It has been well-documented that, in recent years, there has been a shift within educational institutes from a lecture-driven ” instruction paradigm ” (Webb et al., 2006) towards a multiple assessment technique called ” learning paradigm ” (Barr & Tagg, 1995). This changing paradigm has given importance to assessment tools that can check multiple skills and competencies on a particular topic in a short duration of time. Therefore, the importance of presentations and, more recently, poster presentations, has become increasingly crucial within the academic world. Although poster presentations, according to Lipson & Teodorescu (2007), are assessment tools that are slightly different from ordinary presentations, they do require different skills due to the subtle differences. The aim of this article is therefore to understand the dynamics of effective poster presentation in the light of skills and methods that should be used to achieve high grades for students.
What is a Poster?
Posters are usually A3-sized presentations that are used to summarise the lifecycle of a project; highlight key findings, and/or provide critical analysis. Dunphy & Simmons (2001) have argued that poster presentations are the most time-effective form of information dissemination. It has also been suggested by Saunders (2001) that poster presentations provide a platform to put one’s ideas and messages in the public domain, therefore opening it to wider scrutiny and peer review. There is a school of thought within psychological studies that argues that no matter how similar a group of individuals is, there is still diversity in their perspectives, thinking and learning styles (John, 2003). Therefore when information is presented in a concise manner, summarising all the major points in the form of a poster, the subtle differences in perspectives of the audience help in raising concerns, underlying assumptions and limitations that might have been ignored by the presenter due to being very close to the project, personal bias, and lack of in-depth analysis.
Structure of Poster
It has been highlighted by Welch & Waehler (1996) that most successful posters provide a brief statement of introduction, method, subjects, procedures, results and conclusions. It is recommended in the light of literature and observation that the structure of poster presentations should involve the following critical points:
- Title of the poster which is attention grabbing yet indicating the topic holistically.
- Aim of the poster presentation that summarises what the poster is trying to achieve.
- Introduction to the subject area and the sub areas providing contextual knowledge to the audience usually includes references to scholarly material that falls in the subject domain
- Identification of gaps in the literature, critical analysis and the justification of research, the project and area of interest
- Objectives that need to be addressed or were addressed during the course of the research
- Stages and tasks that are carried out to reach the findings and conclusions
- Evaluation of the work and project, along with key performance indicators
Power of Visuals
A spoken message is reinforced with well-designed visual support, as according to Yemm (2006), audience retention level jumps from 14% to 38% when presenters augment their arguments with visuals. It has been argued by Taylor (1998) that poster presentations are like variety acts, as their aim is to capture audience attention for a brief period of time, therefore they should be concise and distinctive, with a strong brand-like character that can be achieved by using strong visuals like diagrams, pictures, colours and fonts. The use of visuals, according to FCP (2006), helps in the conceptualisation of the context, complex issues and solutions is an important step towards making audiences understand the “messy” situations. In the light of research conducted by Christis (2005) based on soft systems thinking and methodology, it can be reflected that “rich pictures” were found to be a better medium than linear expressions in order to conceptualise the complexity of situations and their explanations.
It should also be noted that development of these visuals is a pragmatic task, as Bryant (1989) has rightly pointed out that selection of the key points, characteristics and interrelations is a crucial skill in the development of effective diagrams, frameworks and pictures for effective presentation. Taylor & DaCosta (1999) have also highlighted that the use of diagrams and frameworks encourages a holistic rather than reductionist thinking of any situation and research, thus delivering an in-depth knowledge of the topic. The longitudinal study conducted by Nalbone & Aberson (2003) involving an audience of poster presentations and aimed at highlighting the best aspects of effective posters, has also highlighted the importance of visuals. The study concluded by segregating the aspects of effective posters into four categories, which include:
- A visual presentation that includes the use of large print, high-quality graphics, and appropriate use of colour
- Clarity and brevity of language with accompanying graphics highlighting the poster’s main points
- Elaboration of specific aspects of topics through diagrams and frameworks
- Characteristics adopted by the presenter during the presentation.
- Therefore it is recommended that poster presenters should emphasise the visual appearance of the poster, including large fonts, diagrams, frameworks and colours, yet it should have a professional appearance.
