college · Psychology

Presenting at an Academic Conference Poster Session


When I was a first-year in college, I had barely taken upper division classes, let alone presented at a professional conference! So when I was chosen to be on one of my professors’ research teams with the very little experience I had, I was excited but scared. My team and I had a poster session at the 97th Annual Western Psychological Association Conference in Sacramento, California. I’m making this post with the hope of advising other students on making poster presentations too!

Poster sessions look less like this:

Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation.

And more like this:


During poster sessions, there are hundreds of other students and faculty making presentations and answering questions at the same time. Spectators wander around and engage with your presentation as they please. This is why it is pivotal to make your poster eye-catching! Luckily, you don’t need a ton of photo editing expertise to make a great poster. You can make posters right in Microsoft PowerPoint if you set the dimensions. Add graphics that represent your results, and make them both interesting and  accurate. Use gradients, complementary colors, and readable but varied fonts. Additionally, too much tiny text will weigh your poster down. Make sure your text is big enough to be readable, but that it doesn’t take up the entire poster!

Before the conference, it’s important that you look professional. Folks are more likely to listen if you seem authoritative, and one of the best “fake it ’til you make it” approaches is to dress sharply. In my personal experience, when I wear my “fancy business clothes,” I feel more smarter and more confident! Business clothes don’t have to be expensive, either. H&M, Uniqlo, and Forever21 have decent business attire for inexpensive prices! Here’s a tip for femme-presenting folks out there: heels look nice, but try not to wear them all day! You might be staying at the conference longer, so bring a pair of more comfortable shoes with you if you opt to wear heels during your poster session. As for me, I wore a pair of professional-looking flats or sandals for the whole day, so that that’s an option too.

Next, practice your elevator pitch and your presentation! Come up with a 30 second to 1 minute blurb that encompasses your research. If you have an exciting “elevator pitch,” attendees are more likely to stay at your booth and engage with you. Additionally, when you go more in-depth into your research, try not to read off of your poster. Bring index cards with you, or rehearse your explanations so that you memorize them. You also might find that after conducting your research for so long, you can explain it off the top of your head! It’s a great feeling.

The next tip is create and answer some questions! If are on a research team, help each other come up with mock questions that the conference attendees might ask. If you are working alone, challenge yourself or a friend who shares your research interests to come up with questions for you. It can be intimidating to think that staff members could come up and challenge you, but the fact of the matter is, at least in my experience, many of the attendees at your poster session will be fellow students! Remember, you are the expert in your research! You probably know the answers to most of the questions folks will ask you! And if you are faced with a difficult question, be honest and say something like, “That’s a really interesting question that my study doesn’t answer, but I am looking into conducting further research!”

If you have any more questions about the specific conference I attended, or about my specific research, don’t be afraid to contact me through the link at the top of the homepage!

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