For the last 5 days I have been in New Orleans for the Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association. I feel like I spent about 3 days standing next to my poster (although it was only about 4 hours total). This experience did give me a chance to see a lot of examples of the art of the scientific poster. My daughter, a PR major, also attended the meeting. She was, frankly, appalled by the presentation skills (or lack thereof) demonstrated at the sessions.
One of the pleasures of my current job is giving a talk on poster presentation preparations to our summer research students. Since the biomedical community at large seems to lack these skills (or ignore them), they will be reviewed over the following few posts.
Posters were first introduced in the mid-1970's to increase the number of presentations at scientific meetings, as well as fostering 1 to 1 communication. They do have some disadvantages. First, those interested in a topic are likely to be presenting simultaneously. As the format has multiplied, it is possible to feel overwhelmed by a forest of boards. It is also much easier to walk past a bad poster than to ignore a bad PowerPoint.
Like all presentations, a poster should be thoughtfully prepared following the specifications of the meeting. Yes, you need to read and follow the instructions! It just looks silly (or dumb) to tack a vertical poster on a landscape board. Do you want those reviewing your papers or grants to think you are that careless?
By far the most important part of the poster is the title. The actual words were determined when preparing the abstract; now you have to present them so the audience sees and understands them. Title fonts should be 90 point minimum, and dark type on a light background is most readable. The title is one place on the poster where some liberties can be taken; light font on a dark background can be used here to grab attention. Most meetings then specify that the authors and institutions follow below the title in a smaller type.
Logos or other artwork flanking the title are often attention grabbing and may help in identification of you and your institution. I actually designed a logo for my lab that incorporates the University's current logo:
A poster across from me at ADA listed a title and beneath it listed no authors; instead it was from "The Children's Hospital and Rich Donor Institute." No academic institution or city was named. Now, they may be named "The Children's Hospital" but I have to tell you, many places share these vague names. "Rich Donor Institute" may be world famous, but I had no clue where it was. I know the instructions for the posters said to list the institution and city where the work was done. Leaving this information off made me think that this group was
(1) incredibly arrogant
(2) somewhat stupid, or
(3) all of the above.
Those are the nuts and bolts of poster titles. You have about 10 seconds to catch someone's attention as they stroll through the rows of presentations - make sure your title doesn't drive them away!