Alternate title: An indefinite guide on how to make a conference poster for a library conference.
Yesterday, I took part in my first poster session at the OLA Super Conference and all in all, things went really well. I went into this endeavor a total novice, however, so I thought it might be helpful to others to talk about my experiences in the form of a step-by-step guide on poster making.
Step one: Find a conference that has a poster session
Many library conferences offer people the opportunity to present posters that outline a research project, initiative or idea. These include the IFLA Annual Conference, the OLA Super Conference and the ALA Annual Conference.
Step two: Submit a proposal
Write a brief proposal that you could base a poster on.
If you’re an experienced librarian, perhaps base it on a recent initiative you took the lead on at your library. If you’re a new librarian or a library school student, construct a poster around a research project you have done or a strong interest that you have taken in the profession.
While there’s no guarantee your poster session submission will be accepted, it never hurts to try. After all, they accepted my proposal (which is viewable here).
On a final note, if you want some company sharing the workload and presenting at the session, find a partner. Many conferences will accept more than one presenter for a poster (though also know that going it alone really isn’t so bad).
Step three: Make a poster
Do some research
Start by searching the Web for examples of conference posters. Here is an example of some of the posters I viewed when deciding upon a structure and design for my own poster:
- ALA Poster Sessions: Recent examples from the ALA Annual Conference.
- OLA Super Conference 2009: A few pictures of posters presented at last year’s OLA Super Conference on Catherine Devion’s Flickr site.
- Pimp My Poster: Colin Purrington of Swarthmore College has put together a Flickr group that features dozens of examples of conference posters across disciplines.
Compile content for your poster
Typically, posters include the following:
- Introduction: a statement of the need/problem/ objectives of the project.
- Methodology: how the project was carried out.
- Findings: the significant discoveries and/or results of the project.
- Conclusions: a brief summary of the significance of the work.
- Acknowledgements: a brief thank you to everyone who helped with the development and completion of the project.
- References: a brief bibliography of works referenced. Some posters also include a list of additional resources.
- Authorship and contact information: the name(s) of the presenter(s) and their contact information so others can follow up with any questions or comments (e.g., an email address and/or a link to a personal Web site).
Construct your poster
Posters presented at library conferences come in all shapes and sizes…
Arts and crafts posters:
While frowned upon in the hard sciences, many librarians take the artistic “cut and paste” approach to poster-making, using things like bristol board, word processors/conventional colour printers and construction paper.
With an effective use of colour and a good eye for design I see no reason to avoid choosing this inexpensive option as a means of communicating your work as long as the conference provides you with a poster board to attach your materials to.
Large format posters:
There are many software options to choose from when designing a large format poster, including:
- Inkscape (free)
I’d recommend searching the web for poster templates to make this process a bit easier. I ended up using Colin Purrington’s widely used template for PowerPoint, which worked out swimmingly:
On your poster, make sure to include things like pictures and graphs to attract people’s attention and illustrate your points. I used clip art from Microsoft Office Word, a few images from Openaccessweek.org (including the banner, which I modified with photo editing software), and a picture of the menu on Concordia’s Open Access guide.
As for the text, I’d recommend using nothing smaller than a 20 point font so that people will be able to read your poster from a short distance away. This will also help you to avoid making your poster too text-heavy. I’d also recommend choosing a clean and clear sans serif typeface such as Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Gill Sans, Tahoma or Franklin Gothic.
Step 4: Print your poster
Conventional printers: Printing a number of smaller posters that you intend to place together (e.g., the arts and crafts approach) is easy enough and relatively inexpensive. Just make sure to use a colour printer (usually $0.50 a sheet at a library near you) and compose your materials in an aesthetically pleasing way that adequately covers the poster board you have been provided with.
Note, however, that with a conventional printer the largest paper you can print out is 11″x17″ (ledger size).
Large format printing: Get out your credit card!
On average, a large format conference poster is 3 x 5 feet. I investigated the cost of poster printing at a number of universities and print shops here in Southwestern Ontario. The cheapest I could find, though not nearly close enough for me to take advantage, was through the Chemistry Department at the University of Guelph (offering to print 36″x56″ posters for $30). Typically, however, the average cost for poster printing is much more at around $5.00 per square foot.
In the end, I had my poster printed through the McMaster Student Union’s Underground Printing and Design. They outsource posters that are printed at $4.75 per square foot (plus tax).
I decided to make my poster 2×3 feet, which was all that I could afford. Before sending it away to be printed, I ensured it was sized accordingly (go to Design, then Page Setup in PowerPoint 2007). I then converted it to a PDF file (this prevents text boxes from shifting unexpectedly when the file is opened to be printed) then emailed the file to the MAC print shop.
