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Creating a Great Conference Poster Presentation with our Data Visualization Resources

Link to the last RSS article here: Reproducible Research: Can you duplicate the study and results you reported…15 years ago? -- Ed.

By Dr. Jesse Hamner, Manager, Research and Visualization Environment (RAVE) and Dr. Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner, Director - Academic Computing Technical Services

Academic Computing and User Services is home to the UNT Research and Visualization Environment (the RAVE) managed by Dr. Jesse Hamner. As explained in earlier Benchmarks Online articles, with the resources available in the RAVE UNT researchers can realize and present their data in a variety of creative ways including animations, large-scale photos and graphics and soon as a 3D model (a 3D printer is being ordered and is on its way!) The RAVE provides a large video wall as well as a 60-inch color display for such work.

Interestingly, the "good old-fashioned poster session" still reigns supreme as the conference medium of choice for research presentation at most major academic events. This is largely due to the cost and technical support that would be required to give "poster" presenters access to a 44" HDTV instead of a 44" piece of paper. In the last decade, conference presentations have moved from overhead projectors to data projectors, and we expect that with the availability of hand-held data projectors ("pico projectors"), we'll see the sunset of the physical paper poster in a few years.

A New Twist on an Old Presentation Paradigm

However, that doesn't mean that one can't start adding a bit of a "twist" to this tried-and-true format. Recently Dr. Hamner assisted Dr. Dave Mason, UNT Regents Professor of Political Science, in creating an "interactive" research poster which found a great many fans at annual meeting of the Peace Science Society. For Dr. Mason's presentation, "Patterns of Death Squad Violence in El Salvador: a new data set from the UN Truth Commission", an iPad running a slideshow/movie was integrated into the poster itself.

Inserting iPad Inserting iPad

Inserting iPad


Stages in how the iPad was inserted into Dr. Mason's poster

Most posters are unrolled and tacked or clipped into place at the poster session. However, posters always look better when they're mounted on foamcore, if you can manage it. Plus, foamcore has actual depth, which allows it to physically support an iPad from below. To really secure the iPad required two thicknesses of standard 3/8" foamcore, which may present a challenge to those traveling to a conference by air, but Hamner and Mason were able to achieve excellent results despite TSA restrictions (they had to purchase some items in the host city).

Unsurprisingly, the iPad allowed them to present data in ways outside the capability of traditional posters. Further, the iPad was eye-catching and impressive. It generated additional foot traffic merely because of its novelty. But most importantly, the iPad's media content drew viewers in: they engaged with the subject matter and began analyzing it themselves. The audience was no longer passively viewing the poster; they became participants.

Hamner and Mason didn't perform any miracles to make this poster happen; they had to prepare carefully and purchase some things in Georgia, like spray adhesive that you can't take on a plane, even in your checked luggage. They had to glue the foamcore and the poster in a parking garage! The only downside was that they couldn't bring the poster back; it had to be left in Savannah as trash. The iPad, of course, came home to continue testing new data visualization projects for Dr. Mason and the Castleberry Peace Institute.

Poster with iPad

The finished product!

The movie was a series of monthly maps stitched together with the open-source dvd-slideshow software. The maps were made with GRASS GIS, an open-source GIS package, and Inkscape, open-source vector graphics software.

These types of solutions are the way that RAVE personnel can assist you with your research presentations by enhancing their meaningfulness and impact. For more information and assistance on poster presentations and other visualization possibilities please contact Dr. Jesse Hamner at jh@unt.edu. Persons wishing to explore audio possibilities and/or data sonification are encouraged to contact Dr. Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner at ehinkle@unt.edu. The website for the RAVE is citc.unt.edu/rave.

Poster Presentation Tips

Here are some of Dr. Hamner's tips for making a great conference poster:

  • Make the text readable. For most posters, title text size should be between 120 and 144 points. Yes, that's large! That's the point. Your subtitle should be 72-90 points.
  • The body text -- of which there should be no more than 450 words -- should be 36 point font. Don't make people squint and stand a foot away from your poster.
  • The poster is not your paper: Don't copy and paste *anything* from your paper. The poster is necessarily a reduced set of your research and findings. Cut the material back. Consider the poster as a bare-bones outline of your work, with only the most salient elements of your research presented, focusing heavily on the findings and/or the innovation you provide.
  • The poster, as a reduced set of your research, should encourage interested people to read your full paper. Think of the poster as advertising. It has to be attractive and accessible, and fairly report your work and findings, but it shouldn't try to replace your paper.
  • Stop trying to make PowerPoint into poster design software. It's not meant for that and it isn't easy to design a good poster in PowerPoint. Learn Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, or the open-source (free!) Inkscape instead.
  • While your paper should contain all the research, it's helpful to provide a graphical display of your results rather than a table of numbers. Graphics are more easily understood by the casual observer, and will only whet the appetite of an interested audience for more of your doubtlessly brilliant work.
  • Describe the primary/interesting results in more than one place. Don't make your audience search for the core findings.
  • People are lazy. Most of them don't want to read your paper, or maybe even your poster. Have a one-to-two minute "elevator speech" lecture of your research findings for this project ready to go. Folks will give you a few minutes if they don't have to read it themselves.

Dr. Hamner has already done several "poster session short courses" in collaboration with the UNT Library. He will be doing more of these classes in the future; check the UNT Library website for class information. Additionally, arrangements can be made with Dr. Hamner for presentation to your department or your students.