There are a number of elements to consider as part of planning a poster presentation.
Why are you creating a poster presentation?
There are a number of reasons why you might create a poster and being clear about your audience and purpose is the first thing to consider.
It might be a requirement of your degree programme, in which case there should be guidelines on the purpose of the poster and the target audience.
You may aim to present your research findings to an academic conference on student research, or to other subject experts.
Perhaps you are part of a public engagement event and want to express complex material in an accessible way for a non-specialist audience.
Define what you want your poster to do, for example:
- to help others learn something about your research topic
- to introduce a new and interesting perspective of a topic
- to achieve a good mark for an assignment.
The purpose of the poster will inform your planning as you consider the steps below.
Who is your audience?
Think about who you are presenting your work to.
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. How much does your target audience already know about the subject of your poster? What don’t they know? What would they be interested to find out? Use this to inform what content you include and at what level you present it.
What do you want your audience to remember?
It is a good idea to identify what you want your audience to remember about your poster.
What is the main message for the audience? (This is “the point” of your poster!)
Everything you choose to include should support this main message.
Use what you can to effectively communicate your message:
- website address or QR code to direct people to further information if applicable
- separately prepared handout.
Your poster title
With a poster, you only have a few seconds to win your audience’s attention. Make sure your title achieves the following points:
- make the title interesting
- deliver a complete, immediately understandable message
- give a suggestion of the potential benefit of reading the poster.
Try a simple and catchy title, for example, “A microstructural study in the alumina zirconia system” (Bromley, 1992) is improved by becoming “Ceramic hip joints: better for you than titanium?”
Make your text concise and focused
Your audience must be able to get to the point of the poster quickly without reading lots of text. A poster is not a ten-page Word document arranged on a big piece of paper! Think about what text you really need to support the point of your poster. What do you need to explain, and what can be left out? Think about how you use specialist or expert language (jargon).
Grab the attention of your audience by making your topic interesting to read. Keep content clear and focussed.
If you have a lot of text and you are struggling to prioritise what to include, try the MoSCoW technique. With the point of your poster in mind, organise the text into these categories:
- Must have
- Should have
- Could have
- Won’t have.
You could divide a blank page up into these four categories, to help decide the importance of your information.
You can immediately omit text that you categorise as “won’t have”, but also leave out “could have”, and really question what is in “should have”. “Must have” is the only category of information that definitely needs to go on a poster.
Structure your text
Consider your main points and think about the reading order – what does your audience need to know and in what sequence do they need to read it? Select the main points and ask yourself whether each point contributes to addressing the main purpose of the poster.
An example of a structure for text is:
- What’s the current situation?
- What’s the issue/problem?
- What would help improve the situation, and what am I going to do about it?
- How will the world be different? What will this mean?
Test your text for readability
You can easily test the readability or reading level of your writing in Microsoft Word, which uses the Flesch-Kincaid formulae. These are based on the American school grade system – sentence length, syllables per word, spelling and grammar.
Watch this video to see how to assess the readability of your text with Microsoft Word in order to produce a better poster.