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How to deliver an engaging scientific poster presentation: Dos and Don’ts!

Picture of a lady presenting her poster

You've spent hours meticulously designing an award-winning scientific poster that beautifully showcases your research findings and stands out from the crowd. 🔬🧫

Now it’s time to talk to an actual human being!!

Kevin Hart what GIF

The thought of presenting can be nerve-wracking, and the real challenge lies in simply and effectively communicating your novel research findings.

But fear not!

In this blog, we've got you covered with expert tips and strategies to help you confidently nail your poster presentation. Get ready to conquer your fears and showcase your research with finesse and confidence. ✨

Let’s run through the dos and don’ts of presenting your poster at a conference, ensuring you leave a lasting impression on your audience.

So dive in and discover how to deliver an exceptional poster presentation! 👇

Scientific Poster Presentation Dos:

Ahhh, you made it! 💪

Maybe it felt like a mad dash to the finish line, 🏃‍♀️ or a long time coming. Either way the conference is here. After weeks designing your award-winning poster - picking a cohesive colour scheme, an attention-grabbing font and perfecting the layout, you and your scientific poster are ready to stand out!

But you hadn’t given any thought to the actual presentation, until now…

…Cue freak out!

Jimmy Fallon Freaking out GIF

Poster presentations are the perfect way to showcase your recently published work, to have more intimate conversations with your peers, and to foster collaborations.

So let’s give you a run down to make sure you get off on the right foot.

You can breathe again, you got this! 😮‍💨 💪

Number 1: Start a conversation

Seems simple enough! But the power of a conversation is unparalleled.

So how do you start a conversation with a stranger? And in a loud and busy poster hall?

Well let’s find out.

Once you spot somebody eyeing off your poster, smile at them and allow 5 or so seconds for them to read your title and digest your research topic, before asking them "Would you like me to run you through my poster?". Think of it like window shopping, giving them time to decide whether they are interested and want to know more.

You can also use body language as a great indicator to determine if someone is interested.

For example, if someone beelines to your poster, conference booklet in hand, opened to your conference abstract, it's safe to assume they want to know more. If they barely pause at your poster, and avoid eye contact, that’s okay. Not everyone will be interested in your research!

To set a positive tone, start with a genuine smile and a warm greeting. Don’t forget to introduce yourself. Here are some conversation starters to get you going. 👇

Conversation starters: - A direct starter like "Would you like me to walk you through my research?". Or a general starter such as "How are you finding the conference?" Or a search for common interests "Do you also work in breast cancer?".
And if you get really stuck, “Hello” is always a good one. 😉

To encourage interaction and foster a meaningful conversation ask open-ended questions.

  • "Have you encountered similar challenges in your own work?”

  • "What are your thoughts on this approach?"

Listen attentively and show genuine interest in their response, delving deeper into their perspectives where appropriate.

By having a two-way conversation you are more likely to get valuable input on your research topic and make meaningful connections. 🙌

But to have a successful conversation, you need to know who you are talking to, which leads us to our next point.

Number 2: Tailor your presentation

Once you have lured them in, it's time to provide a concise overview of your research. Keep it brief. Focus on the key point to pique their interest, and tailor your delivery according to their knowledge base.

The key here is to ask more questions.

A question mark covered with questions to promote a conversation and get to know your audience like "Have you worked on a similar project?" or "How familiar are you with the methodology?".

It is a great idea to gauge your audience's background before you start with your spiel. A great question to start with is “How familiar are you with topic X?”.

Then continue to ask your audience simple yes/no questions interspersed throughout your presentation to further gauge their background knowledge and understanding.

For instance:

  • Are you familiar with this concept?

  • Have you heard of X technique before?

  • Do you know about XYZ?

Once you have an answer you can adjust the level of detail and terminology accordingly. This will help you adapt your explanations and avoid unnecessary complexity or oversimplification.

Some people are interested in the nitty-gritty details of your research and others might only be interested in an overview. Let the conversation guide you!

For example, a professor who has been working in the breast cancer field for 30+ years, will need very minimal background and will comprehend complex concepts, technical jargon and specialised methodologies with very little explanation required.

