Hack Your Poster Presentation

Congratulations! You’ve been accepted as a poster presenter for a professional conference. You have a compelling project to share with the library world, a lot of gumption, and a tight budget. A glance at your calendar confirms that you’re running out of time to prepare for the conference…

… so where do you start?

Earlier this April I, along with two of my colleagues, presented a poster at the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians (WAAL) conference in Eau Claire, WI. The conference was excellent, and the experience rewarding. Winning Best Visual Design in the student category was the cherry on top of an energizing, inspiring two days.

Presenting at WAAL was my first foray into the world of academic poster sessions. I learned a lot along the way, and the Hack Library School blog was a constant source of reliable advice. If you’re looking for conference tips, you’re in the right place.

Let me point you to a few other good Hackers before I share my own tips. Poster Sessions — A Beginner’s Guide is the perfect place to start your research, Presenting Posters at University Poster Sessions lays out several basic best practices, and Lessons Learned from a Poster Presentation provides a beautiful example of a well-designed poster.

Following in the footsteps of my peers, and expanding on their advice, I offer the following tips and resources for future poster presenters:

Poster Design

If you’re not lucky enough to have an established graphic designer on your team, Canva is an excellent design resource. Canva is a graphic design tool website that uses a simple drag and drop format. It’s easy to learn, and simple to use. Utilize the custom dimensions option to create the exact size you need for your poster.

If you’re in need of inspiration, check out Library Design Share to view examples of posters designed by librarians.


In the words of someone wiser than I, “People like things they can take with them.” Consider creating a handout or brochure to complement your poster. To accompany our poster for WAAL, my colleagues and I designed a brochure containing the questions that guided our project, a selected bibliography, and our contact information.

We also gave away bookmarks featuring a QR code that led to a LibGuide we had created during the course of our project, and we had plenty of business cards on hand.

Displaying Your Poster Without Spending a Fortune

Many conferences provide a surface on which you can hang your poster. That makes mounting your poster simple; depending on what the conference provides, you’ll simply pin up your poster.

Other conferences, however, will provide table space and no other resources. In lieu of the option to hang your poster, you can still find ways to display your poster attractively. If you have money to spend, printing your poster on foam board and purchasing a tabletop display stand is one solution.

If you’re working with a tight budget, like myself and my colleagues, there is another way. Here’s our two-step DIY alternative:

  • Purchase tri-fold foam board and spray adhesive at any craft store
  • Once you’ve cut your poster, attach it to the foam board with spray adhesive—the adhesive is forgiving and will give you time to smooth out any unsightly bubbles

We drove to our conference, so this method worked well for us. If you’re flying to your conference, you may need to do some additional creative problem solving.

The Elevator Pitch

I’ll be brief, because I know you saw this one coming.

Have a short and long elevator pitch prepared. You won’t have as many nervous jitters if you have your opening lines memorized.

Help! I Ran Out of Handouts/Brochures!

First, learn from my mistake and print more handouts/brochures than you think you need. If you do run out—my colleagues and I unfortunately did!—hand out your business cards instead. Assure attendees that you’d be more than happy to email your brochure and answer any further questions.

Overall, presenting a poster is an excellent opportunity for professional development. If you’ve presented a poster before, please share your experience with us in the comments! What are your best tips?

5 replies

  1. Thank you for writing this piece! I am a MLIS student preparing my first abstract for a poster session. Do you have any abstract examples you can share or recommend? Any advice is appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Ginny, thank you for your question! Congrats on your upcoming poster session! I would recommend looking up the archives of the conference you’re attending. You can often find archived programs online, which will include abstracts for poster presentations (and other presentations). For example, I’ve presented at the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians Conference and when I wrote my abstract I looked at the conference archives found here: http://wla.wisconsinlibraries.org/waal/conferences-events/waal-conference-archives

      I hope this helps!


  2. Thank you for writing this piece! I am a MLIS student preparing my first abstract for a poster session. Do you have any abstract examples you can share or recommend? Any advice is appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

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