Poster Sessions

Audiences for Poster Sessions

When a professional organization, say the American Heart Association, holds a conference with a poster session, the sponsors expect poster writers to present research for other informed specialists in the field. But even the professional poster might be viewed by less technically skilled readers. If you're planning a professional poster to present your research, find out as much as you can about possible audiences.

Audiences for Professional Poster Sessions

With a few key exceptions, most conferences in highly specialized fields draw only informed experts in that field. However, don't assume that those investigating your research know a lot about your topic. Ask the conference organizers for information about who generally participates in the conference. Once your research has been accepted for a conference, you should investigate the credentials of those who've attended previous conferences. Most organizations publish proceedings, listing the credentials of past presenters. These will provide you with background information, such as where your audience is from (universities, organizations) and what their interests are, as well as their past research topics.

With this background information, you can shape your poster for the specific audience. You're more likely to capture your audience's attention and to avoid presenting obvious information or talking above their heads.

Key Exceptions

If you're preparing a poster on a health or high tech topic, the audience may include media reporters. Generally, these reporters are well versed in the technical aspects of the field, and so they will be able to read your poster without difficulty. But you might want to have a list of references for background reading handy just in case someone asks for the context of your research.

If you're preparing a poster for a technical group that has close ties to business or consumer outlets, you might also have a mixed audience for your poster. Be sure to ask the conference organizers how many non-specialist viewers are likely to be present. You may not decide to change the content of your poster, but you might prepare supplementary handouts for viewers who ask about background or commercial extensions of your work.

Don Zimmerman, Journalism and Technical Communication Professor

The credentials you find listed in conference proceedings can give you a pretty good insight into at least a portion of those attending a conference. These usually provide biographical sketches--paragraphs anywhere from 50 to 100 words long. Typically, most folks won't go to a conference unless they have a chance to do a presentation and as a general rule, you won't find people there from off the streets.

Audiences for General Poster Sessions

General audiences are the hardest to write for because it's impossible to write to accommodate all the levels of background knowledge viewers will bring to your poster. Several approaches might help:

How to Deal with Mixed Audiences

Even though professional conferences draw few outsiders, occasionally someone with general interest in the topic will attend a poster session designed for experts. Especially as more conferences and poster sessions are announced on the Internet, we should expect more non-expert viewers to attend poster sessions. The best rule of thumb is not to write the poster for these readers but to have a few key references available to share with these viewers.

Marilyn Levine, Asian History Professor

The poster session audience varies according to what kind of conference you're attending. Generally, for the Social Sciences and Humanities one might assume that the audience has some expertise in various methods (such as quantitative methods, or specialized terminology); but the presenter wants also to have enough background so that a more general audience, with minimal knowledge can still obtain some knowledge from the poster. Thus, you might want to have a brief background section as one part of your paper or figures that give capsulized information.  

For example, when I did a poster comparing Ho Chi Minh and Ngo Dinh Diem, the main theme was the misconstruction of Western leadership ideas in terms of their leadership. But how did I acquaint an audience with who these leaders were? For the more general audience I developed chronologies in an attractive, laminated, and mounted display. In addition, I had photographs of people and one memo in an arranged section. For the more specialized audience I discussed the ideological development of each leader (without for example, explaining Marxism or Personalism), and then had a specific case study of their leadership in power. In the conclusion, I suggested my ideas in bulleted format as to discussion ideas based on the narrative. Thus, readers who were interested in Asian leadership could learn and ask about the more general history of these two leaders, or interchange ideas on the larger implications of their leadership. Remember, your audience will be able to directly ask you questions, or raise issues or even provide you with information.

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