The poster lovers’ manifesto

The arguments

As in-person conferences are returning after the pandemic, here’s a tongue-in-cheek blog post to set the priorities straight. It’s simple: poster presentations are better than oral. Or, more precisely, the only reason not everyone is excited about poster sessions is that they are the Cinderellas of academic conferences: tucked into some small and shabby place for their ugly stepsisters to get the spotlight. Here are some more arguments:

  1. Poster sessions = two-way communication. You can dive into the wonderful coral reef called science with a personal guide.
  2. Oral sessions = laptop time. This could be a blessing, of course, if the topic wouldn’t interest you. But you don’t even have to check uninteresting posters. You could focus on exactly what conferences are for—learning new science, getting ideas, and extending your social network.
  3. Posters are an art form. You get to try your hand at one of the most iconic formats of graphic design. I don’t think PPTs will ever get such a status (but Peter Norvig’s slide deck for Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is at least funny.)
  4. No Q&As in front of an audience, where only the same old professors would ask the same old questions over and over. Few insights, plenty of awkwardness.
The poster appreciation society
No, there is no such society yet.

The manifesto

  • Organizers: Give poster sessions better scheduling, better rooms, and more attention. Get your top-billing names to present keynote posters. Skip the oral talk awards.
  • Participants: Ditch oral sessions, and submit to poster sessions only. Tell the organizers that you might consider an oral presentation if your poster is rejected.
  • Academic influencers: If you ever teach presentation skills, don’t forget to discuss how to design and present a poster.

The background

In network science and complex systems, poster sessions have always been second-rated. It was not until I went to a medical congress with a very well-organized poster session in a well-lit and spacious room that I understood how great it can be. Big props to Talayeh Aledavood as well, with whom I’ve been discussing organizing a poster-only conference (many of the ideas above are hers (but I don’t remember which, exactly)).

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