How to Crush Your First Poster Presentation

This past November I had the opportunity to present at the poster session at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) Conference in Toronto. When I received the email saying that I was accepted to present, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase our research to planning researchers and professionals from all over the world. With this being my very first poster presentation, I was nervous and unsure of where to start. I spent a lot of time scouring the internet for resources and hoping to find a tell all on how to make the best research poster possible. While there were a lot of great resources out there, I found they did not always apply to my type of research and the setting in which I was presenting. In this blog post, I will be sharing some tips that I found useful and that will help you crush your first poster presentation.

Preparing the Poster

  1. Know the requirements for your poster. The first step in designing a poster is understanding the poster requirements (size, orientation, content, etc.). In my case, this information was available on the conference website. Otherwise, you could email a representative from the organization to confirm the requirements prior to starting your poster.  
  2. Decide what story you want to tell and how you are going to tell it. Now that you understand the poster requirements, you must determine what information you want to include on your poster. Tip: keep the writing concise. A picture is worth a thousand words.
  3. Consider the software and applications you have available to you. You will need to make a decision regarding which software or application you intend on using to design your poster (e.g., PowerPoint, Canva, Adobe InDesign, etc.). When making this decision, you should take into account how much time you have to allocate to poster design. Should you use a program you are familiar with, or do you have time to learn something new? If you choose to learn something new, be sure to watch different tutorials and explore the software to determine what works best for you.
  4. Search for inspiration! Take some time to look at other academic posters that appeal to you to get inspired. You can create similar designs or search for templates to jumpstart the process. If your research is part of a specific project, consider using designs and colour schemes from past presentations to establish a more uniform and recognizable look.
  5. Get creative and do not be scared to change things up. Spend time playing around with different designs and layouts until you find something you are happy with. Some useful design tips to consider: (1) Ensure the font is clear and large enough that it can be read from six to ten feet away; (2) Select unobtrusive/neutral backgrounds that do not distract from the text and images in the poster; (3) Use images, colours, and other design elements to separate different sections of the poster
  6. Seek feedback. Ask your friends, family, and professor to look over your poster and provide you with some feedback. Having additional sets of eyes is incredibly helpful and they may notice things you did not. It is better to find mistakes now than to have someone point them out when you are presenting!
  7. Consider your options for printing. When researching different printing options, make sure to consider costs, turn around time, and poster finish. After seeing all the posters at ACSP, I came to the conclusion that a glossy finish looks much nicer than a matte finish. Do with that information what you will.

Presenting the Poster

  • Have a catchy pitch. Anyone can come up and read your poster, so you do not need to recite everything you have written. Think about how you can draw someone in to talk about your research in a more conversational manner. Tip: practice this beforehand! For me, I practiced with friends and family and even with other poster presenters in between presenting. This will help you build confidence and really master that pitch.
  • Take initiative. Do your best to start the conversation. Make eye contact, smile, and if they come closer, introduce yourself (be sure to exchange names and affiliations and shake hands if they are comfortable doing so). You can ask them if they would like you to walk them through your poster and if yes, it is your time to shine! If you need an idea of how to start your pitch, you could always ask “are you familiar with this field of research?” and carry on the conversation from there.
  • Present your research chronologically. You should discuss topics in the order in which they appear on the poster. Start with an introduction to your research and proceed chronologically through the remaining sections. This will provide the listener with a better understanding of your research topic/process.
  • Be prepared for questions. If you have followed these tips so far, chances are you have an awesome poster and people are going to want to talk about it. Allow time in between sections and at the end of the presentation for questions and feedback. Tip: bring a notebook to record any questions and feedback provided to improve your research moving forward.
  • Network. Poster sessions are about networking. You should take this time to make connections with people working in your field. Ensure you carrying business cards with you and if you make a connection, follow up with it after the event by sending an email, a message on LinkedIn, etc. Tip: attach some business cards to the poster for people to grab before/after the poster session when you may not be around to discuss your research in person.
  • Have fun! Most importantly, have fun. You have successfully made it through your first poster presentation, and you should be proud of yourself. So go have a good time at the event, you deserve it. Congratulations on crushing it.