by Stephanie Krom
In March, I attended my first professional conference, the National Council on Public History Annual Conference, as a graduate student. I went to the NCPH Conference in Monterey, CA to present a poster inspired by my work with incorporating African American history into small public history institutions.
When I was making my poster, I tried to find resources to help me plan the layout of the poster, but I found that most of what is available on the web relates to science posters, not humanities posters. This list is designed to help students who are creating and presenting a poster for a humanities conference and comes out of my experience designing my own poster as well as observations made during the poster session I participated in.
To start, the easiest program to use to make your poster is Microsoft Power Point. However, it is important to note that you will need to custom size your document to a poster size (typically 48 x 36) before beginning your design process. Rice University has good instructions available for how to create a poster in Power Point here: http://library.rice.edu/services/dmc/guides/graphics/poster-ppt
Use subtle color. Color can help a poster stand out from the crowd, and it can also serve to differentiate ideas. The best posters are the ones that use a subdued and consistent color palette made up of a maximum of three or four colors. My poster used a yellow-tan as the background color, a blue-green as the title and heading color, and black as the main text color.
Pro tip: Remember that your color should not clash with any images you include.
Organize it like a paper. In a humanities paper, there is generally an abstract, a “main idea,” and a summary conclusion. I have found that the best way to organize a poster is to follow this format. A short abstract of 3-5 sentences will help lay out your thesis. The “main idea” should take up the middle section of the poster and should be the largest. A short conclusion will serve to tie up loose ends and propose ideas for future research.
Pro tip: A lot of people also include a bibliography to suggest resources for further study.
Use 1-2 relevant images. Including images will help your poster look attractive, and they can also be a great way of illustrating a point or showing an example. However, too many images will just be confusing. Stick to one or two images. Make sure that the images you choose add something important to the poster rather than just supplement existing text.
Pro tip: This advice may not apply if you are doing a presentation on a heavily-visual topic.
Imagine your poster bigger. Conference posters are generally printed at 48 x 36, which is really big. Your poster will not look the same on the computer screen or when printed on 8 ½ x 11 paper. Although you should not overwhelm the poster with text, don’t be afraid to use a little more text than looks natural on the computer screen. When the poster is printed out at full size, it will look much less crowded.
Pro tip: Change the Power Point document into a PDF or JPEG format before you send it to the printer in order to prevent loss and make the file smaller.
Practice an elevator pitch. The poster session is basically two hours of people asking you to summarize your poster in a few minutes. During my poster session, I spoke to at least 20 different people. It is crucial to have at least a rough 1-minute “elevator pitch” which summarizes your poster that you can start with every time someone new says, “so tell me about your poster…”
Pro tip: The “elevator pitch” should be a jumping-off point for further conversation.
Put supplementary materials online. Supplementary materials can enhance your poster presentation and allow the conversation to continue after the poster session. I created a few additional materials, such as a “Suggested Readings” list and an “About Me” page with my contact info. I uploaded these things, along with a digital copy of the poster, to a public Dropbox.
Pro tip: Make a QR Code with the URL of the Dropbox and print it directly on the poster so people can scan the code and view the materials after the session.
Tweet about your poster with the conference hashtag. Make sure people know where you are in the conference center and what you’re presenting on by tweeting about it using the conference hashtag. A couple of quick tweets can help spread the word and encourage people with interest in the subject to check out your poster.
Pro tip: Twitter can also help you engage with interested people who couldn’t make it to the conference.
Above all else, have fun at your poster presentation! Prepare, participate, and share your experiences with your peers.