Poster presentations have become an interesting alternative to conventional speeches at business and technical conferences. During poster presentations, speakers discuss their subject with people who stop in front of their poster and express an interest in the topic – they don't present a speech to a large group all at once. Poster presentations are more like a conversation than a speech or conventional PowerPoint presentation. It's more informal, so comments and questions may come at any point during the presentation.
Toastmaster Virginia Duya of Houston, Texas, has given both PowerPoint presentations and posters at national conferences. Comparing the two, she says, "I enjoyed the poster presentation more. It's more personal, more of a one-on-one conversation. Also, it's less stressful because you aren't standing in front of a large group of people with everyone watching you."
In this type of business presentation, posters are set up next to each other on bulletin boards placed in long rows in the meeting room. Speakers stand next to their posters discussing their topic with people who stop to look at the posted information. This enables many speakers to present their posters simultaneously, so conference organizers can schedule a large number of poster presentations in the time that just a few regular PowerPoint presentations could be given sequentially. Many organizations, such as the Institute of Certified Financial Planners, American Public Health Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Library Association now include large poster sessions in their annual meetings.
Applying your Toastmasters skills can enable you to be a successful poster presenter. Here are some of the advantages of a poster presentation:
When making a regular presentation, conference speakers have a strict time limit to present their information and audience members have the same limited time to understand it. Conference attendees must proceed in lock step with the speaker's pace. Thus it is difficult for audience members to stop and mull over something the speaker has said. Doing so, they miss the next part of the presentation. Audience members typically ask questions only after the speech ends.
There are no such time constraints on poster presentations. Posters are typically set up for two hours or more with the presenter standing next to them. This gives the presenters much more time to explain their subjects and audience members to understand them and explore their implications.
By asking questions, audience members can control the pace of a poster presentation. They can ask the presenter to skip over more elementary material, stop to consider a point or ask a question without having to wait for the end of the presentation. Extended conversations provide opportunities to discuss points at length; both audience members and the speakers can gain new insights.
Speakers can meet people working in their own field, exchange business cards and develop new and possibly fruitful contacts. It is much more difficult for these activities to occur in the context of a traditional conference session.
The biggest disadvantage of poster sessions is their length. Sessions typically last about two hours with the speaker expected to be present during this time. Speakers will present their posters several times as audience members move off to attend other posters and new audience members arrive. As a result, poster presentations are more tiring to deliver than speeches.
Poster sessions are usually held in large ballrooms or halls with two-sided poster boards arranged in long aisles. You have one side of the board for your poster and someone else has the other. There is often little room between your poster board and the ones to your left and right. This means that people are close together and the noise of other conversations can be distracting. Effective listening skills are a must.
In designing your poster presentation, the same steps should be followed as when preparing a Toastmasters club speech. These include:
Closely follow the directions provided by the conference organizers in preparing your poster. Typically these include poster dimensions, requirements for print size and other information. Your materials should be legible at a distance of six feet.
Keep your text to a minimum. Remember, the main transfer of information will be verbal as the presenter "talks through" the poster to people who have stopped to view it. However, be sure your objective, conclusions and visual materials such as graphs are explained adequately. The presentation materials should tell an interesting story.
Arrange the poster contents to be visually attractive and in a logical order. Preparing a scale drawing of the layout of your poster will help you create a nice layout.
Arrive at the poster session early to set up your poster. Come prepared with your own pins, Velcro‚ tape, transparent tape (should anything be torn while setting up your poster) and a scissors. Placing a wallet-sized photograph of yourself on the poster will let attendees identify you in a crowded session.
You'll find that the oral component of a poster presentation takes less time to prepare than a conference speech. Present the poster information using your visual materials to illustrate your points.
While questions and discussions can lengthen your interactions with some individuals, your "canned" presentation should last no more than five minutes. The environment of poster sessions shortens many people's attention spans. Careful preparation and a rehearsal prior to the meeting
will enable you make a concise and polished presentation. The more prepared you are, the more confident you'll be and the better your presentation will be.
Because your presentation may be interrupted at any time with comments and questions, you must be able to respond to audience members and then return to your presentation at the point where you left off. This can sometimes be difficult. When you receive an unanticipated question, it may seem like a Table Topics session rather than presenting a speech.
Many speakers, including Toastmasters Duya, Wallace and I, have found poster sessions to be more enjoyable than oral presentations because of the interesting discussions the poster format makes possible. We recommend you try it and find out for yourself.