NSG2016 – the art of the academic poster

On Monday 28th November the Neolithic Studies Group had their annual meeting at the British Museum (check out the #NSG2016 hashtag for live tweets!). This year the theme was Food and Farming Systems, so right up my street! I was interested in attending but hadn’t thought to present any of my research when I got an email from the conference organisers, who I know through the NeoMilk project, asking me if I would like to present a poster. Apart from an assignment in my Master’s year I had never made an academic poster before! I thought I would write blog post about the trials and tribulations of doing just that (part 1), followed by an overview of the conference experience (part 2)!

My poster detailed our recent JAS: reports paper on Fracture History Profiles. These graphs use fracture freshness analysis to display sequences of butchery and taphonomy that have affected archaeological contexts over time. Observable types of fractures on animal bone (fresh [peri-mortem], dry or mineralised) are recorded based on fracture characteristics. Fracture sequences (bone fractured more than once over time) are grouped by the first fracture that must have occurred based on moisture loss, and then displayed as a proportion of the number of fractured bones. This methodology was applied to a case study – contexts from the Linearbandkeramik site of Ludwinowo 7 in Poland.

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1. Publisher or PowerPoint?

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I’m particularly pleased about this section – I’ll probably use the sequence of fracture diagram in other presentations to come.

I had used PowerPoint for my (A3) academic poster assignment many years ago at the recommendation of both my lecturers and the internet. So I began with PowerPoint, setting my slide size to A1 and starting to build the poster using a series of boxes. Soon, however, I was irrevocably enraged by one key problem – every time I zoomed in to my huge poster, PowerPoint zoomed me into the middle of the slide. This was incredibly annoying for editing individual parts of my poster, and I made the decision to change to Publisher.

Publisher brought its own challenges, however – for starters, a text box in PowerPoint can’t paste directly into Publisher as it makes it an image, so I had to copy-paste all my text manually in. Also, PowerPoint’s lovely “remove background” feature doesn’t exist in the same way in Publisher – the “select transparent colour” option is a poor replacement. Nevertheless, I persevered with Publisher and came out with a poster I was proud of.

a_series_size_poster20132. What size is A1 again?

Oh my god, MAKE SURE YOU’VE GOT YOUR PAGE SIZE RIGHT BEFORE YOU BEGIN. After spending ages formatting my first draft of my poster I realised that I’d somehow managed to set the page size incorrectly so it was too small. Upon increasing the size I had to manually scale everything up so it was in the right place again, and I had some pretty complicated diagrams (see below!). In the final throes of postering I thought I might change it to A0, but I couldn’t face going through all the scaling again! In the end I’m glad I settled for A1 as the other 3 poster presentations at the conference had chosen the same format.

3. Pick and stick to a colour scheme

poster colous.PNGLuckily my Fracture history profiles are varying shades of blue, then green, then yellow. This was an easy theme to replicate throughout my poster, mirroring the colour changes of the graph in the outlines of my text boxes and the gradients of my headings. I also implemented a background picture which worked really well, setting my text boxes to 5% transparency so you could just about see through them without jeopardizing the readability of the text. It also made it look more professional.

4. Make pocket-sized posters!

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10-to-a-page, these pocket-sized posters were a brilliant idea!

In addition to having my own business cards I decided to make mini-flyers of my poster. These had an ‘idealised’ Fracture History Profile on them, the full reference of the paper and a QR-code that linked directly to the paper. These went down really well! I only made 10 (one colour A4 sheet) because I wasn’t sure if they would be taken but I left with just 1 or 2 remaining. I really hope that people will then remember my poster as they have the article in easy reach, without having to write anything down. Also, if you weren’t around when they were looking at your poster, they could refer directly to the article for more information!

5. Oral poster presentations – enhance your poster!

As part of our poster presentation we had to give three minute presentations on our posters in the main conference hall, which was really fun! Advice on this front would be to use your presentation to say what your poster can’t – using animation. The sequential nature of the Fracture History Profiles meant I could use the custom animation to show direction, and to build a picture of my methodology that looked good but was rather flat on my poster. Don’t just read your poster to the audience!

6. Poster creation timescale – perfectionist or realist?

I assumed (naively) that it would take me less time to create and prepare for a poster than a presentation. I was wrong. Having given a few in my time I can now quite confidently put together and rattle off a presentation, but the poster has to say all the things that you could usually include on the fly, and it has to get itself noticed, have charisma, and have an obvious structure when you can’t control how people will read it. So be aware – making an academic poster is a lot of work (although I’ve also seen it done in a single day – so it depends on how much time you give yourself!).

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Love your poster and your poster will love you back!

Thus concludes my brief ‘top tips’ into poster creation. There’s lots I would have changed about my poster still – I wanted to make some better acknowledgements to my project and funding body, I wanted to put my twitter details on there, all stuff that I couldn’t honestly fit by the end, and I was unwilling to shift it all around again. That said, I enjoyed making and presenting my poster a lot!

Read about my poster at the conference in part 2!

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