Though I was told it would take 5 business days, it was done in 3, it cost me about $35, and it looked fantastic.
Step 5: Consider making additional materials
Assuming presenters are provided with a table, there are a number of things you can offer conference attendees to attract attention and interest in your presentation.
Additional posters: For my poster presentation, I printed off some smaller posters from Openaccessweek.org to fill the 4 x 6 foot space I would be provided with at the Super Conference. I also made some posters using Publisher to go along the bottom of my poster board, derived from “teaser cards” available on the SPARC Web site.
Pamphlets/ Brochures: I also made a pamphlet that provided more information about the topic of my poster, including a definition of open access (OA), its advantages, how librarians can support OA initiatives, and a list of references/additional resources. Additionally, I included a link to a Web page on OA that I’ve put together on this site to invite people to view my poster online, learn more about OA, and find out more about me.
In the 3 hours that my poster was up, all but one of the 50 pamphlets I made had been taken.
Buttons, Bookmarks, Stickers…: People like free things. If you can afford it and its relevant to your project, I’d recommend giving away some fun stuff during your presentation. Not only will this promote your efforts, it will also attract people to your presentation.
I bought some Avery Sticker Paper (approx. $12) and printed off 50 stickers using a template available from the Openaccessweek.org Web site. These were not as popular as my pamphlets, but were still a hit. (I would have preferred attaching the stickers to my pamphlets, however, the paperclips I bought were scratching them so I decided to place them on my table separately).
Homemade bookmarks and fliers as well as hard candies are also cheap and attractive take-aways to consider providing.
Other Information Sources/ Demos: A number of people brought in laptops to show things like demos and PowerPoint presentations. This is a great way to make your presentation more dynamic. Just make sure that there is Internet access (if required) and electrical outlets ahead of time.
I, on the other hand, made a binder that contained examples of handouts, bookmark/sticker templates, brochures, guides and descriptions of videos available from Openaccessweek.org and SPARC. Hopefully this was useful to anyone that might be considering participating in OA Week 2010.
Business cards: In a previous post, I explained a cheap means of buying business cards from Vista Print.
In an effort to save money, I included my contact information on my pamphlet via the link to my Web site instead. However, business cards would have been a great idea and I recommend bringing some along since people will want to learn more about your project and follow up with you on things you have discussed at the conference.
Step 6: Present your poster
On the day of the event, I put on a blouse, sweater vest, cardigan and skirt (librarian chic), which fit in relatively well with the casual/business casual style preferences of other conference participants. I definitely recommend comfy shoes since I was standing for the full two hours of the session.
I brought my poster to the OLA Super Conference rolled up in a plastic bag. I am sure there’s better methods, but this worked fine.
When I arrived, I learned that presentation space had not been assigned ahead of time. Luckily, I arrived 15 minutes before the session began and had time to grab a board that was somewhat visible to people passing by the exhibit space.
I attached my poster to the poster board using Velcro strips that had adhesive on one side that I bought at the dollar store, which worked remarkably well. I also brought tacks, which I used for some of the smaller posters for lack of more Velcro.
At noon sharp, people flooded the exhibit space, which was located just outside a plenary session featuring the fantastic L.Gen Roméo Dallaire. Much to my relief, people came by my poster who were friendly, inquisitive, interested and engaged. All in all, it was a complete success.
Here are just a few pictures of my poster and others that were displayed on Friday, February 26, 2010.
There were some subtle downsides to making and presenting a conference poster.
- It was a lot of work, much more than I’d of needed to put into a conference paper.
- It cost me about $50 to put together all of my materials (in addition to registration fees and travel expenses).
- Taking part did not come with any perks such as discounted registration or a safe place to store my materials at the conference before and after my session.
But these are minor gripes…
Overall, my first experience taking part in a poster session was a great opportunity to show off my abilities, share my interests and meet a wide range of librarians, library students and fellow job-seekers.
That said, I owe a big thank you to the OLA Super Conference organizers for providing me with this opportunity and commend them for their efforts in pulling off a very professional, well-organized and memorable event.
Advice on Designing Scientific Posters: Colin Purrington has put together an extensive and most excellent guide on designing scientific posters. It includes advice on software/materials, layout/design, and how to actually present your work. It’s a definite “must-read” for anyone putting together a poster of their own.
Poster Presentations: Designing effective posters: Provides a few insights into poster design and includes a long list of additional resources with further hints and suggestions.