08 November 2012

Hang time

This is a guest post from reader Mark Gurwell, used with his permission.

Are there some general guidelines that one should consider depending on the length of time a poster will be hung?

I ask this question from my experiences of the differences between the conference I most recently attended, the Division for Planetary Science (DPS) annual meeting, and something like an American Geophysical Union (AGU), or American Astronomical Society (AAS) meetings. At smaller meetings (DPS was around 800 attendees this year) you might have longer poster hang times, compared to larger meetings of a few to 10,000 or more, where the sheer volume of presentations necessitates frequent turnover.

For example, at the DPS meeting, posters were given ample time. They could be hung for the entire week, and each poster was in a topical group. Each topical group had a specific afternoon where they were “showcased,” which included a walk-through by all interested attendees where you could present your poster to a semi-captive audience (though the official limit on this presentation was 2 minutes).

At AGU and AAS, posters can be limited to as short as half a day before they must be removed for the next round of posters.

I think most conference attendees prefer the former model, since it means they can see all the posters of interest, even if they can't attend every day of a meeting. But both versions exist (and probably every shade in between), and each presents different challenges and advantages.

For the “all the time” extreme, you might expect more walk-ups and general interest, but it can be spread out over the week. You can’t possibly be by your poster all week, so your poster should to be standalone. It needs to be fully self-contained and must anticipate questions that might be asked if you were there. Some (I’ll probably count myself in this category) tend to compensate by making wordier posters. This may or may not be a winning strategy, and clearly still needs to be coupled with thought into title, colours, graphics, illustrations, and overall getting to the point in the clearest cleanest way.

For the other extreme, say a three hour block when your poster is put up, seen, and then taken back down, you probably need to be by your poster the full time. This allows your poster to become less self-contained and maybe more enticing. The goal here may be more to grab attention and (maybe not even necessarily!) drive home the conclusion, and then you the presenter can fill in the details conversationally. Thus, possibly less words, more graphics.

The downside here is that, with so short a time, it may well be that the only people you get to your poster are those you’ve already primed to physically seek your poster out, by your title and abstract published in the abstract book or online prior to the meeting. The chance of running across a really interested person is lowered, because everyone is frantically trying to get to the ten to twenty posters that they really want to see (or think they want to see).

I’d be interested in hearing about other considerations/techniques for posters that have either long or short hang times.

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Photo by MRHSfan on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

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