This is also not a poster, but more a power point presentation printed out. Not too uncommon either.

This poster has some good elements, I especially love the title! The numbered subheadings and boxes are ok, but some graphics are very much needed. References should not be numbered as 5. and should be a smaller font size.

This poster has some good elements, I especially love the title! The numbered subheadings and boxes are ok, but some graphics are very much needed. References should not be numbered as 5. and should be a smaller font size. Acknowledgements should be unnumbered and spelled right in the days of spell-checkers.

Most data that can be presented in (long) tables can be also shown is beautiful graphs! One or two short tables are ok, but this is a bit too much I think.

Most data that can be presented in (long) tables can be also shown is beautiful graphs! One or two short tables are ok, but this is a bit too much I think.

This poster has all the things a good poster needs. Figures with colours, not too much text and a good "story". Yet, it somehow doesn't make me happy. The text size could be a bit bigger but the main issue is the long boxes. Try to make text boxes not wider than half (better a third) of the total poster width! Also the conclusions box seems to be squeezed into that corner.

This poster has all the things a good poster needs. Figures with colours, not too much text and a good “story”. Yet, it somehow doesn’t make me happy. The text size could be a bit bigger but the main issue is the long boxes. Try to make text boxes not wider than half (better a third) of the total poster width! Also the conclusions box seems to be squeezed into that corner.

Some DOs

This is a good poster! The only things I can nag about are (1) the long introduction and (2) a missing photo of the author.

This is a good poster! The only things I can nag about are (1) the long introduction and (2) a missing photo of the author. But it has maps! So cool.

This is generally a good poster, but some bits could be improved: (1) A hooking title, (2) The spacing of the text seems to be different in the conclusion box from the rest of the poster, (3)  there is a little too much going on here, sometimes less is more!

This is generally a good poster, but some bits could be improved: (1) A hooking title, (2) The spacing of the text seems to be different in the conclusion box from the rest of the poster, (3) there is a little too much going on here, sometimes less is more!

This is a very clear poster, thanks to a lot of space! Two things I could  criticize were (1) the title seems kinda boring compared to the poster above that also does b-values, and (2) the bullet points in 3. Methods seem kind of lost (and/or have different spacings).  But there is a picture of the handsome author!

This is a very clear poster, thanks to a lot of space! Two things I could criticize were (1) the title seems kinda boring compared to the poster above that also does b-values, and (2) the bullet points in 3. Methods seem kind of lost (and/or have different spacings). But there is a picture of the handsome author!

 

On printing

No matter how you created your poster (Powerpoint, Illustrator/Corel Draw or even Word (please don’t use Word!) or LaTeX (ah, then you don’t need to read this, you should know what you are doing anyways!) at one point you are satisfied with your poster and want to print it. Hopefully your made sure that the page size on which you created your poster on was already set accordingly to the size you want to print it (e.g. A0). If you didn’t it can be quite hard to get the right quality later on! Most printing facilities prefer to get a PDF instead of a .pptx or .cdr or .whatever file. Use a free software like PDFcreator to create a PDF from your file. When setting the printer options to PDFcreator you can select a printing quality. While 300dpi in general are good enough, 600dpi will assure that, given that you implemented only good quality figures, your poster will look perfect! Many universities offer poster printing services to fair prices. However, sometimes you have to travel for a long while/far with your poster and you might want to think about printing your poster at conference city. Many big conferences offer poster printing services but they tend to be very overpriced. A little search on the web can help you to find a cheaper alternative to the conference services.

That’s it for now, I hope you enjoyed this post. If you think I missed something crucial or I am wrong please let me know!

 

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