Presenting a poster at a scientific meeting can be an excellent opportunity to receive feedback on your research, find new collaborators, and enlarge your network. Therefore your poster should primarily be a conversation starter and be easy to understand.
Long before you design the poster, you will have to submit an abstract of the research you want to present at the meeting. You can find tips on how to write the abstract here.
Once your abstract is accepted for a poster presentation, find the requirements on the meeting website. Will the mounting boards be horizontal or vertical? What is the exact size of the poster you can bring? Are there any other requirements?
Make sure you use the template of your institute if it has one. Often, institutes have templates with a specific color palette, layout, logo, etc. If no template is available, make sure you use your institute’s logo and house colors, and limit the number of colors you use to 3 to 5 (including the background color). Use only one font type, and set it in boldface for the Title (size ~90) and headings (size ~60), and in regular face for the rest (size ~36). There are also many sites where you can download a template such as at Poster Presentations or the site of Collin Purrington.
You can use many types of software (e.g., Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, Gimp, OpenOffice, Powerpoint) to make your poster but definitely use one you are already familiar with. Make sure you check with the department or company that will print your poster how they want you to deliver the file, such as in a specific size (e.g., slide size in Powerpoint) and format (i.e., the file type), and when you will need to deliver it, so they have time to print.
When to start designing
If you want, or are required to obtain, feedback from colleagues, make sure you start in time, especially if it is your first time designing a poster (in that case, start at least three weeks in advance). If you are tweaking and updating a previous poster design a couple of days may be enough.
What to put on the poster
The most important tip is: don’t try to put in all your data! When you present your poster, you will be able to talk the visitor through the data, so make it look more like a graphical abstract than a manuscript. When you select the type of data and amount of detail, think of the type of data you would put on slides for an oral presentation.
Poster content and layout
Keep the Title short and put it at the top. Make sure you include the authors’ names (usually the same as on the abstract you submitted), their affiliations (short), and a way to contact you (email address or telephone number).
Focus on presenting your data in 3 to 4 uncluttered graphs and figures; you may want to simplify existing figures for this purpose. Use little text (200-500 words for the whole poster) with bullets or numbering to make it easy to read. Do not include your abstract. If you can, avoid Tables with data.
Make sure all the important information is readable from a distance of 3 meters (10 feet), and leave a lot of the poster’s surface empty (space between sections, clear wide edges, etc.)
The main sections are: Background, Question/Aim, Results, and Conclusions. Start these sections with clear headers. You may want to leave the Methods section out or put it at the end, as most people will not be interested in detailed methods on a poster. And make sure you limit the references to an absolute minimum (max 4) and set them in a much smaller font.
You can add a QR code to the manuscript if it has been published already or is in press. Or, on your poster board, add a plastic pouch below the poster with A4-sized print-outs of your poster.
The printed product
Many years ago, you could only get your poster printed on paper. That looked nice, but these posters were impractical to take on a flight. Later, at some conferences, printing services were offered on location. Now, many posters are printed on fabric, making them easy to put in your hand luggage (never put it in a checked bag!). The added advantage is that you can upcycle your poster later.