top of page

Scientific posters: a step-by-step planning guide

vector art of a person learning how to make and plan a scientific poster

Want to make sure your poster looks awesome and is printed in time for your big conference? Here are some essential tips to avoid any last-minute disasters!

During my PhD (nearly 20 years ago, but who’s counting?), I won an award for the best scientific poster at a conference for young scientists. I was incredibly proud, and the prize money was a nice boost to my modest PhD candidate budget. Sounds like a success story, right? Well, not quite. My poster had a major mistake: the main chemical structure of my multi-step synthesis was incorrect. How did this happen? How did no one catch it?

The truth is that mistakes happen. The only way to avoid errors in your scientific poster is to have a solid process. What should this process look like? Read on to learn more!

Create a timeline

First things first, you’ll need a simple project timeline that covers all the steps and potential hiccups until the event.

Here’s what to include:

  • Abstract submission deadline

  • Acceptance notification

  • First draft

  • Review and approval

  • Final version

  • Printing and shipping

  • Event date (aka the big day!)

Let’s assume you’ve already submitted your abstract and are now focusing on preparing the poster itself. Here are various things you should think about while planning:

Poster template

  • Check if your organization already has a poster template in the right size for the conference. If not, make one ASAP, ideally before the acceptance notification date.

  • If you need external support, a graphic designer can whip up a perfect-sized poster template.

  • Alternatively, you can use one of our scientific poster template kits.

Poster content

  • Make sure you have everything you need to draft your poster, such as data charts, analyses, illustrations, references, etc.

  • Save all your high-resolution, editable source files in a folder. Tracking down the source file can be a nightmare when you need to make a small edit to a graph or an image at the last minute. This folder can then be shared as required with your co-authors or any external party during the design, review, or finalization phase.

  • Read our previous blog posts on how to design an award-winning poster, write an attention-grabbing title and engaging headings, or select the best images.

Allow time for external support

You may want help from external vendors, such as:

  • Scientific communications freelancer or agency: to outsource the creation of your poster

  • Scientific Illustrator: to create or update visuals

Contact your favorite vendors well in advance and check their availability.

Review and approval process

  • Internal review: Factor in your organization’s review process. Drafting your poster might only take a few days, but others will need to review it, too. Does your organization have a formal or informal review process? How long should reviewers get? For instance, we used to allow about a week for poster reviews in my former company. Make sure reviewers are available and have backups if needed. Don’t wait until the last minute!

  • External partners: If you collaborate with academic or industry partners, they’ll need to review your poster too. Big pharma companies often have longer review processes, sometimes taking several weeks. Coordinate with your business development or alliance management colleagues and pencil these reviews into your timeline.

Printing and shipping

  • Choose a printing service: Does the conference have on-site printing or recommend a nearby partner? Or maybe you’ll need separate printing and shipping services? Decide whether you want the poster delivered to your hotel or directly to the conference. Or you could use your local print shop and carry it with you.

  • Add to your timeline: Figure out how much time the printer and shipping service need.

  • Add a buffer: Things don’t always go as planned (actually, they very rarely go as planned). For example, last year, I was helping a scientist prepare their poster for the European Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ESGCT) annual congress. The poster was printed by a local printer in Brussels and delivered to the scientist’s hotel. We received proof of delivery, confirming that the poster tube had arrived at the hotel a couple of days before the scientist. Everything seemed perfect! Except, when the scientist checked into the hotel and picked up the package, he discovered the tube was empty – no poster inside! Fortunately, the printer was able to reprint it at the last minute, just in time. The lesson here is always to add a buffer. Better safe than sorry!

Travel and accommodation

While it’s not strictly about your poster, you ought to plan your travel and accommodation. If you’re flying with your poster, make sure it fits the luggage size limits of the airline you use. It would be a shame to leave it at the airport…

Fine-tune your timeline

While you’re building your timeline, reflect on what can be done in parallel. For instance, you could start drafting the copy while an external designer is crafting the branded template.

Consider getting started before the acceptance notification, especially if your organization is presenting several abstracts at the same event and your chances of acceptance are high. Check the conference website; they sometimes provide acceptance rates!

This is how your poster prep timeline could look like:

GANTT chart for planning a scientific poster

Planning thoroughly for your scientific poster presentation can make a huge difference.

By following these steps, you’ll ensure your poster preparation is effective, and you’ll avoid last-minute panic. No one wants to rock up at a conference without their poster!

Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy the conference! Happy presenting!

About the author

Caroline Courme  is an independent communication consultant

Caroline Courme is an independent communication consultant specializing in the biotech and pharma sectors. With 15 years of experience in communication roles at publicly listed biotech companies, Caroline combines her industry expertise with a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry. Caroline is based on the beautiful French Riviera, not far from the glitz of the Cannes Film Festival, but her passion is theater!



How to Design an Award-Winning Scientific Poster - Animate Your Science Online Course
Video course banner.png
Adobe Illustrator course: by scientists for scientists - Animate Your Science online course
The Ultimate Scicomm Checklist for Researchers - Animate Your Science Free Resource
SWIPE Scicomm Magazine - Read Now for FREE
bottom of page