Talking in Poster Sessions: Breaking the Ice (1)

Talking in Poster Sessions: Breaking the Ice (1)

Author: Richard Threlfall

Presenting posters and leading the conversation in a poster session can be intimidating. However, there are some very simple things that you can do to help yourself get through what can be a challenging experience. Richard Threlfall, Managing Editor, Asian Journal of Organic Chemistry, gives you some tips on how to plan and design an outstanding poster and how you can make sure that you present your poster like a pro.


The First Move

So you’ve prepared all your handouts, sat through the first session of lectures, and the poster session finally opens. You’re standing next to your poster when someone wanders by and pauses for a while. They look at your poster, they seem to be interested, but neither of you make the first move. We all know the feeling of the awkward silence before the person glances at their abstract book, moves on to the poster next door, and you’ve missed your opportunity. Perhaps that was an expert in your field, a potential collaborator, a journal editor (yes, we do go to conferences!), or even your potential future boss that you’ve just let walk right by! So how do you get someone talking in a poster session?

If someone stops briefly to look at your poster, don’t wait for them to ask the first question, you should break the ice right away. However, you don’t need to ask profound scientific questions to get someone talking. You can point to the most critical part of the poster, which, due to your clever design will have already caught their eye, and open with: “This is the most exciting bit here, because …” and this leads you right into the heart of your story. Alternatively, it may sound silly, but neutral questions like: “Hi, how are you today?” or “Hi, which institution are you from?” are good openers because they aren’t easy yes/no questions and you make direct personal contact with the person straight away.



Another method to engage with people is related to last month’s tips, and that is if you’ve brought some smaller A4 printouts of your poster or a short list of your relevant publications, you can begin with, “If you’re interested, I have some copies here that you can read/take away with you/look at later.” This strategy has the added benefit that even if the person takes the copy and walks away right then, they still have your work in their hand. This means that they can look at it in their own time and they may even come back to talk to you later on.


Pay Attention

The value of paying attention in the conference lectures cannot be overstated for poster sessions! If you’ve seen someone give a talk earlier in the day and they’re browsing your poster, then “I enjoyed your talk earlier on, did you know that our group is working on something similar?” or “I enjoyed your talk earlier on, I thought that your work might be particularly relevant to this step here …” are fantastic ice-breakers. Of course, this is trickier if the speaker’s work is totally unrelated to your own, but in these cases, you can still let the person know that you enjoyed their contribution to the conference and this will likely lead to them taking an interest in yours.


Eye Contact

Even the shortest of opening questions can get you what you want at the start of a poster presentation, and what you want is eye contact. As soon as you have eye contact with someone, it is much more difficult for them to walk away and most of the time they will begin to talk with you. Then, you’re in the driving seat and can begin to explain all the best bits of your project to a captive audience!


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