It has not been the first time I presented a poster at a conference, though it has been the first time I presented a poster I have created myself. I find the creation of posters difficult. Maybe this is because of lack of experience. Presentations provide much more room for expression than a one-pager. Similar to creating good presentation slides, there are laws on how to make a good poster. Since the purpose of a poster is different compared to slides, the creation of a poster needs to be approached differently.
Maybe it is a presumptuous comparison, but I compare a poster session to an exhibition in an art gallery. You walk through it having shorter glimpses at the art, but every now and then there is a piece of art that captures you, you get stuck there, look at it closely, and engage with it. When creating a poster, you have to aim for that piece of art that makes people stop. People get attracted by different things, so you will not be able to attract everyone’s attention. Color, font, text, structure, illustrations, all flow together in a masterpiece. Many thoughts are related to each of the components. Furthermore, it is not always easy to have good illustrations to describe one’s work and it is not always easy to limit the text to the most important information. Given all of this, I am not a fan of creating a poster.
Having said that, I have to state that my experience in creating the poster was good. It helped me to put my ideas into graphics, which was anyway necessary for the project I am working on. The development of illustrations has indeed been a struggle and I think without the pressure to present a poster I would not have progressed. Elsewhere I have described the whole process of creating this poster.
Poster sessions are awkward.
Get back to the art gallery example. Imagine next to each piece of art, the artist would be present to provide more information about the creation. As a side note, I have pursued an artistic career for a bit, and I think artists despise questions about the meaning of their creation. Anyhow asking an artist for additional information might not be that strange. Though imagine the poor artist who hardly gets approached, compared to those who attract the attention of the crowds. It is a bit humiliating… luckily my poster attracted some attention. More attention would have not been good anyway, because when one wanted to explain the poster one had to talk so loudly due to the noise level in the room. I was happy when it was over.
I was also not happy about the distribution of posters in the room. Too many posters on too little space. This had the effect that people were constantly blocking the view on other posters (if you have ever been say, in the Uffizi trying to see The Birth of Venus, you know what I mean) and that the “corridor” between the posters were hard to pass. I am troubled by crowds, so I do not voluntarily go through a corridor congested with people. Thus, even if there would have been an interesting poster, I would not approach the creator due to the deterring circumstances. Hence, I think this could have been organized a bit better.
The poster session was still useful to me.
Apart from it forcing me to create illustrations that describe my ideas, I also got feedback that made me think. I was asked a specific question about my transition concept, and I could not answer it. I brushed the question off, stating that the illustrations are not meant to show this particular thing. The question remained in the back of my head. The following day, I read a paper I had already read some time ago. Out of a sudden, I had a response to the question. I could make the first ugly sketches and some notes to not forget my thoughts. Hence, the poster session did exactly what it was supposed to do (I guess). I find this fascinating. If I would have forced to find a solution, I probably would not have found one. But just letting it be there in the back of my head, the solution came naturally. I am looking forward to making nicer illustrations asap.
Inspiring posters from other researchers.
There have been quite creative posters, which I appreciated a lot. My favorite one is still the interactive one. The creators hid parts of the text, so that people had to think themselves to provide an answer to a posed question. After guessing the text could be revealed. Another one which was maybe a bit too full still used a nice means to guide the reader; a thread. Others used funny storylines combined with a catchy layout, others used funny images to catch attention, and others again convinced with beautiful simplicity. Two posters specifically were relevant to my research or research conducted by master’s students I supervise. Talking to the presenters was insightful in this regard. For example, on poster revealed the use of Theory U for interdisciplinary research, which I found very intriguing.
To conclude my poster experience.
Although it was a good means of forcing me to be concise and provide good illustrations and although I got feedback that helped me to further develop my concept, I am not sure if I would go for a poster soon again. I find the position one is put in as a presenter just too awkward. I prefer the 10-20 minutes (of shame in case the presentation is bad) to standing over an hour next to a poster like a saleswoman, screaming over the voices of others and struggling with an overcrowded room.