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Tips for presenting at a digital poster session

July 8, 2018

More and more conferences are incorporating digital poster sessions, and some libraries are even building spaces to accommodate them. Here I share some tips for designing and presenting a digital poster based on my recent first-time experience co-presenting one.

My co-presenter, professor Todd Thompson of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and I designed a digital poster about a Hawaiian newspaper from the 1850s for a symposium about historical newspapers hosted by the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) in Worcester, MA. While I had presented print posters at conferences in the past, neither my co-presenter nor I had ever presented a digital poster before. The process of designing and presenting this digital poster, as well as conversations with other poster presenters, taught me the following lessons.

Designing the digital poster

  • Static or dynamic? One of the advantages of a digital poster is that you are not limited to a fixed format. At the AAS symposium, the conference organizers encouraged presenters to be creative (some conferences still want presenters to adhere to traditional poster formats even if they are digital). My colleague and I discussed whether we wanted our poster to be static or dynamic, and based on the subject matter and our presentation style, we decided to make a dynamic poster. We discussed whether we wanted to use a PowerPoint slideshow consisting of three looping slides or a similar set-up using Google Slides or Prezi. Ultimately, we built a simple website with WordPress that had one main page with three subpages.
  • Color or black-and-white? Printing a color poster measuring 3 feet by 4 feet can be very expensive. Depending upon the support your institution offers for printing large format posters, you could end up paying out of pocket costs which might lead you to print in cheaper black-and-white instead. With a digital poster, you do not have to worry about printing costs, giving you freedom to experiment with color schemes to draw attention to your project. In our case, the AAS had made available high quality color scans of the Hawaiian newspapers, and we were able to incorporate many of these color images into our digital poster. If you use color, consider checking to make sure it is accessible for visitors who are colorblind.
  • Multimedia elements? Creating a digital poster gives you the option of adding multimedia elements such as audio or video. For example, one of the other digital posters at the AAS symposium included an interactive map of newspapers that helped visitors to visualize the paper’s publishing distribution.
  • Screen format? When designing a digital poster, you may want to check with organizers beforehand to find out the dimensions of the display monitors. Then you can design the poster keeping in mind whether a 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratio will be a better fit, or whether your images will appear crisp if they are blown up on a huge HD screen.
  • Responsive design? Consider whether you will design your digital poster so that its layout can adapt to being viewed on desktop versus mobile devices. For instance, we brought two iPads to our digital poster session to allow individual visitors interested in subject-specific deep dives to browse our website at their leisure while we used the big screen to talk with a larger group, so we had to make sure our design was responsive.

Presenting the digital poster

  • Supplement your presentation with physical props. Consider passing out bookmarks, handouts, magnets, pins, or other items to give visitors a physical reminder of your digital project.
  • Share your presentation with an outside audience. Digital posters make it easy to share your research with others who are not able to attend the conference. Consider making a website, publishing your slide deck, and using the conference hashtag on social media to expand the reach of your digital poster.
  • Some things stay the same. Whether you are presenting a print poster or a digital one, bring along a bottle of water and a notebook for recording questions. Also, take time to circulate and check out other researchers’ posters; one of the advantages of co-presenting is that it allows you to take turns manning the table so you do not miss out on the other presentations!

Jessica Showalter is an Information Resources and Services Support Specialist at Penn State Altoona’s Eiche Library. Say hello on Twitter @libraryjms

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