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Science communication

How to make the best use of your scientific poster


Dr. Sophie Milbourne, Science Communicator, Soph Talks Science

April 2023

When we think of science communication, many researchers will automatically think of talking to the general public. But being able to effectively communicate your work with other researchers is a vital science communication skill that all scientists should have in their toolbelt. One of the most common and concise ways to do that is using scientific posters.

The scientific poster is a staple of academic conferences and meetings but can be a daunting task for scientists to create. While posters may seem like a straightforward way to communicate your research, there are many ways to use them for more than just sharing your science. Here are some tips on how to make the best use of your scientific poster:

Your poster as a communication tool

Naturally, your poster is a communication tool. Your research story needs to be presented in a visually appealing way that will draw people in from a distance. Things like not too much clutter, text or loads of tiny diagrams squeezed in are going to help you clearly convey your message. A defined colour scheme with visuals that catch the eye, white space and a clear layout and structure will help people step closer and begin reading. The key information you need in your poster is what you would find in any scientific abstract - so structuring your poster similar to an abstract can help you communicate the essential points of your research. Make use of one, big, key visual element to grab people’s attention, use a colour scheme of 4–5 colours only (here is a great article on making a colour-blind friendly poster) and use fewer words in print so you actually have more to talk about. All of this will make your poster more accessible to more people and create a hook to capture their attention.

Your poster as a tool for feedback

Before presenting your poster, get feedback from others to ensure that it effectively communicates your research findings. In most cases you will have many chances to get feedback from colleagues, but why not ask others outside your research group to provide constructive criticism. Ask mentors and trusted peers outside your organisation, or even ask your communications colleagues, and use their feedback to make improvements to your poster before presenting it at your event. One great way to do this is with Peeref: a global communications platform tailored to scientific researchers for exchanging insights, feedback, and experiences. You can upload your poster to the platform and get feedback from a network of peers across the globe.

Your poster as a networking tool

Your poster is ultimately a networking tool, not a regurgitation of your lab book or latest publication. Don’t be like poster #28 who has just posted their PowerPoint slides onto an A0 piece of paper – anyone can already find your paper online. Here you want them to talk to you about it and find out more. Definitely don’t be inspired by poster #41 who presents you with an intimidating wall of text. Having someone just stand there and read your poster while you stare awkwardly at them isn’t the goal. They are much more likely to remember that information if you talk to them about it – it’s called a poster presentation for a reason! And I know you have 10 beautiful 3D plots that you want to show to everyone, but is that really necessary? You do not need to put every little detail of your research on your poster, but rather showcase one clear and simple story that will attract people’s attention and serve as a conversation starter. Your poster isn’t supposed to give away the whole story, but rather share the enticing bits so that will encourage that superstar professor to ask you questions and make that connection. You might be looking for a postdoc position, or to position yourself as an expert in the field. Your poster offers opportunities to connect with your peers before and after the conference.

Your poster as a standalone tool

Creating the best poster requires a fine balance. While most of the time, you will be by its side to talk to visitors, it still must be self-explanatory in case, for any reason, you are not there. Someone should be able to understand the main points of your research just by looking at your poster. So, make sure your poster includes a clear and concise summary of your research, as well as any important take-home messages. Also highlight the key points by using the accent colour from your colour scheme.

Your poster as a marketing and PR tool

Poster presentations are not just about presenting the research; they are about you as a researcher too. You will invest hours in creating your poster, let alone the time to generate the data itself, so you want to make sure you get a return on that investment. After your poster-side chat, what do you want your visitor to do next? Why not add a QR code onto your poster too? This would allow your visitor to be taken to your ResearchGate or Google Scholar profile to follow you, to your lab website, your latest publication, more info or resources or a video version of your poster. Think about how you want to maintain your connection after your poster presentation. Don’t forget to add your Twitter handle, email and even a photo to your poster so people can contact you and offer that collaboration.

Even after you have presented, networked, and generated interest in your research poster at a scientific conference, you can still get benefits from your poster. Namely, you can enter your poster into poster competitions and reach an even wider audience. Go ahead, showcase your work on Peeref’s International Poster Challenger for a chance at a prize and a guarantee to have your work seen by researchers across the globe!

In summary, here are some key tips for making the best use of your scientific poster:

● Focus on a single message and story of your research
● Visually communicate your research to gain feedback from others
● Use it as an oversized business card – posters can help create future opportunities
● Make sure your poster is self-explanatory and includes a clear summary of your research
● Be prepared to answer questions and follow up with interested parties

With these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to making the most of your poster and go beyond communicating the results of your research. Good luck!

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