Getting Over an Underwhelming Poster Presentation Experience

I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of academic poster presentations; however, I did submit to one at Salford last year. It was an internal college ‘showcase’ event.

I wanted to do something a bit out of the ordinary and come up with a poster that would catch the eye a bit. I wanted to challenge perceptions of what a poster presentation should be. I thought about the purpose of the presentation. Is it to impart information? Is it to sell the idea of your research? Do you want to give an audience everything at once or do you want to hook them in and tempt them to discuss it with you, rather than just reading about it? Looking back to last June when I did this, they all seem to be quite grand aspirations I’d had at the time, don’t you think? ;-)

I asked a friend of mine to help me with the design because this is his trade; I learned quite a lot from him. I met him a long time ago and was always impressed with his talent and because art and design has rarely been a strength of mine. Anyhow, the design we settled on and submitted is below. What do you think?

I really liked it and still do, but the response it got at the event was distinctly underwhelming and never really provoked the kind of discussion that I hoped it would. Anyway, I dug it out again recently and wanted to post it here because I think it’s a shame to work hard on something and invest hope in it, only for it to be consigned to the backwaters of an old folder on a memory stick. I was disappointed that it never got the response I hoped for in the sense of encouraging discussion around innovative and perhaps even radical ways of engaging people in complex academic material. But, I was glad to have tried something different and gained the feedback, or lack of, that that kind of experience brings.

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14 thoughts on “Getting Over an Underwhelming Poster Presentation Experience

  1. Hey Gareth,

    Cheers for the poster, you got a pair. Well done.
    I love the idea of just printing ideas, in a pretty way, really simple. I get headaches in poster presentations where everything I see is text.

    I think a poster should first catch the eye and then spark discussion. And stay away from being a self-contained academic paper. Only now question, did you use alternative methods in your poster session to show data or complex ideas?

    What was the response you got? Which remarks?

    Julio

    • Hi Julio,

      Thanks for the support! I also prefer to produce things that convey simple ideas, whether it’s in a poster presentation or a slide deck of images to accompany an oral presentation.

      The event I produced this poster for was accompanied by a book of abstracts so if anybody was interested in more text they could have read through that. I am early on in my PhD, too, so I didnt have any data to present. I just had my basic concepts and research questions which I hoped would have been enough to draw discussion.

      Dissappointingly, nobody asked me any questions about it or really even stopped to look at it. Perhaps I was just at the wrong event. There were plenty of physical and technical sciences people there so maybe my subject matter was just of no interest to them. You never know, one day I might get to use it again with a social science audience and that’s really why I wanted to blog about it here – I hope that in some small way it can contribute to a rethink of poster presentation styles.

      Gareth

  2. Gareth, You made an invitation to have a dialogue about your research. This is to be commended. There is a conspiracy of mediocrity in presentation of academic research. Keep pushing! More thoughts on posters here: http://ps-spencer.posterous.com/perfect-posters

  3. Eva Alisic says:

    Hi Gareth,

    That is a great idea to spark discussion! Definitely catches the eye and if you can combine such a design with the data you’ll gather in the future on a hand-out, I think it would make a valuable contribution. Hang in there and don’t get put off by the passivity on the side of conference participants, hopefully next time they’ll be more active!

    • Hi Eva,

      Thanks for the comment! It would be a good idea to have a handout as well. I didn’t think of doing that for this event but would certainly do one in future.

      Gareth

  4. [...] he reports in his post Getting over an underwhelming poster presentation experience, his poster did not get much attention. Was it because of targeting the wrong audience? Are [...]

  5. peironcely says:

    Hey Gareth,

    In this post Challenging Status Quo Of A Scientific Poster I mention your poster experience and also tips I found on how to make nice posters.

    Cheers,
    Julio

  6. John Hughes says:

    Hello Gareth, I must say I found the poster interesting in the context of place attachment.

    I have started taking much more notice of place shaping images around the City. The poster boards, for example around the Central Library I think are quite interesting, with quotes from local people/characters helping to offer a view of their relationship with the city articulating an enterprising and heavy on cultural feel. In this way they have presenting the city in a very positive and cosmopolitan way. Quite right too. But who are they targetting.

    Then I wondered what the reaction would be if they placed your tatooed arm up on there on a poster board with I love Crumpsall emblazoned on it. The tatoo is common enough feature where i live up in Cheetham Hill and would adequately articulate a fairly working class view of that part of North Manchester. But it probably does not match the impression the place shapers want to portray.

    First things I think about Stoke is ace dart players, oat cakes and wrights pies, so the tatoo I think fits well with my admittedly crass view of Stoke.

    Where i work in Tameside I am constantly amazed at the blandness of our place shaping boards, with a reference to a crap pop record like “it all about you” or “proud” Avbsolutely no creativity which at least you cannot be accused of.

    Soz for the ramble.

    John H

    • Hi John,

      A rambling reply is always most welcome!

      I’ve got to admit, I never considered that the image of the tattoo may be interpreted as a tattoo, if that makes sense. To me, a tattoo is just a tattoo and no longer something I associate with social class. It was of interest to me here because it represents a desire of the body’s owner to display the permanency and strength of his place identity.

      I’m really pleased that you take notice of place-shaping images and think critically about them – especially how positive relationships with place seem to be promoted. In term of Gtr Manchester, I was particularly interested in the ‘I Love Salford’ and ‘I Love Manchester’ campaigns that emerged on Twitter and the logos that appeared in city centre shop windows following the riots. People tweeted about the shame and embarrassment these events brought to the reputation of the cities. These campaigns seemed to have died down again which leaves me to think that the threat to those individuals place identity has subsided and normality has resumed. A second example is the outrage over, dare I say it, Salford University maintaining the word Manchester in their redesigned logo.

      Finally, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to collaborate on some place-making research. I’m sure Tameside is worthy of, and can do better than, a few crap pop record references.

      Gareth

  7. Nish says:

    Hi Gareth
    At this very minute, I am making a poster for an academic conference. I have done very unusual poster and I am going to go with it.

    I love your poster. Please do not change your style.

    It heals the viewer’s eye and mind when they go round reading the versions of academic paper apper on posters. I am tired of wondering around them at conferences.

    Well done!!!!! very creative!!!!!!

    Nish

  8. Hi Gareth,… I think you need a contrarian view here. Your purpose, when you designed your nice poster, was to provoke discussions. That did not happen. So your poster failed. And that is the key point here. Other posters were more successful. The question remains: Why did it not work as expected? Did it intimidate people? Do people want to feel in charge of what they do when walking around, and the poster was too aggressive for them – giving you too much power? What clothes were you wearing that day? Did they blend or contrast with the color of your poster? Are people more interested by graphics potentially rich in findings than by pure text? Do people want answers to questions more than they want questions without answers? These are a few of the points worth reflecting on :)
    I’m sorry to rain you your parade, Gareth. Actually, I find your rebellion against the status quo commendable. Don’t lose that investigative and questioning spirit. At the same time, there is no need to be mortified by trial and errors – Understand your audience’s needs and learn from people’s attitude towards your poster.

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