Presenting at a poster session is a great way to gain professional experience. Many positions, particularly those in academia, are looking for young professionals who are interested in ‘giving back’ to the LIS field. Presenting a poster doesn’t always have to be at an intimidating state or national level; many schools offer opportunities for students to display current research/projects in a low-stakes, unintimidating environment. When participating in student poster sessions, it’s understood that those involved may not have any experience–which makes your audience much more forgiving of first-time nerves! We’ve written before about poster sessions here on Hack Library School (See Presenting at Conferences while in Library School, Poster Sessions – A Beginner’s Guide, and Lessons Learned from a Poster Presentation), but there’s always room for more advice for you first-timers:
Consider Your Audience
Where are you presenting your poster? At your department or graduate college, or will it be at a campus-wide, all-program event? Knowing what your audience already knows about your subject already will go a long way in determining what to include in your poster. For example, the first time I presented a poster was at an event in my program’s college, the College of Education. As such, people at the event already had at least cursory knowledge of archival science (as most of the attendees were either professors or students in the LIS department). For my second poster, I presented at our university’s graduate-wide poster session, and the audience was much more diverse–as such, I made sure to include on my poster a brief explanation of why archives matter. After all, if someone doesn’t understand why, they’re not going to really care about what you’ve done.
Practice Your Short and Long Elevator Speeches
Most people, especially if they aren’t involved in some form of judging, are just going to be glancing at posters and moving on with their lives. Some will want to hear more about your poster, realize they’re not quite interested in your topic, and politely move on after your introduction. A select few will be super excited about your project and will want to know more–much more. To meet the needs of these various types of listeners, you’ll want to have a short and long elevator speech prepared. The short elevator speech goes over the basics–what you did, why you did it, and a quick overview of how. This short speech is great for people who are interested in your poster, but don’t have the time to sit and listen to the whole project. At my university-wide poster session, this short speech came in handy when students from other departments came to view my poster–they were politely interested, but didn’t feel the desire to listen to the whole project as it played out. However, if they express interest in your project, feel free to go over the longer process–this is where you can get in-depth about the steps you took to accomplish your goal and the challenges you faced.
Run it By a Few Colleagues
The great thing about presenting while still in school is that you have a large network to draw upon for advice and feedback. There’s a good chance that several other students in your program may also be presenting; plan a time when everyone can get together, and run through all the posters and elevator speeches. Something that may have seemed obvious to you in your poster may not be clear to viewers, and knowing beforehand what issues you’ll need to tackle will help you address them smoothly in the moment. Additionally, the extra feedback on the poster itself will let you know if your topic or project is self-explanatory–will someone who looks at your poster while you’ve stepped away be able to understand what you did?
Practice Practice Practice
Practice your speeches in the car. Practice your speeches in the shower. Practice your speeches in front of your pets–their attention span may be similar to some of the people who pass by your poster. Being comfortable with what you’re going to say will help you when the inevitable attack of nerves hits–if you’ve practiced what you’re going to say enough, your mouth will go on autopilot while your brain is freaking out.
Most importantly, you should treat these opportunities for what they are–learning experiences. The goal of many university poster sessions is simply to prepare students for presenting in the professional arena. Remember, there is no failure in student poster sessions; there is only the opportunity to grow.