Most of the readers of this blog are lurkers. They read, but they don’t feel obliged to make a comment, or send me a tweet, or email, or anything else. And that’s fine. I’m a lurker in many online spaces.
Some poster viewers are lurkers, too. They will see your poster during the poster session, and they are interested, but they will not approach you. Instead, they will often wait until you are giving a tour of your poster to someone else. Then, and only then, will they walk up and casually listen over the shoulder of the person you are mostly talking to.
I only learned about this during the last #SciFund Challenge poster class. Several of the class participants admitted that this was their poster viewing strategy. It’s understandable. Not everyone is comfortable walking up cold to someone they’ve never met before, and saying, “What’s to learn here?” (This is usually one of the first things I say to a poster presenter.)
What can you, as a poster presenter, do to reach out to the lurkers? First, be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye out for someone on the edges, listening over the shoulder. If you see that person, make an effort to turn to them, engage them in conversation. Say something like, “This is my poster. Please let me know if I can answer questions. Or would you like a run through?”
But I have an even more cunning plan.
At a play one time, I was talking to one of the crew about how different the play felt depending on the mood of the audience. A big, enthused audience made so much difference. I commented, in what I thought was a joke, “It almost makes you want to hire people to show up, sit in the audience, and applaud.”
“Oh, they do,” she replied matter of factly. “It’s called a claque.”
Instead of waiting for people to walk up to your poster, find yourself a claque. You don’t need a big claque; you probably only need one person. You don’t need your claque to cheer and applaud, but just someone who is clearly listening to an explanation of the poster. Have that person at your poster to give the lurkers someone to eavesdrop on.
Your listener might be someone you know from your department, but not your lab. Ask someone you met earlier at the conference if they can come by your poster. Get your boyfriend or girlfriend or best friend to hear the tour of your poster a few extra times.
While posters are supposed to be “social objects” to facilitate conversations, having people around can act as an even more powerful social cue. If someone else is already there, it lowers the barrier for everyone else to walk up.
Plus, nothing succeeds like success. If people see a lot of viewers
at a poster, they’re all the more likely to be curious to see what the
poster is about.