In order to communicate effectively, it has been found that an intelligently designed poster highlighting and summarising the important aspects of the topic should be accompanied by effective presentation skills. It has been highlighted by Burden (1992) that presentations are not just a tool to deliver information to a large group of people but it is a medium to persuade them, change their mind, receive feedback and allow help in taking appropriate actions. Bergin (1995) has argued that in posters all the contents are presented in one go; therefore the presenter should provide a concise but step-by-step explanation of each aspect highlighted in the poster.
Therefore it should be noted that poster presentations should also not be taken as one-way communication of information, rather should be used as a platform to involve the audience intrinsically, i.e. by making them react, think and compare (Robbins, 1997); and extrinsically, i.e. by making them discuss, find out more, and take certain courses of action (Bergin, 1995). The literature has shown that this combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic communication during the course of the presentation provides an opportunity for in-depth feedback on the topic, which can be seen as key learning points for the future of the project or research. The literature review has highlighted that, in order to induce intrinsic communication while conducting a poster presentation, the following three points (Robbins, 1997) should be considered:
- Audience: Learning about the background of the audience is a pre-requisite for conducting a presentation. This will help in creating a content that is understandable by everyone and therefore can be used to involve them. The presenter should look out for the body language and warning signals from the audience during the course of the presentation (Ehrenborg, 1997).
- Content: The content should be designed by keeping the audience, time limits, and important aspects of the topic in mind. Drawing upon Nalbone & Aberson (2003), it should be noted that content should be concise yet explain the main concerns of the audience.
- Performance: The performance of the poster presentation is the overall communication of the message and the quality of feedback. It has been suggested that interpersonal skills play a vital role in boosting the performance of a presentation.
On the other hand, the literature has also highlighted key steps towards achieving the extrinsic communication while conducting a poster presentation. These are popularly known as five Ps of an effective presentation (Bergin, 1995), and are listed as follows:
- Preparation: Preparing and rehearsing the presentation is of utmost importance as the presenter has to leave their comfort zone and face in-depth scrutiny from the crowd. Yemm (2006) has given the 90:10 rule for effective presentation, i.e. spend 90% of the time preparing for 10% of the presentation time.
- Purpose: The content should always be clear and focused on the main aim and specific objectives of the poster presentation. The purpose of the presentation is to satisfy the needs of one’s audience, therefore, defining what one wants to achieve from the presentation is a very good idea, e.g. inform the audience, persuade the audience, receive feedback, or change their opinions.
- Presence: The presence includes non-verbal channels, so one needs to use a combination of sound, touch, visuals, etc. to make one’s presentation interesting, to get the audience to take more of an active role, and sustain their concentration by providing variety. Thus body language, the room, showing a sample, description through pictures, tone, pace, sound effects, music and evoking a feeling through words all can be very tactical and interest-raising for the presentation.
- Passion: It is of utmost importance that the presenter feels enthusiastic about the topic and uses voice tones and gestures to strengthen their passion for the topic. Based on passion, Kushner, (1996) has highlighted three basic types of presentations, i.e. red, blue or grey. Red presentations charge the atmosphere and you can feel the presentation. Blue presentations are analytical, logical and intellectual. While grey presentations try to be safe and are cautious, traditional and accommodating. It is highly recommended that the presenter should have a blue type presentation for academic purposes.
- Personality: The personality includes confidence and circle of excellence (Burden, 1992). Although personality traits and characteristics vary greatly across individuals, it is recommended that the presenter should feel confident and use the knowledge of the topic to generate personal charisma.
Theorists and practitioners alike have shown receiving feedback after presentation an important part of the overall phenomenon. But it should be noted that, due to the very nature of poster presentations, this importance is even greater. Briscoe (1996) has highlighted the fact that feedback is the source of judging the gap of the presenter’s self perception and what the audience has perceived. Therefore, feedback not only reflects the effectiveness of communication, but it provides others’ perspectives and thoughts on the topic, which should be subsequently used to improvise. It has been suggested by Taylor (1998) that it is very important that the presenter takes feedback positively because it is a judgement of behaviour not the person; observation not inference; sharing ideas not giving advice; and exploring alternative perspectives not providing solutions. It is the diversity of thoughts induced through feedback that eventually leads to improvised analysis, research and projects.
This article has provided the recommendations for conducting effective poster presentations. Students are expected to understand and demonstrate their combined skills of conceptualisation, presentation, and receiving feedback in the light of interpersonal skills. It can be concluded in the light of discussion presented in this article that, in order to have an effective poster presentation, students are expected to be pragmatic and analytical in thinking, while creative and passionate in presenting.
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