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Poster Presentation 101

Monday May 21, 2001
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If a picture's worth a thousand words, a poster's even more valuable. And no matter if you're a novice researcher or a seasoned veteran, putting together a poster presentation can be an easy and satisfying way to share your nursing knowledge.
"Research is critical to nursing," says Julie Shocksnider, RN, C, director of training and development, Monmouth Medical Center, Long Branch, NJ. "The problem is that if no one gets the information, what good is the research? A poster is a great way to get important information out to everyone." And tackling a poster is easier than you might think.
While many nurses might shy away from "research," Shocksnider reminds us that nurses are conducting informal research each day. "When nurses think about research, they immediately think of complex studies with lengthy statistics, but there is a constant stream of information sharing that goes on between nurses." That information can be creatively displayed as a poster.
Ellen Ciacciarelli, RN, CCRN, nurse educator at CentraState Medical Center, Freehold, NJ, knows first-hand the benefits of posters. "They're excellent communication tools and they allow nurses to be as creative as they like." At CentraState, posters have been used to help train new staff as well as to inservice existing staff about policy changes. Posters have even been used as community outreach tools, educating the public to the many services the medical center offers. But whether you're directing your poster to lay people, professionals, or aiming to present it at a national conference, you'll have to do a little homework first.
What Do I Research?
Both experts agree that the first step to a successful poster should be deciding on the format of the project. Is your idea being pulled from a strict research study you've conducted or is it an informal sharing of an idea or concept that has worked well on your unit? Either formal or informal research can be used in poster presentations.
"Think about things that your unit has done differently and the successes you've shared," says Shocksnider. "A lot of posters aren't based on hard quantitative data. If you've had a problem and found a way around it, it's worth sharing with your colleagues."
The Application Process
Shocksnider encourages would-be researchers to be aware of organization conferences - either national or statewide - at which to present. "Routinely, an organization will send out a call for abstracts and an application procedure that you can follow," she says. "Sometimes the requirements are quite minimal but you should always be meticulous about adhering to the criteria." Once your idea has been accepted, you'll be informed about the proper format to use. Details, such as size, whether the poster will need to be hung on a cork board or simply displayed on a table top, are usually included.
Make it Snappy
Once your idea is conceived, it's time to get to work. Ciacciarelli encourages nurses to really think about how the poster should be laid out and how the information should flow. "Think about how someone will look at your poster and what you want them to take away from it," she says. "While you can assume someone will begin to read your abstract because it's of interest to them, the poster is your way of disseminating the information quickly and easily to them." And one way is to make sure you keep their attention.
"Many younger nurses have learned differently than veteran RNs," says Ciacciarelli. "Older nurses remember the single-camera angles used on shows like I Love Lucy, but today, we're used to fast-paced visuals like those on M-TV. The same is true of a poster - it has to keep them interested or you'll lose them."
To do just that, Ciacciarelli uses a visual approach with lots of background color and clip-art for added impact. Sometimes, she incorporates cartoon images to convey her ideas. "Anything to make it easy to read and understand," she says.
Shocksnider takes a simpler approach. "I like posters to be scaled-down," she says. Although she likes to use hands-on materials, such as attached three-ring binders and cards, she likes simple designs. "I always include the abstract with it so the reader can learn more about the subject and get an overview of the idea. I always think less is more when it comes to posters."
Ready, Set, Glue!
Whether you're using poster board or prefabricated triboards, both experts caution against rushing through the assembly of your project.
"I use a lot of computer projection, Power Point presentation printouts and 3-D sponge boards," says Ciacciarelli. "I assemble everything and lay it out and carefully assess how that poster will look." To verify that the poster is sensibly designed, she often consults with a colleague to double-check her work before she glues it all together.
Shouldering the workload is especially comforting to first-time presenters. "Partnering with someone who has the same interest will help support you through the process," says Shocksnider. "And if your partner has presented before, it takes a bit of the mystery out of it for you."
The Big Show
If your poster will be the main attraction in your hospital lobby or cafeteria, it can have a significant impact. At Monmouth, inhouse posters are used during meetings with student nurses, called "Lunch and Learn." There, the students are educated about everything from mock codes to clinical ladders. To encourage the staff to present posters, Shocksnider suggests that four or five nurses offer to get involved at presenting simultaneously. "It's a great way to get your feet wet," she says.
If you're planning to present your poster at a conference, take extra time to care for last minute details. "If you're flying to a conference, try to get there the night before so you can set up and get a feel for the conference room," says Shocksnider. "And if presenters are to be at their posters at a certain time, be sure you're there. Sometimes you might be standing or sitting for hours, so be prepared."
Among the many benefits of presenting at a conference is the chance to attend top-notch courses and network with other researchers. "There's always a good exchange of information between nurses - and networking," says Shocksnider. "Bring lots of business cards."
Whether you're setting your sights on a national conference or helping to educate your hospital or community, designing a poster presentation can help any nurse feel a part of the science world. "Research, no matter how formal, is a part of who we are," says Shocksnider. "It's a part of every nurse."