A masked female holding booklets in front of multiple posters

Poster presentations at a scientific conference offer a great opportunity for attendees to share their work and receive feedback, network with other like-minded individuals, and potentially form new collaborations. But with hundreds of posters on display at the 2022 AACC Annual Scientific Meeting and Clinical Lab Expo, how can you make yours stand out?

“Whether we’d like to admit it or not, a lot of the design of a poster is critical to a first impression,” said medical illustrator Shiz Aoki, co-founder and CEO of BioRender. The company developed a software tool to help scientists easily create and share posters and figures to facilitate better scientific communication. “You’re really competing for people’s attention, and you have a fraction of a second when people are walking by and looking through the telephone book of options for posters to examine.”

Both the writing and design are key elements of an attractive poster, Aoki says: “The temptation is to dump what you recently published in a journal into the form of a 3x4 foot printed poster. But it does take time to make the content appropriate for that format.”

Clarity is key. Reducing the text that you’re sharing, making sure to leave plenty of white space around the text, numbering any figures clearly, and avoiding distracting gradient backgrounds are helpful, Aoki says: “People are walking by, and they’re about 6 feet away from the printed poster. You have to consider legibility, accessibility, font size, and eye level. It’s different from PowerPoint presentations where you get to show one slide at a time. The poster presents the whole story beginning to end.”

When creating the poster, put yourself in the seat of your viewer and track how they’re going to consume the information from beginning to end, she advised: “If they can’t look at your poster like they would look at a map, going from point A to point B, then you’re probably going to lose their attention and therefore, lose their interest.”

Posters should be considered a snapshot of your work designed to engage colleagues in a dialog, or if you are not present, to summarize your work to encourage readers to want to know more, according to the authors of Ten Simple Rules for a Good Poster Presentation (PLoS Comput Biol 3[5]: e102).

Give your posters a great title to attract visitors, they advised. It might be the only thing they see before they reach you. Define the purpose of your poster: Do you want to make attendees aware of a shared resource? Are you looking for collaborators? Style your poster accordingly.

Remember that the rules of writing a good paper apply to posters, too. Like the abstract of a paper, include a succinct summary of your hypothesis, major results, and conclusions. Everything on the poster, including illustrations, charts or graphs, should help convey your message. Make it easy for viewers to contact you after by including your email address.

Take advantage of technology tools to help design engaging posters. Besides BioRender’s tool, some people use PowerPoint, Google Slides, or Scribus (an open source desktop publishing tool). Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Designer, Pixelmator, and Inkscape can help with graphics, and LaTeX provides poster templates, according to the article How to Prepare a Scientific Poster. There also are online resources available with premade illustrations that can be used with attribution, such as the Noun Project.

When presenting, smiling, making eye contact with viewers, and introduce yourself are recommendations from the article 7 Tips for Preparing a Winning Scientific Poster Presentation. Ask your audience if they would like you to present your poster; some people like to scan posters on their own. Make sure you can tell your story within 5-10 minutes and anticipate questions viewers might ask. If you see others waiting to talk to you, acknowledge them with a smile or nod so they know you see them.

For more information on poster abstracts at #2020AACC, visit https://meeting.aacc.org/abstracts.

Karen Blum is a freelance medical and science writer who lives in Owings Mills, Maryland. +Email: [email protected]