My first piece of advice is to start making your poster as soon as possible as it will likely take much longer than you expect! Even if you don’t have all the data that will be included on your poster, you can always get started with the introduction, methods, and general layout. Starting early also gives you the chance to have someone (like your supervisor) check it over and provide feedback. In my experience, multiple rounds of edits are often required to get your poster just right, so you want to ensure that you have time to send it back and forth with the person who is checking it over for you. I usually try to send my poster to my supervisor 1-2 weeks in advance of when I want to have the final version done.
If you are presenting at an in-person poster session, you also need to be sure that you will have your poster finished in time to be printed. While most printing places offer same day printing, it’s never a bad idea to send it off for printing further in advance to make sure it’s ready on time and save yourself some stress. I’d also recommend double checking the required poster size before you have it printed (I may or may not have learned this the hard way 😊).
What to Include
Provide a brief overview of the background information necessary to understand your project. Be sure to emphasize the significance of your project (you may even want to include significance in a separate section if you have space) including the gap(s) in the literature it addresses. Be sure to keep your audience in mind when you are writing! In many cases, you will want to ensure that your poster is understandable for those who are not experts in your field.
Briefly explain the methods used to get your results. This does not need to be overly detailed; it should just be enough to help your audience understand your study design so that they can understand where your results are coming from.
This is often the main section of the poster, as it includes all your exciting findings! Try to present your results in a way that is visually appealing and easy to understand. For example, graphs or images are usually easier to follow than large tables of data. Use figure labels and/or legends that are understandable for those who are not as familiar with your project as you are. Using headings that emphasize your main findings is much more informative and a better use of space than just writing “results”. These headings should be big and bold so that it’s easy to see what your important findings are. Make sure the text and images you’re including are large and clear enough to be seen at some distance if your poster is printed.
This can be a short section where you reiterate your important findings and their significance.
Use this section to briefly thank your funding sources and any non-authors who contributed to the results being presented.
Presenting Your Poster
Prepare a short overview of what’s on your poster (~5 min) that you can tell people when they come by. It’s always a good idea to practice this in front of someone that can help you figure out if anything is unclear. Depending on the audience of the conference, you may want to run through it with someone who is not an expert in your field to make sure it’s understandable for a general audience. If possible, try to have everything appear on the poster in the order that you will present it in. This makes it easier for your audience to follow along and for people to understand your poster if they are looking at it when you aren’t around to present. Putting your email address on your poster can help others get in touch with you afterwards, as can having smaller (8.5” x 11”) versions of your poster available for others to take away.