In contrast, someone that has no prior experience in cancer, or possibly even science, will require a more detailed explanation. Using layman's terms and analogies to simplify complex concepts will ensure a clear understanding.

Remain flexible, be prepared to tailor your delivery to your audience on the spot.

If you are unsure if you are hitting the mark, it is perfectly fine to ask “Is that clear?” or “Feel free to stop me if you are not following.” This way you are encouraging a conversation, and opening up the opportunity for them to ask you questions, rather than just solely presenting information to them.

Even though you are the presenter, don’t think that you should be the only one talking. Good networking looks like a well-balanced conversation between two people exchanging value and ideas.

The entire goal of a poster presentation is to make sure everyone who visits your poster leaves invigorated with a comprehensive understanding of your research, which in turn means they are more likely to remember your work, and remember YOU! 😍

Number 3: Employ storytelling

Research shows that people are more likely to remember information that is presented to them in a narrative form compared to dry facts or statistics. 📊

This is because stories engage multiple regions of the brain and activate sensory and emotional processing, which enhances memory retention.

If you’re a loyal reader of ours, you would know that we love all things storytelling! 🤩

📖 Stories naturally follow a structure, typically involving a beginning, middle, and end.

Or as Randy Olson prefers to refer to it the And - But - Therefore framework:

  • ‘And’ provides the context (or background if you will).

  • ‘But’ provides drama, hooking in the reader (most likely your knowledge gap)

  • ‘Therefore’ brings your story to a resolution (ie results and conclusions).

A poster showing the ABT framework. The AND refers to the background, the BUT refers to the question, THEREFORE refers to the results and main finding.

By creating a logical flow to your presentation, it makes it easier for your audience to follow along and understand the progression of your research.

To create a memorable story and leave a lasting impression, try sharing personal experiences, challenges, or triumphs, things your audience can relate to which will evoke an emotional connection. 💛

Facts and figures alone are easily forgotten, the approach of storytelling means your audience is more likely to remember long after the presentation is over.

Number 4: Use open body language

Non-verbal language also speaks volumes!

Use your body language to your advantage. Engage with your audience by maintaining eye contact, smiling, and displaying open body language. 🙂 For example:

  1. Exude a confident, relaxed posture. Stand tall with your shoulders back, arms down and face your audience.

  2. Smile. Genuinely. 😉 A fake smile doesn’t have the same warm and welcoming feel. But a genuine smile conveys friendliness and approachability, whilst creating a positive atmosphere. We suggest smiling both whilst your audience is perusing the posters as well as during your presentation.

  3. Use natural gestures. Try to use gestures that complement your words. Point to your poster, use open hands, and purposeful, controlled gestures to emphasise key points or convey enthusiasm.

  4. Maintain eye contact. 👀 Eye contact is a powerful way to establish a connection. It conveys attentiveness and interest. Try using the 50/70 rule. Maintain eye contact for 50 percent of the time while speaking and 70% of the time when listening. This helps to display interest and confidence. 4-5 seconds is the sweet spot. Be mindful of cultural differences, for example many Western cultures tend to value eye contact, but some Eastern ones see it as a form of disrespect. Be perceptive to cues of discomfort.

All of these small things might seem small, but they all add up. The more open you are with your body the more likely you are to have people come up to you and consequently hold their attention for longer during your presentation.

But it’s not just about you, be attentive to others' body language. Notice their gestures, posture, and facial expressions.

Pay attention to these cues, you can gauge their level of engagement, understanding, or potential discomfort. If they lean in, it indicates interest and engagement. If you notice a change in body language or eyes beginning to glaze over, it may indicate confusion or disinterest. 😬

Consider adjusting your content, providing more context, or shifting your body language to create a more comfortable and receptive atmosphere.

Scientific Poster Presentation Don'ts:

So now that we have what to do down pat. ✔️

Check GIF

Lat’s talk about some things to avoid! 🙅‍♂️🚫

Number 1: Try not to overcomplicate

This seems like a simple enough concept.

