‘Doing a poster presentation at a conference’

Conferences almost always have more abstracts submitted than can be successfully fitted into a programme. The programme is determined by the number of rooms available for concurrent session. The ‘scientific’ or “academic’ committee will often rank submissions if they feel there will be more “yes” decisions than can be accommodated. You may be offered a poster slot if your abstract is good, but not quite as highly ranked, or it could be that you submitted two, one for presentation and one as a poster. If you submit an abstract for a poster it still needs to be strong- the same guidelines apply as in the post on abstracts on this blog.

Focus on the key message you want to get across to your intended audience. Who is the intended audience? Be sure you write for that audience and ensure language, concepts and ideas can be understood by your audience. Remember the four or five key sentences for a good abstract and work out how you can communicate those concepts in the visual medium. All the text on the poster should be clear and concise: use short sentences, bullet points and avoid jargon, abbreviations and acronyms. Use colour and photos or graphics to attract the eye of conference participants.

You may be assigned a slot to speak to your poster, usually only 5 minutes, and in this case there will be a chair. Your task as the presenter is to manage challenging questions; and to expand on the messages in your poster. Prepare a 1-2 page handout. Have your business cards ready and have some available in an envelope pinned to the board for when you’re unavailable.

Handouts: Your presentation should include references but if you provide this on a hand-out you are not cluttering up the poster. Add your name, institution and e-mail address. Handouts or outlines may help the audience follow the presentation. You may wish to distribute them before the presentation when the content is dense and mainly text. Take a plastic pocket that can be attached to the poster board.

Production: you can use PowerPoint™ to produce your poster. The layout menu will guide you through this. Space doesn’t allow details here but essentially you produce two slides with content edge to edge, that a commercial printer can produce as large as you want, full colour etc. Getting these printed can be expensive so do ask for a quote! Posters can be produced on card or fabric. Remember to take pins or 2-sided tape.

Layout: All posters must have a title, along with an abstract, findings, key ‘take away’ points, and important references. Posters should also have sections which outline the problem, methods, discussion and results of your research. To get started map out how you will fit these sections in and work out how you will direct readers to the sections in logical order. Use letters, numbers or arrows to indicate the correct direction to your audience. Decide the main headers, text boxes, diagrams, data displays and photos and start designing.

Appearance: Keep it simple. Plain, light colour backgrounds allow for high contrast with text. Highlight developments, trends and comparisons with simple graphs and diagrams but avoid too many numbers, words or complex visuals. The use of colour improves the appearance and readability of your poster. The software easily allows you to develop theme colours. The golden rule is that lettering should be able to be read from a distance of 1.5metres and the title from 3 metres. Use bold thick font for titles, headings and subheadings to enhance readability. A poster is not the vehicle to present the detail from your research or project. The simplest posters are often the most successful. Test your design and text layout and ‘sense’ on friends or colleagues before you send to the printer. Many large format posters can be safely carried in cardboard cylinders and cloth posters can be folded up in your luggage.

Use the following guidelines for text size.
– Poster Title 96 – 180 point
– Author 20 – 36 point
– Headings (Abstract, Conclusions etc) 48 – 84 point
– Subheadings 24 – 36 point
– Body Text 14 – 20 point

And don’t forget to carefully read the instructions provided by the conference organisers and check the programme for the time your poster is to be displayed. at large conferences you may be assigned a day and your poster will need to be removed on time.
Free On-line Resources: Any problems just type “How do I make a poster in PowerPoint” In Google and you will find many easy resources.

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How to write a great conference abstract and get picked!

An academic abstract can be likened to a miniature work of art. It is an academic promo for a larger academic production. Within the confines of only a few hundred words, a clearly written abstract affords a bird’s-eye view and summary of work that may have taken many hundreds of hours and many thousands of dollars to construct (Jens Hansen).

There are three reasons to write a good abstract when hoping to present at a conference: (1) you want the conference programme committee to pick you! (2) Delegates will read your abstract among many others and your abstract needs to attract them to come to hear your paper. (3) The title and abstract may remain on a website which means that people may be able to find out about your work long after the conference.

