Poster Fatigue and Scientific Communication

I’ve only ever been to a handful of poster sessions, but my experience at each one has been fairly consistent. I tend to walk around without much conviction, trying to understand the point of each poster by browsing titles and figures. If the text is too small, or if the area is too crowded, I often either pass a poster altogether or approach without really knowing what it’s about.

Maybe this is less of an issue for experienced academics, especially at specialized events where jargon is universally understood, but for undergraduates or junior graduate students at a broadly categorized poster session, it’s easy to spend several minutes at a poster you don’t really care about.

Making Your Poster a GIF

Earlier this month, I participated in the 50th Annual Ontario Psychology Undergraduate Thesis Conference. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, AOPUTC 2020 was held online as a Twitter Poster Conference. Participants Tweeted their posters with the hashtag #aoputc2020 for others to easily find and interact with. In addition to traditional poster styles, we were given the option to create a GIF poster. GIF posters are like short animated slide shows, and favour images over text for quick communication. The content is also presented ‘in reverse,’ beginning with the punchline and importance followed by more specific methods and results. Mike Morrison, a PhD student at MSU, has some useful templates and discusses the benefits of this Twitter poster format here. He also has some interesting suggestions for revamping in-person posters here.

Here’s what I made for the conference:

Posted at https://twitter.com/PeteDiBerardino

It was really easy to make, and forced me to think about accessibility and understanding rather than cramming as much detail into the allowed space as possible. Since it was on Twitter, fellow conference participants could find my poster using the hashtag and ask questions within the poster’s tweet thread. As other presenters responded to my questions, I could go look at other posters or respond to my own poster’s questions. Anyone else who comes along can see what discussions have already taken place.

While the event went well, I was disappointed by how few of the other students made GIF posters. Out of 70+ participants, only 5 others tried this new format. Everyone else made traditional posters, and many of them were tsunamis of text. Even though I had the opportunity to read the all posters I wanted to at my own convenience, I actually felt less inclined to read in the online conference format. Maybe this was because I felt less obligated to engage without the creator watching me, or maybe it was just because I also had my own poster to monitor and field questions for.

I hope that the GIF approach, or at least the principles behind it will be further embraced in the future. It’s often difficult to restrain your ideas, but I think it’s a worthwhile endeavour, especially when there’s a steep accessibility cost if left unchecked. A GIF posters may not hold as much information as a wall-of-text, but if people are interested enough in your research to read an entire wall-of-text, they’ll be interested enough in your GIF to talk to you about it. Plus, you’ll get a few extra people who may have been turned off by an opaque and text-heavy presentation.

While (hopefully) not all future conferences will be held online, these ideas of minimizing text and optimizing readability should be as relevant to ink on paper as they are to GIFs on Twitter.