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What makes a winning poster?

As the scientific sub-committee we had the honour and privilege of judging the posters at this year’s HPPHN annual conference in Stevenage.  It occurred to us as we spoke to some of the presenters during and after this process that it might be useful for us to reflect on this experience and provide some general feedback on what it takes to produce a good poster.  Get it right, and you’ll engage with a larger audience potentially leading to opportunities for further research, funding and collaboration so it is an important skill to develop.  We hope that the practical tips and advice below are helpful for when you next need to present your work in this way. 

So what does make a good poster?  We believe it comes down to three overarching factors: impact, content and presentation.  We will be using some examples from the prize-winning posters to illustrate our key points.

  1. Impact

If no-one stops to read your poster amongst a sea of posters, then it doesn’t matter how important the work is or how well you’ve laid out your poster!  So how do you make your poster stand-out across a crowded room?

  1. Colour – ensure you’ve used eye-catching colour combinations, without looking like an explosion in a paint factory!
  2. Pictures and graphics – use plenty of appropriate photos, pictures and graphs.
  3. Text – don’t overload your poster with small, tightly-packed text … that can be very off-putting to your potential audience. “Embrace the space”!
  4. Title – grab your audience’s attention.

Our winning poster (No 1 below) used eye-catching yellow to stand out amongst the crowd and illustrations to represent their sign-posted dog walking route intervention. 

The authors also included one short sentence under the title that presented the main finding, which we thought was a really good technique for getting our attention.

The PRISMA flow diagram in one of our runners-up posters (No 2 below) nicely breaks up the text, reassuring the reader at first glance that they will be able to follow the detail of this study.

 

  1. Content

“Without science it’s all just fiction” – we saw that quote at a rally to support science funding and like to share it with our colleagues at every opportunity!  A good poster needs to clearly present the research being undertaken, demonstrating scientific rigour in a range of ways:

  1. A succinct but powerful rationale for the study

In our winning poster the public health risk of dog fouling was highlighted as well as the increasing use of behavioural science, rather than education and enforcement, to discourage undesirable behaviour.

 In one of our runner-up posters (No 3), the authors neatly aligned the project aims (to increase staff confidence and competence as behaviour change practitioners) to NICE guidance and recommendations.

 2. Enough detail in the method to convey what was done and how

In poster No 3, the authors presented the design of their study in an easy-to-follow chronological order.  Thus the reader can effortlessly understand what was done before, during and after the intervention.

 3. Brief reflection to demonstrate the novelty, importance and interest of the research

In the winning poster, the authors reflected on the additional (unforeseen) outcome of increased outdoor use, highlighting potential health benefits of this unexpected finding.

  1. Presentation

We’ve already highlighted the important factors to get a delegate to cross the room to look at your poster.  But once you have their attention, you want to keep it, so you need to make your poster easy to read and digest by focusing on how you present your work.

  1. Font size and colour contrasts – if the session is busy, people will be trying to read your poster from a distance, so be kind! Make the font a decent size and a good contrast in colour against its background.

 

All our winning posters used a good size black font against a pale background, with No 3 also using white against a dark background to contrast their Results.  These are classic choices and generally work well.  Be wary of choosing unusual colour combinations; a problem can occur if you have a varied colour background, where the text can disappear against particularly light or dark sections.

2. Headings – conferences often provide instructions on which headers to use, so always follow these. But it’s fine to use additional ones to illustrate key separate sections of your poster to which you want to draw people’s attention.

 3. Flow – make it easy for your reader to follow your story from start to finish. It’s frustrating when your eyes are skipping about trying to decide which way to read a poster, or when you have just a few minutes to find the key points. 

Our two runners up posters (Nos 2 & 3) used a simple top-to-bottom design, which makes it very easy for the reader to follow the story.  It means that if the reader is in a rush, they can quickly find and absorb the information they’re most interested in – eg skipping straight to the conclusion calling for better coordination with primary care to improve physical health screening in people with severe mental illness.

 4. Boxes and bullets – good use of these can help with all the above points.

Using boxes to present the Results on poster No 3 was an excellent way of making these stand out and easy to digest.

All three posters used bullet points to some extent in different sections.  This is an excellent strategy to break up large chunks of text so can be used throughout your poster.

 Many of the posters on the day got much of this right, making our decisions hard to make.  There was some good use of photos and coloured images to illustrate from a distance what the poster was about.  Some used arrows to guide the reader which is another good strategy to improve the flow.

Finally, don’t be afraid to think outside the box.  We have seen posters with interactive elements (pinned on spinning wheels for example) which got conference delegates very excited and engaged with the research.

Many congratulations again to our winning posters (detailed below) and thanks to everyone we spoke to during our poster-judging session – it was a pleasure to meet you all.  Good luck with future posters!

Prize-winning posters:

  1. The Big Scoop: A behaviour change intervention to reduce dog fouling in public area

J Hargreaves et al

  1. Interventions to increase access to or uptake of physical health screening in people with severe mental illness: a Realist Review

F Lamontagne-Godwin et al

  1. Developing behaviour change competences in staff delivering community-based healthy lifestyle services

L Atkinson et al