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 differing 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 a 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.
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:
A spoken message is reinforced with a 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 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 use of diagrams and frameworks encourages a holistic rather than a 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:
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:
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 effective presentation (Bergin, 1995), and are listed as follows:
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 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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