More thoughts on posters

I wanted to write about what I think works and fails with posters. There was a poster session at Purdue coming up to celebrate our 50th anniversary as a CS department so I figured I should try one more experience—with my students—to see if I still ran into the same problems.

I helped them prepare three posters to show off some of the work that we’ve been doing with tensor computations, MapReduce, and fast algorithms for cliques. The posters were placed throughout our department’s building and conceptually grouped into a few areas, although this grouping wasn’t perfect.

Also, I insisted that we have a handout to accompany each poster. It’s a two page abstract of the work that hits some high points. For two of the posters there wasn’t a formal paper ready yet, so we couldn’t hand out papers and I think this is key.

So what worked?

Well, the localized placement wasn’t ideal. There are regions of our building that aren’t good for circulation and there wasn’t enough of a draw from the posters to get too many people to see them all. But one of the fundamental challenges of posters is establishing a compromise between a high-level overview of the ideas, which is what you want for a causal browsers, and some of the deeper technical points, which is what you’d want for an expert. Getting this tension right in a talk is hard enough, but with the equivalent of 4-8 slides of material, it’s really hard.

So let me take a stab at what I think a poster session should look like at a SIAM conference with the view of addressing the “too-many-minis” problem. This list gets a little rambly, but hey, it’s a blog post!

Bring out the big guns

You need well known people at the poster session, presenting posters,in order to draw in the attendees. This would suggest that each poster area ought to have some type of head-line-like poster — something like a plenary-like session. Or heck! Why not insist the plenary speakers
also give a poster? This will certainly provide a draw and a great chance to interact with the speakers.

Make posters a first class citizen

Rather than getting a poster board (something cheap and easy for the conference organizers). I think poster presentations ought to have a 40-60″ LCD display and a white-board! Mini-symposia speakers get a projector, so why should poster presenters by limited by “flat-page”

I’ve seen people pin up ipads to the screen, but that’s … just a hack.

This also helps to fix one of the problems with scaling the depth of presentation. Everyone always should have backup slides with those technical nuggets in case you get asked. Same thing with posters now too!

Organize, organize, organize!

In some of the twitter comments to my entreaty about not having posters, Jason Riedy noted that posters work well in focused groups. I couldn’t agree more! However, this only
works when there is something to get people in the room in the first place (see above).

So, the idea would be to propose groups of themed posters — just like mini-symposia — that will all be co-located. And these groups should have some type of headline presentation or poster to provide a draw.

Have a take-away.

Each poster should have a 2-page handout or a card that will allow people to get more information on the poster.

Mini-symposia -> Mini-poster-conference.

Wouldn’t it be cool if the organizer of a mini-symposia got to present in front of the entire conference telling you about why you should go to their mini-symposia? Given the number of mini-symposia, that wouldn’t scale, but if we could organize mini-posters-conferences, then maybe, just maybe, the organizer could get 5 minutes in something like a plenary session

Video intros!

Wouldn’t it be cool if every poster had a 2-3 minute video intro, posted on YouTube that you could watch before the session? Cool, you say, but who would actually watch them? (They tried showing these during a plenary session at KDD2012, and it wasn’t an overwhelming
success.) So maybe have a few of those “video-display” units with private audio where people could watch them within a session.

In conclusion I think there is a huge opportunity for elevating poster presentations beyond the current standardized session! But please no vanilla posters sessions.

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