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Poster perfect: Tips for acing your next poster presentation

Adam Saltz poster session
Adam Saltz presents his research at ASDA’s 2015 Student Research Poster Session. (Photo credit: Caught in the Moment Photography)

 

You’ve run PCRs between nights out with friends and pipetted 96-well plates blindfolded. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little (or a lot), but the message still holds: you’re a fiend in the research lab. When it comes to presenting your work, do you exude that same confidence and intellect? Or, does anxiety get the best of you, as judges press you with unanswerable questions for their own amusement?

Like most people, I started as the latter. I still remember my first conference. Of all places, it had to be at Harvard. Unbeknownst to me, my research director submitted my abstract for a poster presentation. There I was, a naive sophomore, surrounded by the most promising individuals in stem cell research.

I didn’t know how to construct or present a poster. As I twiddled my thumbs next to these power players, the first judge approached me. My mouth went dry. She browsed my poster and asked questions, none of which I could answer. It was a losing battle from there. I left feeling humbled more than anything. No matter how confident I felt in lab, I couldn’t translate my research to an audience.

I needed to find my rhythm. And I did. Since then, I was selected to present at the 2014 ADA Annual Session, as part of the International Association of Student Clinicians, and placed third among poster presenters at the 2015 ASDA Annual Session. The difference? I approached presenting like I did writing.

Editors can attest to spending hours, even sleepless nights, perfecting an introduction. It’s what grabs the reader’s interest, and ultimately, sets the direction for a piece. Much like a good hook, a solid opening statement can draw in passerbyes and keep judges from yawning (it’s happened).

ASDA poster session 2015
An aerial view of ASDA’s 2015 Student Research Poster Session held at Annual Session in Boston. (Photo credit: Caught in the Moment Photography)

 

Instead of reading the introduction on your poster verbatim, start with the clinical applications of your research. These, ironically, can be found in most conclusions. You may still be in the in vitro phase, but you must sell its clinical promise. For example, I research the efficacy of different stem cell treatments on craniofacial osteoblastogenesis. However, I can make my introduction more powerful by adding some color and new verbage. Instead, I can say that I research stem cell therapy as a means to revolutionize and replace the expensive and invasive surgeries for cleft lip and palate repair. What poster would you visit? Can you even understand the first?

The latter comment hits on another important tip: know your audience. Let me be clear. I said know, and not talk down, to your audience. There are some judges who have little background on your scientific work. Your little brother who studies business and Chinese should be just as wowed as your judges. It would be equally insulting if you were clearly dumbing it down. Keep the audience engaged by reciprocating questions! Pop quiz: what have I researched? (Hint: see above paragraph.)

Now, how do you address the infamous “Materials and Methods” section without basically reading the manufacturer’s package inserts? Tie them into your results. As you move through your methods, relate them to your data. Otherwise, it appears redundant. Display your results (tables, graphs, etc.) in a way that flows as naturally as you present them. It organizes the chronology of your presentation.

And the real secret: include quality images of your research in your poster. I can’t tell you how many positive comments I’ve received for mine. Before you even get the chance to sell your hook, onlookers have already scanned your poster. While the actual design layout is important, these images add another, unique dimension to the sea of tables and charts that everyone’s grown immune to.

These improvements both in print and presentation make your poster sing that much more. Believe me, it’ll have it’s own show by the time you’re done.

~Adam Saltz, Nova Southeastern ’17, contributing editor

Adam Saltz

Adam Saltz is a periodontics resident at UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry. He completed his DMD and MPH degrees at Nova Southeastern University, where he mobilized dental care for thousands of underserved families as a Give Kids A Smile program director. He also served as ASDA editor-in-chief from 2016-2017. When he’s not on the tennis court, you can catch him watching Bruins hockey.

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1 Comment

  1. These are some great tips here. I would definitely encourage people not to just read their presentation out loud – for every “bullet point” you read out loud you had better have a fact or anecdote to go with it that isn’t on the powerpoint. Otherwise, people won’t be impressed, as most people can do that.

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