All of the rules for oral presentations apply to some degree to poster presentations, but with some important qualifications. As most poster presentations do not have the same oral component (online conferences excepted), the structure of your talk is not constrained by what you can say in ten minutes. It is constrained by what you can put in a 18×24 poster. Most people will not spend more than ten minutes on your poster, and if they do, their eyes will have to be flagged by vital information early. It is therefore important that your poster is able to quickly convey the bigger picture of your argument, quickly shouting why your audience should care about it before going into the other relevant details. The following tips are aimed at that purpose.
The General Rule about Font and Spacing
Posters typically use a 16 pt font and it is an unspoken rule that 60% of your poster should be empty space and the rest image and text. We suggest picking two fonts: 18 pt for bolded statements and titles, and 16 pt for regular text. Also, academic conferences will often state their own rules for the poster presentation. Write down these rules and organize everything else accordingly.
Titles are your Vitals
The titles will give to your reader a sense of the direction of your entire paper. It is therefore important that they are exceptionally clear and purposeful. While it is okay to say “introduction, RQ, Methods,” we suggest that you be even more to the point: “North Van’s Taxi Crisis, Discourse Analysis, Results: Ahistorical Representation etc.” Make use of subtitles (even with a slightly different coloured font which thematically fits your colour schema) to etch the entire purpose of your poster and grab the reader’s attention.
Put That RQ in Bold
Try to put your research question in a separate, bolded, enlarged section so your reader will be able to immediately decide if your poster is related to their interest.
Concept Maps & Diagrams
Even if you do not use the concept map, it is good to draw out your poster or oral presentation on a concept map before constructing your final script. This way you can easily narrow down the structure of your presentation. And just as it makes things easier for you to conceptualize, so will it make things easier for your audience, so consider adding them as an outline of your paper or to explain a complicated relationship in your findings. Powerpoint and Google slides both have solid tools for designing diagrams and concept maps.
Avoid Big Text Blurbs
Do not use wordy paragraphs on your poster. A poster must aim to balance telling with showing. Make use of diagrams, select key quotations, and one sentence summaries of your key findings. In quantitative research, this task will be much easier, since the poster can be simply structured to highlight graphs of the key findings.
Data visualization is important on posters, especially for quantitative research. Please check out Chapter 9 for how you can make data visualizations on R, a free open-source coding platform for the social sciences.
Aesthetic concerns apply, but balanced alongside clarity. You want to grab your audience’s attention, but then justify that attention by elucidating an important point in their field. Use consistent and complementary colour schemes. Try primary colours, but nothing too gaudy like neon. Look up a colour wheel and research a scheme that will work for you. Consider downloading and using the templates of posters like the one’s UBC posts every year. Do not use different fonts etc.
Engaging Your Audience
At academic conferences, it is not necessary that you talk to everyone that looks at your poster. You are more than welcome to play the sheepish store clerk who smiles and waits patiently to see if the customers in their store will buy their goods. An alternative to this, however, is to attempt to engage passersby in your work. For instance, ask them politely if they want an overview of the work or if they also have done research in the same field. Direct them to the research question and to the key findings of your research. Let them know if you think your research will have implications for their field. By touching on these questions near the heart of their disciplines, you can show to them your value as a contributor.