ASHG Poster
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Vaillancourt

Getting the most out of your ASHG 2018 poster presentation!
-Kathryn Vaillancourt

It's that time of year again, when #ASHGTrainees have received their acceptance emails to present their research at the ASHG Annual Meeting, and PowerPoint slides all over the globe are scaled to thirty-four by forty-four inches. A poster presentation can be a great way to get feedback on your research and build meaningful connections with other researchers, but whether this year's meeting will be your first or you're a poster hall veteran, the sheer number of posters presented at ASHG can be intimidating. Luckily, you're not alone and there are a ton of resources available to help you get the most out of your poster session. Over the years, I've kept an eye out for journal articles and blogs on the topic, and I've put together some basic tips and tricks to help your poster stand out.

It starts with design

Before you add text and figures, having a solid design will help your poster be both visually appealing and memorable. 

Like most conferences, ASHG has guidelines for the size and format of your poster. It might seem obvious, but it's important to check the rules before you start; there's nothing worse than having to reformat all of your work at the last minute.

Traditionally, academic posters are divided into columns with the flow of content moving from left to right. In fact, there are several websites that offer free poster templates (like PosterSessions.com). Don't be afraid to inject some personality into your poster with creative shapes and content, but keep your main message in mind.


Creative use of shapes. Credit: adic.info



Usually, the most vital information is within the results section. I've found that allocating two-thirds of my design space to results, and the remaining third to background, methods, conclusions, and acknowledgments has been the most impactful.


Poster template from PosterSessions.com, modified by Kathryn Vaillancourt, BSc.


You can also use color to emphasize your work, but be careful not to let too many colors or uncoordinated color choices detract from your results. Stick to two or three hues, and take a note from color theory to make sure they work well together (see below for examples; ColorBrewer or Paletton can help). Finally, make sure to leave plenty of white space on your poster to help direct the reader's attention, and consider avoiding color combinations that might exclude readers with color-blindness, such as red and green.


Credit: librariandesignshare.org



Examples of great color schemes for a poster:


Credit: gbttc.info




Credit: ed.buffalo.edu



Captivating and concise content

Now that you've decided on the design of your poster, it's time to add the most important part—your science! Although it can be tempting to include every detail, remember that a conference poster is very different than a research paper; it should act as a visual aid rather than a stand-alone manuscript. This means that you'll inevitably have to leave out some of your data, but it's better than having an overly cluttered and confusing message.

In my experience, the most effective posters follow the "3 x 3 rule", which means that a person should be able to read and understand it in three minutes, at three feet away. The best posters use flow diagrams or illustrations to illustrate major concepts, instead of lengthy paragraphs.  Of course, it's impossible to have a poster with no words at all, but try to use short, simple statements to keep your reader's attention.

Now that your results are front and center, there are just a few more details to consider before you send it off to print: 

  • Include your contact information on the poster for people who visit while you're not around.
  • When it comes to references, any more than five citations on a poster can quickly look cluttered.
  • On the other hand, it's important to acknowledge all your funding sources and supporting institutions on your poster, either by name or with logos. 
  • An interesting idea to consider is including a comment section to help keep track of feedback.


Credit: Giovanni Dall’Olio via BetterPosters.com


Perfecting the presentation

Arguably, the most important part of your poster session is the presentation itself, and having confidence will help you stand out. Remember, you are the expert on your work, so make sure it shows by having good posture, making eye contact, and engaging your audience by asking questions and inviting feedback. Try to use an active voice and avoid reading directly from your poster.

Last, keep in mind that everyone who comes to your poster will have a unique perspective, so try to be open to all types of feedback; you never know where your next big question might come from, or who will have the solution to the problem that you’ve been stressing over for weeks! At the end of the poster session, you will have hopefully made a great impression on your peers with an eye-catching poster and a clear presentation.

There is a lot of information here, and if it feels daunting, just remember to keep it simple, be concise, and look confident, and you’ll do great! To read more about poster design, check out the links below.

Good luck with your posters, and see you in San Diego!

Resources

ASHG poster guidelines: here

Templates: www.postersessions.com

Color Pallets: Colour Brewer and Paletton

Erren, T.C., and Bourne, P.E. (2007) Ten Simple Rules for a Good Poster Presentation. PLOS Computational Biology:doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030102

Blogs:
Eloquent Science - Rethinking Poster Sessions as Second-Class

Colin Purrington - Designing Conference Posters
Better Posters - the Arm’s Length Test

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