Preparing a conference poster

This month I attended my very first international conference, where I presented my ongoing PhD research in the form of a poster. Psychology of Language Learning PLL5 conference was held in Madrid, and I can not even begin to describe how excited I was to both attend the conference and to visit Spain for the first time!

I am a newbie when it comes to conferences, but I wanted to write down what I have learned so far, during my preparation of the poster presentation, my experience presenting it, and what I would do differently next time.

The Facts

  • PLL5 conference was in May, 2024, in Madrid, Spain
  • The size of the poster is A0, later notified that the poster should be vertical

I have never attended or seen how poster presentations work, so I asked my supervisors and looked for more information online. On YouTube I found a few good videos of excellent poster presentations and that gave me an idea on how they work and how I should prepare. I also found useful examples of good posters – and bad! For example, this video from Dr. Stapleton.

Canva is my friend when designing anything, and when I saw my university’s standard layout for the poster was rather boring, I decided to find something better from Canva. I chose a nice design and altered it with the theme colors of my university, which is not compulsory, but I happen to like to violet color scheme.

As I was presenting ongoing research, so far I have the background for the research, the research questions, and my preliminary analysis of the data. Again, I looked for inspiration online to see what information I should include and how to showcase what I am doing as clearly as possible.

Above you can see my old design, the one I used at the conference. On the right is the updated design. The problem with the vertical poster was, that to see the bottom contents, you had to bend down a bit to be able to see it. (It depends on how high you can hang your poster.) In the updated version I improved the mind map, as it was an important part of the preliminary results.

Scientific poster tips

  • Less text! Text should be big enough to be easily read and only the key information should be presented in text format. Seeing a poster with tons of text gets me a bit sleepy, so I can imagine others don’t want to see my poster full of tiny text either.
  • The poster should say clearly what the research aim was, the population and have a clear flow of the order the poster is best to be read.
  • Photos, pictures, or graphics can make the poster more interesting and attract attention. Text-only posters are not very inviting.
  • Add a QR-code where others can access the digital version of the poster, or even better, extra information that could not fit the poster. It could be a PDF, a blog post, or a video. Make the QR-code big enough and place it where it is easy to scan.
  • Print a draft on regular printing paper to check on the size, layout, and other details. After double-checking everything, print on actual poster paper. Many also like fabric posters that can be folded to neatly fit your suitcase.
  • Leave enough space at the edges of the poster, don’t put any important information too close to the edges.
  • Double-check for typos, but if there happens to be one, it will not be the end of the world. No one commented on mine!

Presenting the poster

Preparing the poster is not enough, you also need to get ready to present your research and to discuss it with other conference visitors. Prepare a short 3-minute introduction to your poster that highlights the key information or interesting findings. Think in advance about what questions others might have and how you would answer them.

My supervisor allowed me to practice my presentation with her and other PhD students, but before that, I also practiced with the ChatGPT audio chat and had the AI ask me questions as if it was a professor in my field. The prompts I used:

  • I am giving you a speech on my research project. Please act like a professor in the field of language learning and ask me questions about my research.
  • This is my presentation. Please ask me harder questions.

On YouTube, I found this winning poster presentation that also helped me to know more about what a poster presentation is all about.

After my rather successful poster presentation, and attending the sessions of other researchers, here are my tips for presenting:

  • Keep the initial introduction short, see the reaction of the listeners on what you should introduce more, and give them a chance to ask questions.
  • Other researchers are there to discuss your research and know more about it, remember you know your research project best.
  • When you are talking, remember to check who else is listening or coming in later, to make eye contact with them as well, acknowledging their presence with a smile or a nod.
  • Stand to the side of your poster, don’t turn your back to others.
  • Stay at your poster the whole time the poster presentation lasts, to get the most out of it. But do ask a friend to bring you something to drink or keep a water bottle nearby.
  • Relax, you got this!