However, when you are so intimately familiar with a topic, the lines between simple terminology and technical jargon become blurry. You start to forget what words are niche to your topic and unfamiliar to those outside your field. 🙈

While it's important to convey the depth and accuracy of your research, we recommend you always:

  • Avoid excessive technical jargon

  • Minimise the use fancy words or writing-style language

  • Restrict unnecessary detail

  • Strive for a balance between scientific accuracy and accessibility.

A set of scales, showing the balance between scientific accuracy and ease of understanding.

If your research is complicated, analogies and relatable examples are a powerful way to help simplify the complexity — bridging the gap between overtly technical concepts and common knowledge, makes the ideas easier to grasp.

Quote from Albert Einstein "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.

Next, stick to the main ideas. You want to clearly and concisely communicate your key message in just a minute. Identify your main research finding and nut out the real-world applications or implications, these are your main messages! Avoid overwhelming your audience with excessive details or venturing off on irrelevant tangents.

✨ Less is best! ✨

Everyone can understand your explanation when you use simple clear language, but only a small proportion will follow when riddled with technical terms and excessive jargon.

Number 2: Avoid being over-rehearsed

Whilst practising your presentation can provide you with confidence, being over-rehearsed can be a detriment, hindering the flow of conversation and the ability to tailor your presentation.

Your aim is to generate a memorable and genuine conversation. Being over-rehearsed can make your presentation feel robotic, rigid and devoid of authenticity.

Robot dance GIF

Let’s be clear, we absolutely encourage practising. After all, practice makes perfect, but the aim is not to deliver a memorised scripted poster presentation! Save that for the 3MT. 😉

An excessively scripted presentation can ironically lead to increased stress and anxiety, causing you to appear tense and nervous. This is because you feel pressured to deliver a flawless presentation, and a single interruption, deviation or mistake from the rehearsed script can throw you off.

You become fixated on sticking to your rehearsed script, that instead of actively listening, you are preoccupied with remembering your lines. 🙈

As a result your presentation lacks connection, the conversation may feel stiff, if even present, and you may struggle respond naturally to questions, or pivot according to your audiences cues.

Instead of rehearsing a perfectly written script, try practising each section separately.

Familiarise yourself with the story structure, know the key ideas and work on improvisation. Become comfortable with strong introductory sentences to each of your sections, prepare some useful analogies and free flow from there.

This more balanced approach, allows you to:

  • Feel comfortable discussing your material in any order

  • Adapt and adjust your delivery based on your audience

  • Be present in the moment

  • Deliver a more authentic and flexible presentation

  • Stay attentive and develop meaningful exchange

So avoid the trap of reciting your perfectly crafted script and learn to improvise and converse! ✨

Number 3: Don't neglect your audience or your poster

We are not talking about maintaining eye contact, asking open-ended questions or paying attention to your audience. 👀❓

We are talking about the most important point… actually being there.

Be present beside your poster for the entire duration of your scheduled session.

Kristen Bell Whoa GIF
Crazy idea! Right?

An interested collaborator can’t talk to you if you are at the buffet the whole time, a potential employer can’t gauge your interest if you are hanging out at your friends' poster.

Waiting by your poster is crucial!

Now we aren’t saying you can’t grab a bite to eat, or go to the bathroom. But perhaps ask a friend to stand in for your, or better yet ask them to grab you a plate of food.

Came alone to the conference? No problem make friends with the presenter next to you and help each other out! The potential for meaningful connections are endless, make sure you are present!

Remember the advice I got from a big shot professor at my first national conference? It was in our blog Beyond publication: 5 science communication tips to maximise your research impact.

Best advice: Try to make three meaningful connections at every conference

Well it doesn’t have to be you seeking out a connection, you could make a connection with someone who approached you at your poster. 😉

While we are talking about connection, connecting with your poster is almost as important as connecting with your audience!

As you deliver your presentation, point to key parts of your poster, guide your audience through it with you. Your presentation should complement the content on your poster and reinforce your key message(s). Avoid skipping large sections of your poster, jumping around or talking about data not present on your poster (unless you are answering their question).

