What should a clinical laboratory professional do to get his or her poster noticed at a scientific conference? 

A: The two major factors to consider when trying to get your poster noticed are content and presentation. Let’s start with content.

In general, there are two ways that scientific meeting attendees become aware of your work: The first is that they actively search for your poster. They read the abstract title in the program—or even better, they read your abstract—and they are interested in the topic of your research. Alternatively, a colleague or conference exhibitor might refer an attendee to your poster.

The second is that an attendee strolls through the posters without looking for any one in particular; however, being interested in a general topic—like point-of-care testing or therapeutic drug monitoring—he or she glances at the posters in that field. To get noticed in this second instance, your title needs to be effective, encapsulating your findings in a short but telegraphic nutshell. For example, if I were to write a poster title for the recent science fiction film “Arrival,” it might be “Linguist Meets Aliens.” Since the abstract is written before the poster presentation, you’ll need to think about the title long before you construct the physical poster.

How should poster content be structured?

The poster gives you an opportunity to inform conference attendees of the good work you and your colleagues have accomplished and to expand on your abstract. The presentation content should be logical and lead the reader from your title to the hypothesis that you tested, followed by: 1) a brief description of your methods and materials, 2) your fabulous results, 3) a short discussion of the significance of your work, and 4) a concluding statement about your work.

This does not mean, however, that you should write the paper with all of its text, graphics and references, etc. and squeeze it onto the poster. In choosing the poster’s content, the key is to remain brief and easy to understand. If you think about it, the typical conference attendee wants to see as many posters as she or he can in 45 to 60 minutes, and therefore should be able to read yours in just a few minutes. Also, keep in mind that after looking at the title of your poster, attendees will frequently jump straight to the conclusion before deciding if they want to read more.

What factors into poster presentation style?

Presentation style will be influenced by how much content you have. If you’ve expanded your poster into 20 single-spaced pages and 10 tables or graphs printed at a 12 point font, few attendees will be able to read it from 3 feet away, and they will miss your good work, having bypassed your poster (in frustration, because they really wanted to see it). So please be considerate and, again, remember the poster is only meant to display the highlights of your work. You should also use a font that is simple, like Arial or Calibri, and make it as large as feasible while using page breaks, headings, and color to create visual interest. When using color, be especially sure that there is a high degree of contrast between the text/graphics and background.

Typically, a poster will be arranged in two, three, or four columns. The presentation runs from the upper left to the lower right, so be sure that the information flows in this direction. Like an advertisement that attracts your attention, your poster should be visually appealing in composition, color, and clarity of graphics. Good luck!

William E. Winter, MD, DABCC, FACB, is a professor of pathology and pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville. +Email: winter@pathology.ufl.edu