Every picture tells a story: Poster presentations that get the message across

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Staff development

After reading this article, you will be able to:

  • Identify strategies to submit a poster abstract
  • Describe characteristics of a successful poster presentation

Encouraging staff members to submit posters for presentation at local and national conferences or other educational settings is a great professional development opportunity. The following discussion will give you some pointers on preparing posters and submitting them for review.

Tips for preparing an abstract

A poster abstract is generally submitted in narrative form, without visual aids. Therefore, start by choosing a catchy title. It should stand out from the many other abstracts that will be received. For example, which would you most remember: “Analysis of evidence-based data to justify department expansion” or “Departmental expansion: Gathering evidence to promote education!”?

Describe your project concisely, relying on major points of interest. You’ll only have a limited number of words to do this, so cover information such as the purpose of the project, highlights of its implementation, and outcomes. If you have templates, tools, or forms that are original and important to the success of the project, describe them briefly. Committees reviewing abstracts will want to quickly grasp the essentials of your project, how it will add to the body of knowledge of the participants, and what unique or original outcomes resulted. Also include what important information participants will be able to take away from your poster and use in their practice settings.

Finally, follow all guidelines for submission meticulously. Don’t forget to spell-check your work and make it as easy as possible for the reader to understand. Ask several colleagues to review your abstract before you submit it, and be sure to ask people who are not directly involved in the project. You want to be sure that your abstract makes sense to someone reading it for the first time.

Poster preparation and presentation

Use visuals that are appealing, clear-cut, and easily understood. Use narrative information to describe essential points of interest. Make sure that you use a font size and style that can be read from several feet away. Stick to one or two fonts, such as one for major headings and another for text. Using too many different styles can be distracting and difficult to read, and can take away from the educational aspects of the poster.

Use illustrations, but only those that help to educate attendees. Pictures of people participating in the project, sample forms or templates, and graphs are all good examples. As with the text, make sure that the illustrations can be viewed and understood from several feet away.

Include educational objectives, names and titles of presenters, and the represented organization as parts of the poster. Make sure that all acronyms are spelled out in their entirety the first time they are used, followed by the acronym in parentheses. Never assume that an acronym will be recognized by all attendees.

Finally, the following are some tips regarding your behavior as a poster presenter:

  • Dress professionally but comfortably. Wear comfortable business shoes, but not sneakers. You will most likely be standing for several hours, so plan ahead. You are representing yourself and your organization, so it is important that you are businesslike in appearance and demeanor.
  • Be confident. If you appear uncomfortable or are unable to answer questions, you will make a poor impression. Ask colleagues to quiz you prior to the presentation so you can practice. Have them ask you various questions about your project, including tough or cynical questions, so you can be prepared for both praise and criticism.
  • Have a good supply of handouts available. Nothing irritates participants more than finding out that an excellent poster presenter did not bring handouts or failed to bring an adequate supply. Include details in your handouts that may not have had room to include on the poster.
  • Bring an adequate supply of business cards. You may want to bring a small table or stand with you and use it to display handouts and business cards. That way people who want to contact you later or who do not have time to talk to you will be able to take away information.
  • Have a small basket or other container and encourage participants to leave their business cards with you. Never miss an opportunity to network.
  • Consider including a basket of candy or other giveaways such as pens or sticky notes at your table. Sometimes people are more likely to stop and view a poster when they see that a gift is part of the presentation.
  • Come prepared to make emergency repairs. Extra copies of tools, illustrations, or narratives may come in handy in case of a rip or spill. Also bring extra pens, markers, double- and single-sided tape, and thumbtacks. You never know what repairs may need to be made.
  • Stow valuables securely or don’t bring them. If you bring items such as a purse or laptop, keep them in a secure place, never in view of attendees. You will be busy answering questions and will not be alert to the whereabouts of your valuables.
  • Enjoy yourself. A poster presentation is an excellent opportunity to share your knowledge and proudly display your accomplishments.
  • Make time to view other posters and talk to their authors. You will doubtlessly pick up tips for your next poster presentation. You will also acquire know-ledge that you can use in your own practice setting.

If your first poster abstract is not accepted, don’t be discouraged—just keep trying. Presenting posters, like any form of presentation, is an art and worthy of pursuing. It may lead to publication of manuscripts or future podium speeches. The sharing of knowledge is both a responsibility and a pleasure for staff development specialists.


American Library Association (ALA). (2009). “Poster sessions.” Retrieved September 3, 2009, from

American Library Association (ALA). (2006). “Poster session alphabet soup: A recipe for success.” C&RL News 67(6). Retrieved September 3, 2009, from


Adapted from The Staff Educator, October 2009, HCPro, Inc.