Whenever I attend ASM, there are always students standing next to unattended posters. It’s somewhat depressing: they’ve cleaned and gussied themselves up, sweated over the details of their posters, and are gamely trying to not look depressed at the complete lack of attention their posters are receiving. Because I like helping, I’m going to provide some advice which might only be worth what you paid for it:
1) Your poster might actually be uninteresting. Note that I wrote uninteresting, not unimportant. Maybe your poster developed a method you plan on using during your dissertation. Maybe it’s some preliminary data that frames a key part of the question. That’s important! But it very well could be summarized in one sentence: “we developed method X that allows use to measure Y.” Most people are going to walk on by. That’s ok. Just make sure your next poster does something interesting with that method….
2) Too much text. A poster is not a manuscript. In fact, a poster could best be thought of as a manuscript with only figures, tables, and legends–a manuscript without any (or very little) text. A 3′ x 4′ poster can easily convey five to six points, if they are well designed.
3) Too much text, part deux. Lots of text usually means lots of small text. Never go below 26 point type–and for the Intelligent Designer’s sake, use an easy to read font (Arial, Helvetica, Cambria are good). Not only does small text scream, “You have to read hundreds, maybe thousands of words in an environment unconducive to reading (e.g., a crowded poster hall)”, but the more senior members of your field are going to find it hard to read (old eyes don’t work so well). The only exceptions to this are the ‘legalities’, such as acknowledgements and references.
4) Informative headings are your friends. I see too many posters with sections labelled “Abstract”, “Methods”, “Results”, and “Conclusions.” You have a summary! And some methods! Results and conclusions too! Bully for you. Use the section headings to inform the reader, while simultaneously describing the figure or table (see #2). Something like, “xyz genes are found only in clinical isolates” tells me what I should be looking for in the figure.
5) When it comes to presentation, the music is between the notes. It worked for Duke Ellington, you might want to try it on for size. Too often, people have weird color schemes or complex background graphics. Unless you are a graphics virtuoso (and you’re probably not), keep it relatively simple, with non-garish color schemes. Only use separating lines when absolutely necessary (and that might be a sign you have to rearrange your poster). If your figures, tables, and section headings are clear, the poster will be much more accessible–and less scary to someone stopping by.
Of course, the Mad Biologist never violates these rules. EVAH!
Anyway, if you stood by your lonesome next to a poster, this little ditty, sung by Jackie Opel, is for you: