Expanded guidelines for Giving a Poster Presentation

Prepared for the American Society of Primatologists by members of
the ASP Education Committee: Lynne Miller, Chair,
Christine Johnson,
Ann Weaver 

This document and its companion on giving oral presentations have been compiled in hopes of providing some helpful guidelines on effective ways to present scientific information. It is aimed primarily at students who might be approaching their first professional conference, but other colleagues might also find the information useful. It assumes that the "audience" will be composed primarily of other primatologists, rather than nonprofessionals. The tips we provide come mostly from our own experiences, our own likes and dislikes, and therefore should be taken as suggestions rather than world-wide rules. And finally, this document is a work in progress; we encourage readers to let us know their own thoughts on the subject and will incorporate these into future drafts.

There are various reasons for attending a professional conference. One is to get together with old friends and colleagues. Annual meetings give us the chance to share ideas on an informal basis (i.e., apart from published materials) and simply to catch up on one another’s lives. We also make contact with new colleagues who might share our research interests, and this often leads in fruitful new directions. But one of the most important goals of a conference is to present your research. In the course of a two- or three-day conference, literally hundreds of papers and posters will be presented, and thus you must work hard to make your material stand out in the crowd. We hope that these guidelines will improve your ability to achieve that important goal.


Part 1: When to do a poster vs. an oral presentation.

Many professors encourage students to offer a poster presentation, rather than an oral or podium presentation, for their first time out. This is reasonable advice. If you suspect that you will be really nervous at your first meeting, and that there is some significant chance of your becoming catatonic at the podium, then presenting a poster might engender less trepidation. Furthermore, if you feel uncomfortable with the official language in which the conference will be held (e.g., if most talks will be given in Spanish and your Spanish is limited), then a poster can alleviate some of the stress of this language barrier.

Many professional conferences are packed with oral papers and actively encourage authors to do posters instead. Thus, even if you are more comfortable giving a talk, you must be prepared for the possibility that you will be asked to do a poster. If this is often the case at your annual meetings, you might consider the benefits of being a "team player" and offering to do a poster once in a while.

The best reason for offering a poster, however, has to do with the content of your presentation. Oral paper sessions generally allot just 15 minutes per speaker. Allowing time for the session chair to introduce you, and for your audience to ask questions afterward, you’ll be lucky to squeak out 12 minutes for your talk, and some societies suggest only 10. If your materials (e.g., your methods or the results) are especially complicated, it may be a better idea to present them in a poster, where your colleagues will be able to take their time with the information and ask you questions at greater length. Likewise, if you are presenting something a bit esoteric (that is, more esoteric than primatology normally is!), a poster might enable you to spend more time with the colleagues who are most interested in your field of research, rather than leaving you to speak to a room full of folks who don’t follow your work.

Give these issues some thought before you submit your abstract to the program committee. In many cases, posters and papers are interchangeable, but there are also some good reasons for choosing to do a poster.


Part 2: Developing the content of your presentation.

The best presentations make just one point, loudly and clearly. You might have tested two or three closely related hypotheses, but they should all revolve around the same single point. If you find that your research sheds light on two different issues, then plan to give two separate presentations.

We can’t help you in defining your central message, but we encourage you to spend some time thinking about it and putting it into words. This will be helpful not only in assembling your poster but also in talking to colleagues at the meetings. Do your best to develop a summary of your work that you can state in 25 words or less, preferably words that real people use. For example, imagine you are on a plane on your way to the meeting, and you tell the person sitting next to you that you are a grad student at Primate U. He responds, "Oh, how interesting. What, exactly, do you study?" If you can answer that question in a clear and concise statement, in a language that the guy sardined in next to you will really understand, then you’re half-way there. This exercise will demand that you cut through the jargon and fluff to the heart of your research, and that is all that you will have time (or rather space) to give us in your poster.

Once you know your central message, then you need to decide about supporting information. The best posters (in our opinion) generally follow the guidelines of a published paper, with sections like Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusions/Significance. However, you will have to present this information in much less space than you would get in a journal. Thus, you will have to keep doing that 25-words-or-less exercise as you move from one section of your poster to the next.

What is the central message of your Introduction? This section should start with your general research objectives, then provide a few lines about the context of your work, and end with a clear statement of the hypotheses or predictions that you tested.

What is the central message of your Methods? Unless your material relates directly to methodology (e.g., a new way of collecting urine samples from uncooperative subjects), you should strive to keep your methods section brief. Give us the bare essentials about the subjects, study site, and protocol. Don’t be so brief that we can’t figure out what you did, but do give some thought to what is really relevant to this particular talk. If some facet of your project is peripheral, then leave it out.

What is the central message of your Results? What did you find? Did your tests come out the way you expected? This section will probably involve little text and more graphics (much more on that below).

What is the central message of your Discussion and Conclusions? This is a big one because it is really your take-home message. Again, in 25 words or less, what is the dramatic finding that you want your audience to remember? And why should they care? This is very important, because your colleagues will want to learn not only about what you did but also about why it is significant. Be prepared to address this issue, briefly in your poster and in greater depth when talking with your colleagues.

Acknowledgements and References: These are auxiliary sections that often appear in the lower left corner of a poster. "Acknowledgements" is your opportunity to thank research assistants, funding agencies, those who were especially helpful in preparing your presentation, etc.. "References" allows you to list the full citations of any literature you cited in your text. Regarding the number of sources to cite, we recommend using just a few (perhaps a half-dozen or fewer), focusing on those papers that are seminal in your field or particularly relevant to your research.

An effective poster provides minimal text. We will make this point over and over again as we go along. You must be complete, so that a person can understand the project based solely on what is written, but you must be tremendously concise, for no one wants to read ten pages of text while there are still 100 other posters waiting to be seen. Thus, your first important steps in developing your poster will be cutting brutally through the chaff and finding the crucial points to present.

Peer review: Throughout the entire process, we encourage you to discuss your developing poster with your friends and colleagues. When you think you have got the content outlined, at least verbally, try it out on your professor, your office-mate, your mother. If they get what you are trying to say, then you’re on the right track.


Part 3: Putting it on paper.

This section makes more specific suggestions about the content of your poster. (Below, we will address the nuts and bolts of putting it all together.) You must bear in mind, however, that each presentation is different and so the best approach will depend upon the material you are presenting. You will also be limited by the allotted space, which will vary from meeting to meeting. Be prepared to take these guidelines and modify them to meet your own unique needs.


Part 3A -- Text:

The most effective posters provide minimal text. (Didn’t we warn you that we’d be saying that a lot?) Few of your colleagues will have the patience to read through a lot of verbiage. Furthermore, most of your colleagues will be standing at a great distance from your poster, as they jockey for position to get a look at your work. Thus, the rules on text are "less is more" and "bigger is better."

A certain amount of text will be necessary, especially in the Introduction and Discussion sections. Here are some thoughts:

Put each "section" (e.g., Intro, Methods, etc.) on a separate piece of paper with its title centered at the top. This will be easy for your readers to follow.

Write out no more than one page (8.5 x 11) of text for each of these. As we will soon be suggesting use of a huge font (see below), that doesn’t give you many words (maybe 50 to 100 per section).

Use clear and simple language. Cut out the jargon as much as possible. In this context, it is also helpful to use short, uncomplicated sentences. Your readers will digest the material better this way.

Consider using "bullet statements" to make your points short and clear. For example, your Introduction section might consist of three "bullet statements" of your research objectives, as follows:

Research Objectives

This study sought to explore:

  • the effects of climate on food dispersion,
  • the influence of food dispersion on exposure to predators,
  • the relationship between group size and food intake.

It might then provide a more conventional paragraph on previous studies of this nature, but keep that sort of thing short. You’ve mainly included it to remind your reader that you are familiar with the related literature. Then this section might end with some bullet statements of your hypotheses:

Test Predictions

  • Monkeys in larger groups will forage on the ground more than those in smaller groups.
  • Monkeys in larger groups will eat more than those in smaller groups.

Your Methods will also work well this way, as you bullet through subjects and protocol. Finally, do the same sort of thing for your Discussion sections, like this:


  • Monkeys in larger groups spent more time on the ground than did monkeys in smaller groups.
  • Monkeys in larger groups ate more than did monkeys in smaller groups.


  • Larger groups are willing to forage in "risky" areas that smaller groups avoid and thereby gain a foraging advantage.
  • These findings elucidate the causes of increased reproductive success for females in larger groups.

If these bullet statements are in big, bold letters, your audience will know within 60 seconds what you set out to do, how you did it, what you found, and how it fits in to the larger picture. That’s the kind of poster we like to see. You can use additional text to fill in a little detail, but remember that you will also be there to answer questions, so you might find that this outline format is all you need.

Font: Choose a type-face that is easy to read, such as Times New Roman, Aerial or Courier. Studies show that text written in all capital letters is hard to follow; it is better to use bold print than all caps, though you are then limited on making those bold-type statements that will stand out from the rest of your text. Many people find that a "serif" script is easier to follow than something "sans serif." Use the same type-face throughout your poster.

You will probably use a variety of font sizes. Your title and authors’ names, running along the top of your poster, should be huge, no less than 72 point. The title of each section of your paper should also be large, perhaps 60 point. Your bullet statements (or however you choose to make these important points) should really stand out – try 48 point or larger. Additional text should be no smaller than 24. You can get away with 18 for sections like Acknowledgements and References Cited, but don’t go any smaller than that.

Color: In general, black type on white paper is best, though studies show that a cream colored background is a bit easier on the eyes. Avoid using brightly colored paper; we will be working color into your poster in other, more effective ways below.

Using color in your text can be helpful when done right. For example, you might use red ink for your very most important points, like your research objectives, findings, and their significance. However, don’t go berserk with this. Too many colors get distracting. You want them to remember your work, not just a Technicolor haze.

A final note on text: Your poster will be most effective if it provides minimal text. We just thought you should know that.


Part 3B -- Graphic images:

Graphic images can be helpful in your Introduction in the form of flow charts. If you are trying to present the notion that several variables interact (e.g., some of the ideas presented in the examples above), then a good flow chart might be just the thing.

Graphics are most important in the Results section. A picture really can replace a lot of words (you know we’re in favor of that!), and a good graph will be understood far more readily than a description of that same information. On the other hand, be careful about how much you pack into that graph. You might be tempted to compile all of your data into one megahistogram, with ten different variables for each of your sixteen individual subjects across three months of testing, all stacked up in various colors and elaborate shadings and splashed across three dimensions, but please take pity on your audience. Try to keep it simple.

First of all, think about what type of graph is best for the type of data you are presenting.

Bar-graphs: If you are comparing two or three subjects (or groups) for two or three variables (e.g., large groups vs. small groups for rest time, play time and feeding time), then a bar-graph is great. A "stacked" bar-graph is good if you are trying to express proportions of the whole (e.g., out of 10 trials, what proportion ended in success vs. failure, with "success" at the bottom of the bar and "failure" stacked on top, and a separate bar for each subject). If the total for each subject (or group) doesn’t add up to 100%, then it is better to put the variables side-by-side, with a cluster of bars for each subject.

Line-graphs: Line-graphs are good for displaying change over time (e.g., how weight increased over the 12 months of testing). One line-graph can accommodate several sets of data (e.g., how weight, time with mother, and time with peers changed over time), but too many lines can get confusing. Again, keep it simple. Better to present two graphs that are easy to digest than one that makes your audience want to move along to the next poster.

Pie-charts: Pie-charts are good for presenting proportions of the whole (e.g., a daily activity budget: the proportion of the day your subjects devoted to playing, foraging, resting, grooming, traveling, etc.). Two pie charts next to one another allow you to make a comparison (e.g., the daily activity budgets of two or more groups). In this way, they are like stacked bar-graphs. In general, though, bar-graphs are good for a very few series (e.g., success vs. failure) while pie-charts are better for many series (e.g., rest, eat, travel, etc.).

Once you have decided what types of graphs to use, you then have to generate them. Making your graphs by hand is absolutely fine; all the same rules outlined below still apply. However, most of you will have access to computers with snazzy graphics packages. But please bear this in mind: Just because it is possible to achieve a certain effect doesn’t mean that it is desirable to do it that way. Don’t get carried away with the bells and whistles. Instead, think about what you are trying to express, and the clearest, simplest way to express it.

Use of color: Color is very helpful in presenting your results. For example, three lines of color representing different measures will be far easier to follow than three lines that are all black and differentiated only by little squares or circles. So color is good, but use some restraint. Your computer might encourage you to assemble a graph with 13 different data sets, each in a different color, with colored titles and subtitles, colored axis titles, a very colorful legend, and a faint map of the world in the background. This might seem like a great way to capture your audience’s attention, but the final product will look like Walt Disney just hurled on your poster. Better to keep it simple. (Oh, and in case you’ve forgotten, don’t use too much text.)

Hopefully your data will be accommodated by two or three colors. Choose colors that are bold and clear, and use them consistently throughout. Thus, if one graph presents "success vs. failure" for one trial, and another graph "success vs. failure" for another trial, then keep using that same red vs. blue for all of these graphs. Skip to a different pair of colors if you move on to "male vs. female." If you can keep it to a few basic colors, you might use the same colors in your poster board for an aesthetically pleasing ensemble (see more on that below). Bear in mind that some of your audience may be red-green colorblind; this might affect your choice of color scheme.

While your data sets will be most effective in color, make the rest of your graph (e.g., the titles, axes, labels, etc.) in basic black. Follow the same rules described earlier for font sizes; make sure things are easy to read.

A few other considerations:

Many computers will automatically make bar-graphs in 3-D but most professionals prefer flat, 2-D bars instead. That third dimension should be used only when it pertains to another measure of your data set.

Be sure to have all of your axes clearly labeled and a good legend in place. Titles and subtitles should be brief but descriptive so that your reader knows immediately what this graph presents.

Don’t bother to use a graph to present a very basic comparison (e.g., average weight for low-ranking females was 4.6 kg, for high-rankers was 5.2 kg). This information comes across better in a simple statement.

A general suggestion: A great way to present a lot of your material in a relatively small amount of space is to exhibit the predictions and results together on the same "page." This is in striking contrast to how we do things in a printed paper. There, you offer predictions in one area (usually the Introduction) and your Results sometime later. This leads to some redundancy which is ok in a published paper but undesirable in a poster. Thus, we recommend that you use just one 8.5x11 sheet of paper, perhaps on its side ("landscape"), to present Prediction #1 and Results (in a great big font, of course), and a second horizontally oriented sheet of paper directly below with the associated bar-graph. Here’s an example:

Prediction #1

Members of the Large Group will maintain consistent food intake throughout the year, while members of the Small Group will experience seasonal fluctuations in food intake.


1. During the dry season, food intake was higher in the Large Group than the Small Group: 1800 cc/day > 1100 cc/day, t=24.33, p<0.001.

2. During the rainy season, food intake was lower in the Large Group than the Small Group: 1800 cc/day < 2700 cc/day, t=18.33, p<0.001.

Figure 1

A full-page, two-color bar-graph showing food intake for the large group and small group, wet season vs. dry season.

This format gives your reader all of the important stuff, from the prediction to the stats to the graphic display, all located together on your poster where it is easy to understand. You can use this routine for two or three predictions and thus exhibit graphically, with minimal text, the big points of your presentation.


Part 3C -- Other images:

You can hardly go wrong with big, beautiful photos of your subjects. These always catch the eye and also serve to inform your audience immediately about the species in question. Your methods section can also be enhanced with photos, especially if you have used some new apparatus or want to show your subjects in action with their joysticks. If you work in the field, photos of your site at different times of year might clarify a point about seasonal changes. Photos of your field assistants are also appreciated. You might even consider putting a photo of yourself next to your name and the poster’s title, so that interested colleagues can easily locate you.

Photos break up the monotony of text and graphs, resulting in a more balanced and aesthetically pleasing display. However, this will only be true if your photos are of high quality. Choose images that are clear (rather than out-of-focus), of good color and contrast (rather than too light or dark), and easy to make out (rather than where’s-the-monkey-in-this-picture?). As with fonts, bigger is better: 8x10 images are best, preferably with a matte finish so there isn’t so much glare.

Peer review: As you are developing your visual aids, continue to ask for feedback from your friends and colleagues. Print out your text and your graphics and hand them around the department. Folks will come up with good questions, ideas that hadn’t occurred to you, suggestions on more effective turns of phrase or use of graphics. They may also spot grammar and spelling errors. Developing any sort of presentation is an iterative process. Allow plenty of time to make your poster over a number of times.


Part 4: Putting it all together.

There are many ways to construct a poster. We are only going to discuss one option, one that emphasizes flexibility in design and ease of transport, but still makes a strong presentation.

We recommend splitting your poster up into small pieces, preferably standard 8.5x11-inch segments. It is easy to find poster board precut into this size, and your final product tucks neatly into your briefcase or filing cabinet. In addition, you can move the pieces around so that they best suit the allotted space. Imagine how you would feel if you had put together one large unit with a horizontal orientation, only to find that your assigned display area demanded a vertical orientation. Having your work presented in smaller bits will offer you important flexibility. It might also allow you to add and subtract pieces if, for example, you use some of the same material for another purpose later.

The first step in construction is choosing your backing. Poster board is best as it is easy to find in a wide array of colors, it is inexpensive, and it provides a rigid surface that isn’t easily damaged. Card stock is too flimsy but foam core is probably heavier than you need. Choose a clear but subtle color. Neon orange may be fine for a yard sale but royal blue or forest green is better for a professional gathering.

The second step is to print out your various segments (e.g., the page on Introduction, the bullet statements with your hypotheses, the bold bar-graphs) on heavy white (or cream colored) paper. Card stock is good here for a little more durability. Be sure that you use new printer cartridges for nice, clear print. Try to use a laser printer as ink jet pages smudge when they get wet, even weeks after they’ve been printed. Plan and print each segment a little smaller than 8.5x11 as you will want to leave a colored border of poster board showing around each page. Thus, if you plan to leave a half-inch border of color all the way around, you need to plan your segments (be they text or graphics) accordingly. Use a paper cutter to trim down the white pages to 7.5x10 inches.

You may find that some of your segments don’t demand an entire page (e.g., the Acknowledgements or References Cited might need only a few lines each). One option is to combine sections onto a single page. Or simply cut things in half if you have a section that only needs 5x8 inches. Likewise the title and author segments might give you some trouble. Most posters present the title in one solid line across the top, with authors’ names in a solid line below, and academic affiliations below that. It might seem a little choppy, but in the long run, you are probably better off to have a long series of, say, 11x3-inch segments that you can pin up separately onto your display area.

Once you have gotten all of these bits printed out and trimmed to size, you have only to attach them to the poster boards. Spray adhesive is great for this, but glue sticks can also work well. Be sure you have extra materials on hand in case something wrinkles or smudges and you have to remake that segment. However, once the white sheets are glued onto the poster board, you’re done.

There are, of course, a lot of fancy things you can do if you have the time, energy, and creativity. One fairly straightforward option is to add an extra color by putting a contrasting matte between your poster board and your white sheets. This can coordinate well with the data you are presenting. For example, if your Results section displays data sets in red and blue, you might echo that theme by using red and blue backing for your segments. In this case, your 8.5x11 blue poster board would be covered with a 7.5x10 piece of red construction paper (or something similar), and on top of that would be glued your 6.5x9 white sheet. If you adopt this approach, plan your segments to the correct size, and work hard to get all of those colors lined up evenly. You don’t want to make your readers "seasick" with lines canting at various angles.

Other recommendations for designing your poster include using different colors of poster board for the different sections of your poster (e.g., red for Intro, blue for Methods, green for Results, etc.). This has the advantage of clarifying for your reader where one section ends and another begins, but bears the risk of reducing the poster’s cohesive appearance, so proceed with caution on that. If each of your sections requires only one 8x11 segment, then a bold title at the top of each page will make the organization clear.

If you are a creative person, it will be tempting to get more and more elaborate in your poster design, but remember that you want your audience to say, "Wow, this is important work," rather than, "Wow, what cute little monkey motifs he has scattered all over the pages." Put most of your effort into editing your text and designing effective graphics.

What to do about photos: Photos can be treated just like the materials you have printed out on your computer: Trim them to size and glue them to the poster board.

As for making those photos in the first place, just a few words: If you have used print film in shooting the pictures, you can take the negatives down to any photo lab and they will make up nice enlargements (e.g., 8x10’s), but that can get expensive. If you have a friend with a photo scanner and photo printer (or perhaps your department has this equipment), you can get the same quality product at much lower cost. These are about the only options if you use print film.

If you have used slide film, a photo lab can make prints for you (usually very expensive as they have to make an "internegative" first), or someone with the right computer equipment can scan in your slides and print out great quality images, just like with print film. However, slides offer one additional option, good if you’re low on funding and don’t have access to fancy computer gear. Some office supply stores (like Staples or Kinko’s) can take your slide and simply photocopy it onto a regular piece of paper. There is no question that the quality is severely reduced, but the images are perfectly usable, and at about $2.00 per shot (vs. up to $40 per shot at a photo lab), this might be an attractive way to go. (Theoretically it would also be possible to photocopy your snapshots, enlarging them up to 8x10, but the final product would probably be very fuzzy.) Whatever way you produce your photos, try to get a matte finish rather than glossy to cut the glare.

If you are setting out to take new pictures just for your presentation (e.g., of your subjects running through their trials), think about shooting one roll of prints and one roll of slides, for maximum flexibility. (You may be presenting some of this information in a talk next time and then you’ll want the slides.) Most print film is easily developed in an hour at the drug store these days, but on slide film, be sure to use something that a lab can develop quickly, as certain types have to be sent out and you could find yourself waiting many days. Ask your local photo lab which type of slide film will be best for these purposes.

A handout: We strongly recommend that you write up a brief hand-out to accompany your poster. This will allow you to provide a little more detail about your work (though it isn’t meant as an opportunity to author a full paper on the topic) and will also achieve the important goal of sending your audience away with your work and your name in hand. The ideal handout is just one to three pages long, with all of the important points of your talk in both text and graphics. An envelope of these can be attached to your poster display area so that your colleagues can easily collect them.

Peer review: Don’t forget to show your friends and colleagues the final product. Get it all arranged on a bulletin board or conference table and have folks take a look. Be prepared to remake things if someone makes a particularly helpful suggestion. You might also have them fire some questions at you, all in preparation for that big night. Read on.


Part 5: At the meeting.

Most poster sessions are held in large "ballrooms" or other such venues. Each poster is assigned a numbered display board. You may have gotten word in advance about the day of your poster session and what number is yours. If not, this information can be found in your registration materials.

When you arrive at the conference site, you will check in at the registration desk and, whether you’ve prepaid or registered on site, you will receive a packet of materials that includes (among other things) your name-tag, a conference schedule, a set of abstracts of all presentations to be offered, and a map of the meeting rooms. We recommend that you immediately find the date, time, and location of your poster session (i.e., the room in which it will be held and the space number that you will occupy). As soon as possible, visit the room where your poster session is to take place and find your space. This will be the time for surprises, like learning that your horizontal poster has to fit into a vertical space. Better to know sooner rather than later. You will also get a better idea of the set-up, including how best to attach your poster to your display space. If you haven’t brought the right materials (you brought duct tape when push-pins would have been better), you might still have time to go out and purchase something more useful.

When the day of your poster session arrives, go and put up your materials in a timely fashion. You will be wise to come to the meeting prepared for emergencies. Bring along push-pins AND duct tape. Think in advance about the best way to arrange the segments of your poster (your creativity and good judgement will be in demand here), but also consider alternatives in case the space isn’t what you had in mind. The ASP is great about providing information and assistance, but at future meetings you might not be so fortunate. Be prepared for disaster and then you will coast along smoothly when no mishaps arise.

Presenting your poster: A poster session really serves multiple purposes. Your colleagues will come to see your work, of course, but these sessions also provide opportunities for social interaction that paper sessions don’t allow. Thus, you will be presenting your material in the midst of pandemonium as people elbow past one another toward friends or the hors-d’oeuvre table, voices rise in vain efforts to be heard over the crowd, and someone spills wine on your new suit. Think of it as a test, a trial by fermented grape.

You will be expected to stand next to your poster for approximately two hours, answering questions from those who stop to read your poster. You will literally be standing, so wear comfortable shoes. Your attire should be professional, but the ASP is also a fairly casual bunch so a full suit (men’s or women’s) isn’t really necessary. You aren’t being asked to testify before the Senate but neither are you attending a frat party. Aim for something in between.

At the session itself, it is important to remember that YOU are on display as much as your work. You carefully constructed that poster to make your points in very few words; however, some people still won’t want to read through it themselves, and other folks will demand more detail than you provided. You must be well prepared to answer their questions. Spend a little time before the meetings refreshing your memory on the relevant literature, on the various methods your predecessors have used to test this hypothesis, on the statistical tests you used and why. Think about the best way to present the material verbally to compliment what you have printed up for your poster. Remember that 25-words-or-less shtick? You will really need it at your poster session. You will be asked the same questions over and over again, about what you were studying and why, about how to interpret this graph or that statistic, so be prepared to explain those things clearly, concisely and repeatedly. This may feel redundant for you, but remember that each of them is hearing it for the first time. Also remember that many of the people you talk to come from very different subfields than yours, so speak to them professionally but limit your use of specialized jargon terminology.

Finally, remember that there may be folks out there who you’d really like to impress, even if you don’t recognize them. Don’t ignore someone who is standing at your poster, no matter how much you want to ask your friends about the restaurant they went to last night. Your job for the evening is to present yourself and your work to your academic community. Greet each new-comer with a confident Hello and offer to answer any questions that he or she might have. Be enthusiastic about your work. Try not to get so engrossed with one visitor that you ignore the rest. And hang in there until the bitter end because you never know what might happen. It could be the last five minutes of the session, you are tired and ready for some dinner, and you really don’t feel like running through the entire shpiel again. But the nondescript-looking guy in Levis and a cowboy shirt who straggled in just as you were about to start taking down your poster might be the one to offer you the post-doc of your dreams. Don’t blow it.

But don’t forget to have fun, too. Attending a conference can be one of the most beneficial career moves you make in a year. Don’t get so wrapped up in attending talks or reading posters that you miss meeting that professor you’ve always admired. Throw yourself into your own presentation, but relax and enjoy yourself once it’s all over. Next year will come soon enough.