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Giving presentations

Expert guidance from Study Advice at the University of Reading

Poster presentations are growing in popularity as a form of university assessment, and they are also a common means of presenting at academic conferences. Preparing a poster involves careful thought about how you will communicate your research in an accessible and engaging visual form. You need to put yourself in the audience's position and consider how they will read the poster and how they will see the information. Think of yourself as a 'tour guide' when talking to people about your poster. It is often best to highlight key patterns and trends in your research rather than overwhelming your audience with detail; they can always ask questions if they want further information. The guidance on this page will help you produce and present effective posters.  

Producing your poster

The first thing you need to do is check the size of poster you need to produce, whether it should be portrait or landscape, and whether you will have space for things like handouts, flyers and feedback sheets.

If you have a poster that you expect to present more than once, it may be worth designing it on Powerpoint, and getting it printed and laminated. (Most print shops offer this service.) However, this can be expensive. If you are only going to present the information once, it will be easier to produce the information in 'snippets' that you can cut out and arrange, either on a large backing sheet, or directly on a display board. Either way, you will need to think carefully about selecting the appropriate information, and arranging it so that the reader will be able to follow what you have done.

A poster presentation is not a whole essay or report stuck on a board. Plan your information as you would for an oral presentation – stick to the main points, succinctly made. Include an introduction which gives the background, and a summarising conclusion. Edit ruthlessly! 

When you are designing your poster, place the title prominently and make sure the boxes that contain your information are placed in a logical visual pattern for your readers to follow. Include a box with credits for all the people involved in the research the poster describes.

Keeping plenty of white space around each box will make your information easier to read. Use a clear font like Arial or Verdana, and make it big enough to be read at a distance of between 1-2 metres. Bullet points can help the reader to identify important points.

If you're more used to presenting information in writing, it may be difficult to work out how to do it visually and make it attractive and interesting, as well as accessible and readable. Ask yourself which types of visual communication you find easiest to read and are attracted to - and think about why that is. Then follow those principles for your own poster.  

For sources of copyright-cleared images, see the Library's list of image databases (link below).

If you are preparing a poster to represent the University of Reading externally, look at the guidance from the University's Design and Print Service (link below).

Handout, flyers and feedback

There won't be much time for people to view and take in the information on your poster, so it's helpful to have some information they can take away. This might include:

  • a small version of the poster as a flyer
  • a slip or card with the poster title, your name and email address if you don't want to give away your results
  • contact details in case readers want to know more

One of the reasons for giving poster presentations is to get feedback on your research, so think about ways that people might give you this.

  • You might have a feedback form that you ask people to fill in on the day
  • Or ask them to email you with any comments
  • One of the simplest ways to collect feedback is to have sticky notes available and a feedback sheet to stick them on.

On the day…

Don't forget to take: drawing pins, sticky pads or Blutack to put the poster up; contact details; handouts; pens and sticky notes for comments; most importantly, your poster!

Presenting your poster

You will still be expected to 'present' the information. This usually means standing by the poster and being prepared to talk through the information and answer questions. You are likely to be dealing with individuals or small groups.

As with oral presentations, it will help to rehearse what you want to say, and think about the kind of questions people might ask and how you will respond. People are more likely to interject to ask questions individually and discuss your research with you. You can get a lot of valuable feedback from talking to people about your poster.

When presenting a poster, think of yourself like a tour guide, guiding people around the highlights of your research. It will be less structured than a formal presentation, and more like a conversation that you are leading. However, all the key advice about good presentations still applies:

  • Face the audience not the poster 
  • Speak slowly and clearly - don't rush
  • Tailor your content to the needs and interests of your audience
  • Highlight key overall trends in your research, as opposed to describing all the data in detail
  • Allow time for questions
  • It is fine to admit you don't know something - don't try to cover up or bluff

Top tip...

Prepare a rough 1, 3, and 5 minute summary of your research to help structure your poster presentation. Then you can use the shorter or longer versions depending on how long people want to stay looking at your poster.