Your poster is a visual aid, use it to helps enhance your explanations and reinforce the key ideas with the help of visuals.

By giving attention to both your audience and your poster, you create a balanced and engaging presentation. Prioritising connection, interaction, and clarity to ensure your audience gets the most out of your research.

Number 4: Minimise bad presenting habits

You are so close to delivering an effective poster presentation, now let’s cover some poster presentation traps you want to avoid falling into!

Homer Simpson falling into a trap GIF

There are lots of small habits you can avoid when presenting that can make the biggest of difference.

  1. Reading directly from your poster 🚫 Try not to read the text verbatim of your poster. Your audience can likely read and therefore your presentation provides no value add. It can also make your delivery monotonous and disengaging for your audience. We recommend a natural conversation instead with explanations beyond what is presented on your poster.

  2. Overuse of filler words 💬 Strive to minimise or eliminate filler words such as "um," "uh," "like," or "you know" from your speech. These words used in excess can detract from your message and make you appear less confident and knowledgeable. Try pausing briefly instead to gather your thoughts. It’s okay to not fill every silence, a meaningful pause allows your audience time to digest the information they just received.

  3. Misdirecting your voice 🗣️ It can be easy to continue talking whilst you are looking at your poster. However, conference poster halls can be loud places, and it can be difficult to hear. When you are looking at your poster you are projecting your voice in the wrong direction, and you are not making eye contact. Instead, allow yourself to pause look at your poster to orient yourself or emphasise a point and then look back at your audience projecting your voice towards them at an appropriate level whilst maintaining eye contact.

  4. Avoid closed body language 🙅‍♂️ So simple and yet for many of us our default stance is a closed posture. Avoid crossing your arms or hunching over. Try not to constantly turn you back to your audience by staring at your poster. These can create barriers and convey a defensive or disinterested attitude. Try open body language which is much more inviting.

  5. Ignoring time constraints ⏳ Showing a lack of consideration for your audiences time can come across as rude. Over explaining or going off on irrelevant tangents are easy traps to fall into. But respecting your audiences time is crucial. They may have several other posters they want to get to, or maybe they need to leave to catch a flight. Practice your presentation to ensure that you can effectively convey your key points within 1-2 minutes. Of course the duration of your spiel can change depending on how much detail our audience is after, there is no one size fits all approach here! Just be mindful of the clock and watch for cues of discomfort. If you are unsure, it’s okay to ask “Would you like to know more about X?”

With these tips you can deliver a more engaging, and confident presentation that leaves a positive and lasting impression on your audience. ✨

BONUS TIP: 😉 Be prepared

Okay here are some bonus tips to level up your delivery:

  • Keep a pen on hand to quickly note down contact information if someone wants to collaborate or stay in touch.

  • Poster presentations are the perfect networking tool and business cards are the perfect networking tool, and yet so many researchers don’t have them. We think business cards are a must.

  • You could have some other handouts, such as are an A5 poster handout, or other memorable tokens like a keychain, or wrist band something related to your research. This will make you stand out and allow your audience to take something physical away from your presentation.

  • Anticipate and prepare for general questions and potential gaps in your research. Have concise points ready for missing experiments, alternative experimental design choices, and additional research avenues that may arise during discussions.

So there you have it, our top tips for making the best out of your poster session.

Remember, don’t present your poster, present yourself!

The conversation is more important than a perfectly planned speech, and these are not a rigid set of rules to follow, just be yourself. Be approachable, adaptable and engage with your audience through a genuine conversation and enjoy the experience.

Want more tips to nail your poster presentation?

With a focus on science communication, storytelling, and communication you will hone all these skills and be competent to present your research to both expert and lay audiences. But we need your help by recommending us to your institution!

Here’s what one of our satisfied universities have said about our workshops:

"I submitted my first ever poster at a technical conference and not only received many compliments, but also won two poster prizes! I am sure that I will continue to make good use of all the information for many years to come." ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Eleanor Bilogrevic, Australian Wine Research Institute, Australia

If you’re interested in becoming a confident presenter, get in touch with us now!

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