Jennifer A. Bivens
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
When I presented my research poster at the 22nd Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science, I experienced the anticipation and anxiety that many undergraduate presenters face. Although my advisors clued me in on what to expect at the conference, I was still unsure of the reaction I would receive from my peers and superiors. I hope that sharing what I learned from my experience will benefit future presenters.
One key aspect of presenting research is done before attending the conference: Preparation of the poster presentation is critical. While time consuming, this should not be too challenging because you are familiar with the subject matter, so expressing the information should be manageable. The biggest challenge to overcome is how to express your research succinctly. It is important to consider the entire audience and state the purpose and implications of your study clearly and simply. I began by outlining my presentation following the standard sequence of APA style. First, introduce the topic, including only the most relevant literature that bears the greatest importance to your study (i.e., the Introduction). Next, transition from the subject matter to how you conducted the research (i.e., the Methods). This should be followed by a description of the key findings, using graphs and/or tables to explain your data (i.e., the Results). Finally, describe the significance of your analyses or what they imply in the “real world” (i.e., the Discussion). Suggest how your findings may be relevant or important for future research. It is imperative to keep the information on your poster brief and to the point. Because there will be people who are interested in your work, have handouts of your poster ready; print out copies of your research poster on standard paper, in case others wish to have a copy of your work. If people pick up a copy, that is a great sign!
While some people will only be interested in the basic findings of your study, others may express further interest. In this case, you can elaborate on different points of your study in person. I recommend that all novice presenters practice discussing their study aloud in front of advisors and peers. The purpose of this is to develop your confidence and fluidity. Utilize the comments you receive to further refine your presentation and delivery. Anticipate common questions and prepare answers for them. I found that after I practiced my research presentation to others, I had more confidence for the real thing.
My poster session took place in a large ballroom with dozens of other posters lined up in aisles throughout the room. I arrived at the designated room early, which prevented unnecessary “I’m going to be late!” stress, and located the specific board for my poster (your board number should be listed in the conference program). Interestingly, after pinning my poster to the board, I noticed that my fellow presenters could not wait to see what my research was about. My peers’ interest in my research was reassuring and allowed for a comfortable and exciting environment. The time allotted for presenters to set up is a great time for practice, as other presenters will be asking you about your study. This should help ease your nerves and pave the way for networking. When the main audience begins to trickle into the room, be friendly, confident, and professional. If people pause or linger in front of your poster, ask them if they would like you to walk them through your study. If they show interest and discuss your poster with you, ask them if they would like a handout. You may feel out of place and intimidated during this whole process, but do not be discouraged. Remember, you are an author on a research project and have constructed a poster; you know the material well! The interest and excitement you express through tone of voice and body language will be contagious, and your audience will be impressed by you.
If you find you are stumped by a question, do not panic or feel inadequate. One way to handle this is to tell them how great a question that is and that you feel your advisor could better address it. I suggest having the e-mail address of your advisor on hand, perhaps on the handout, and assure the inquirer they can feel free to contact him/her. Conversely, if you are asked a question that you can answer, you will feel great about yourself and your experience. When you can easily converse and respond to questions about your research, it makes the poster session more fun, interactive, and memorable.
As the session continues, it is good to stay near your poster to discuss it with those attracted to your research. If you are eager and curious about other posters during your session, try to visit them before your session begins, or ask a friend or colleague to pick up handouts for you. It is beneficial to collect handouts throughout your participation in the conference because you might find research to guide or strengthen future projects.
While at the conference, I learned a few helpful tips that I wish I had previously known. First, bring pins to tack your poster onto the board. I did not have the foresight to bring my own pins, and, thankfully, a colleague had plenty to spare. Second, refrain from badgering people who walk past your poster; some people are interested in your topic and some are not (and that is okay, it is no reflection on you). Third, do not have an overabundance of handouts that are visible to onlookers as it may convey that you have not given many out and perhaps people are not as interested in your poster as others (15 to 20 copies are typically sufficient). Finally, utilize this time to network! Keep a small, accessible journal or notepad in case you run into people of interest. If you are unable to subtly glance at their name badge, ask them for their name and what university they are from, and write it down. This will help you when it is time to look for graduate programs and advisors. Presenting a poster at a national conference, like the Association for Psychological Science, is an opportunity one should not pass up; it is a fun and rewarding experience. Good luck with your future presentations!
Jennifer A. Bivens is a senior psychology student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her research interests lie in the area of social psychology, specifically the psychology of sexuality. She is currently applying to graduate programs for experimental psychology. Jennifer can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.