Debbie Knight

Poster presentation? No sweat if you keep it short!

In observation on October 10, 2012 at 2:42 pm

I stumbled across a blog post addressed to people who present posters at a scientific meeting. Specifically, if the presenter is asked to give a 5-minute summary of their poster, it shouldn’t take 20 minutes.

This made me think of all the posters I’ve presented at scientific meetings. I was often asked for a brief overview of my poster by a person who stopped by. Was I able to give that overview in 5-minutes or less? The answer: it all depends if I practiced my spiel or not.

I’m not a “natural” at public speaking — even if it’s to an audience of one or two. So I need practice. Lots and lots of practice.

I practice alone in a room — a lot! And, yes, to the casual observer it looks like I’m having an animated conversation with myself.  A good reason to find a room with a door that locks.

I practice in front of my lab mates.

And I practice at least once in front of my boss.

The practice really helped fine-tune the presentation. I know exactly what I’m going to say, rather than stumbling around trying to find the point. Not knowing what to say can add minutes to a brief presentation.

I don’t use a script.  I want my presentation to sound conversational and organic.  I use the figures on the poster as my prompts. If I need an additional diagram to help me explain things, I add it. I find this a better solution than interpretive dance, smoke signals or wild hand gestures.

And, sure, I  talk myself into a corner sometimes. But I  also figure how to get back to the point. This makes for good mental gymnastics before the actual presentation.

The practice hones and polishes the presentation to a professional sheen. By the time I finish, my spiel actually sounds smooth, confident and authoritative — all the things I’m typically not in this situation.

I know. This seems like a lot of work for a 5-minute presentation. It is. And the more times you give presentations, the easier it gets.

Just remember, your poster is one in a sea of posters. You (and your poster) need to really shine to draw the crowds. So keep it short, keep it sweet. If they want to know more, don’t worry … they’ll ask.

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