How to Prepare for a Poster Session

Share This:



Professional Development - Tips to Build Your Career

How to Prepare for a Poster Session


Noura Ibrahim, 2019 SPS SOCK Intern

Presenting a poster at a professional conference such as PhysCon is a great way to develop your communication skills, share your work with other students and professionals, and network! Preparing for your first poster session can feel overwhelming, but if you take your time and go step-by-step, you should have a great experience.

Students take advantage of the poster sessions at PhysCon 2019. Photos by SPS National.

Step 1

Register and submit your poster information

As soon as you decide to present, register for the meeting and indicate that you will be presenting a poster. You’ll probably need to identify the category most relevant to your topic and submit a title and abstract. Depending on the event, you may need to submit this information during registration, or you may have more time. Check the deadlines and requirements early so you don’t miss anything.

Your poster should have a short, descriptive title—no more than ten words. An abstract is a concise summary of your work, including results. It’s meant to give attendees a glimpse into your work and results, not an in-depth summary—aim for 100 words or less.

Step 2

Create the poster

It’s a good idea to give yourself at least three weeks to work on the poster. SPS recommends using PowerPoint to design and lay out your poster, but there are other options. Before you start designing, check the poster dimensions specified by the conference and scale the poster accordingly. It is typical to do a 42-inch by 42-inch poster.

The top section of the poster is your identifier. Include the title, the authors’ names and affiliations, the logo of your institution, and sources of funding, if applicable. You can include a headshot, but it’s not necessary.

It’s important for the body of your poster to have a clear flow and distinct sections. Most experimental and computational research presentations follow a uniform format: introduction, methodology, data/results, discussion, conclusion, and acknowledgments. Posters on theoretical research usually focus on derivations instead of data. You might also include your abstract, the next steps or future direction of the project (helpful for works in progress), and a references section. You don’t need to label each section as such, but you can.

Your poster is more of a visual guide than a script, so use many relevant graphs, tables, photographs, and figures when possible (with clear labels). Cite any figures or information you don’t own in the references section. Also, try to use phrases and bullet points instead of whole sentences when possible.

Be consistent with fonts and constrain your font size to 32 pt or larger. A helpful trick is to lay your poster on the ground, and if you can’t read it while standing up, the font size is too small. Posters don’t have to be dull—be creative but mindful of your readers. Clear and simple is a winning combination.

Once you are satisfied with the content and layout, it’s time to seek feedback from mentors, peers, and co-authors. Ask them to note jargon that should be replaced or defined, points of confusion, how easily they could follow the flow of sections, any typos or errors, and the bottom line of the poster. Consider their feedback carefully. Did the main point come across? Are there sections you need to rewrite? Information to add or subtract? Then revise your poster accordingly. Remember that your audience may be fellow physicists, but that doesn’t mean they are experts in your field.

Printing is the last step of the design process. Before you spend money on a full-scale version, print a small version of your poster and check the layout, then triple check your text for typos and errors. Don’t forget captions and graph labels!
There are multiple options for printing a full-scale poster, so discuss what will work best for you with your mentor or advisor. Keep in mind the budget, how quickly you need the poster, mode of travel, ease of transportation around the conference, quality, and durability.

Step 3

Practice, practice, practice!

Rehearse how you would walk through your poster with an attendee. After doing this a few times, you might record yourself. It can feel a little awkward at first, but this allows you to be the first to critique your performance and adjust your presentation accordingly. Be prepared to explain every element of your poster and how it relates to the central thesis.

Next, practice for an audience, such as a group of peers, family, friends, or mentors. They don’t need to be in physics or astronomy to give helpful feedback. At the conference you’ll interact with attendees from a wide range of expertise; tailor your explanations to fit the audience.

Remember that a poster presentation isn’t a talk. The goal is to have conversations with attendees about your work, not present a memorized monologue. Some listeners will only have a few minutes to spare while others will prefer a lengthier discussion, so you’ll need to adapt.

Step 4

It’s presentation time!

Presentation day has finally arrived! Double-check the location and time, and aim to arrive early so you can find your spot and tack up your poster. It’s a good idea to dress professionally and have business or contact cards to give to potential collaborators or others interested in your work.

Once the poster session starts, stay near your poster. This is your chance to share your work and connect with potential collaborators, graduate advisors, and employers. Speak with confidence, maintain eye contact, be flexible, and be open to discussions and opportunities. Remember that you know your work best, so have pride in sharing it with the world. You’ve got this!

Physics Congress Travel Awards

If you’re presenting a poster (or art project) at the 2022 Physics Congress, apply for a PhysCon Travel Award! There are chapter Travel Awards for groups and a limited number of individual Travel Awards for those attending by themselves. Apply today!

More from this department

Professional Development - Tips to Build Your Career