An abstract is a brief (word limits are usually 100-250 words) strong and clear statement describing a larger paper to follow. Your title should be clear and contain the key words of your topic. Bearing in mind that you may only have 10-20 minutes to present, you will need a clear structure. A good way to start is to jot down the 3-4 key ideas you want to communicate in the presentation. This generates the major elements of your abstract. A good abstract may only need about four or five sentences to be effective:
• an introductory sentence that describes the phenomenon or problem you are considering;
• a sentence or two saying what you studied and how;
• one saying what your findings were;
• one last sentence explaining the implications of your findings, with some recommendations and/or suggesting further research.

If your paper is reporting research it should be complete, or if ‘in progress’ you would generally need to be reporting a completed section of the study or a fully evaluated pilot. If it is a conceptual paper it will address an issue that cannot be answered simply by finding more data and will present arguments that will be grounded in literature and broadly accepted knowledge.

Some basic rules: use the template if it is provided; follow the format; keep to word limits. Use colons to join phrases without extra words. If your abstract is long and rambling the committee may assume your presentation will be too and the session chair will might have to give you the ‘red card’ whether you have finished or not! If they ask you to link to one of the conference themes, be sure to do it. If the conference committee is overwhelmed with abstracts, those that even look like they are ‘off topic’, too long or don’t follow the guidelines may be rejected without even being read. Use references very sparingly in an abstract, generally only to refer to highly relevant published work or to indicate the influence of a significant theorist. You may wish to show your familiarity with the research and literature pertinent to your topic but remember, your main purpose is to get your own ideas across.
Read it again and again and ideally have a colleague check it. Does it make sense and give a clear indication of what you plan to present? Is the focus very clear from the title and the first sentence?

Update#1 : here’s another resource from Pat Thomson’s excellent academic writing blog Patter. This one is about how important the thesis abstract is.  Read here.

Update#2 : writing an abstract for a journal article is similar but there are a few other things to think about. Here’s a good short blog post from the LSE Impact blog with some good advice about keywords.

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‘Communicating social work’: Ideas for practitioners

“I have always been captured by the notion that social work is the “art of the possible” and as social workers our task is to create opportunity and hope in the midst of uncertainty. This is really a challenge to creativity and soul. I have also realised in recent years that one way of making opportunities is to give voice to client stories through writing and introducing wider audiences to the experiences and issues we grapple with as we walk alongside our clients” (Vaughan- in Maidment & Milner, 2008, pp.1-2).

Sometimes a colleague might say to you “you should write that up”, sometimes it might be said by an assessor at your competency panel. A few years ago I attended a stunning case presentation by a social worker from a mental health service. It was an amazing piece of work, and as I listened to the presentation, in a building next door to where my social work career started, I felt really proud of our profession, the resilience and hopefulness we bring to our work and what that can mean to the people we work with. I hoped that practitioner and her colleagues would write up the piece of work, so her tenacity, perseverance and commitment would honour the service-user’s story but also the story of good practice. Why present or write?

• It can be simply pragmatic- to meet your personal professional development goals
• To reflect , analyse practice and/or the impact of policy
• To share development with a wider audience
• Receive feedback and incorporate into practice
• Contribute to local and international literature
• Add to our own unique practice

A good place to start may be to present a short session for colleagues or a wider team. If you feel you lack the confidence to do it alone, then find a colleague and develop the presentation together. Collaboration can be fun, creative, and, who knows, this might lead to a partnership that could continue through your professional life. Working together stimulates questions and new ideas, deepens analysis of problems, and helps you decide how to best present your ideas. There are some great resources here: Fouché,C.,Lunt, N., & Yates, D. (2007). Growing Research in Practice: A collection of resources. Auckland: Massey University. Read here link to PDF
Some key considerations when starting to think about dissemination:

• Who are you presenting to?
• Is it an audience of social work peers? In this case jargon will be fine.
• Why is your work relevant to them?
• What are the key ideas or findings you wish to communicate?
• How can you cover what you want to but stay within the time limit?

Whether you are presenting a formal research report, writing a peer-reviewed article, preparing is much easier when you can clearly picture the audience and find your voice. The target audience shapes not only what you will choose to include, but how you will present it.

Maidment, J. & Milner, V. (2008). Conversations about Writing: The Journey from Practitioner to Writer. Families in Society ,88 (4), 1-6.

First published Social Work Notice Board, July, pp.12-13, 2009

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