Applying basic marketing concepts to your next poster presentation could make a difference between time well spent and a lost opportunity.
You know the drill. You work hard to represent your research with a series of text-laden PowerPoint slides, print them up, put them on a poster board, and then watch everyone walk past as they search for the shortest beer line, or their best bud from grad school. It is not a very fulfilling experience. What if this time you shook things up a bit? What if you tried something new?
At the many ACS technical meetings this year, there will be thousands of posters presented. Most will gain only a cursory glance, others may not warrant notice at all. In marketing, posters are used very successfully as graphical tools to convey concepts quickly and effectively. Applying basic marketing concepts to your next presentation could result in significantly higher retention rates for you and your poster.
Consider your poster as a marketing tool. Look around at posters that you have seen on your commute into work: movie posters promoting the latest flick, or billboards lining the highway. Think also of the illustrations in textbooks. The successful ones will feature one or two main points with a dynamic graphic and minimal text.
In marketing, text and graphics are two very different tools that convey different types of information. Graphical campaigns are designed to convey a single thought quickly—in a glance. Heavy text is seen as the kiss of death. People just won’t take the time to read voluminous text as they wander down an aisle.
As you design your next poster, think of the one concept that you want to convey more than any thing else. Visualize it and determine the best way to illustrate it without any words at all. The graphic could consist of two molecules docking, a transformational isomerization, a key analyte, or an exploded view of an instrument. Think beyond stick figures to 3-D representations, and use color for dramatic effect. The graphic should also imply motion where possible.
Utilizing these simple concepts you can make your poster much more attractive to passersby. The changes might even result in a conversation that you can use to make a connection for collaboration or networking. Whether you are looking for a job or a grant, you need for others to notice you and your work.
Secondary concepts can be illustrated through smaller panels surrounding the main graphic. For each panel, the relationship to the main graphic should be readily apparent, text should be minimal, and the secondary graphics should add to the primary graphic’s impact. In most cases, the primary graphic should dominate with smaller panels for secondary concepts.
Since people are most likely to search for your poster online, be sure to use keywords in your title and abstract that are common to your field. Consider names for classes of compounds or processes rather than more specific terms.
Lastly, be cognizant of your body language when you are standing in front of your poster. Avoid crossing your arms or legs. Try smiling—even if you don’t want to. You will be seen as more approachable.
If these tactics seem cheesy or trite, reconsider why you chose to present your work in the first place. If you want people to notice your work, and recognize its relevance, then you must first get their attention. In the end, you will have to be more attractive than beer or an old friend if you want others to say, “What’s this all about? I’d like to know more about your work.”
This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.