At the moment I’m thinking about the annual conference of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists and so have conference related topics on my mind. Judging from the topics appearing in my social media feeds at the moment so do a lot of other people.

Having done some exploring one thing that struck me is how little is written about poster sessions. Not the, ‘how to prepare your poster’ type advice but the ‘how to make the most of the actual session’  type. There seems to be an assumption that we all know what to do. However poster sessions can be tricky to navigate. Especially if this is your first time.

Some guidance is provided usually by the conference organisers but it can still feel like an unknown entity the first time you walk into the room. You’ve

  • sorted the formatting of the poster
  • got it to the printers on time
  • managed to get the poster to conference without loosing it in transit or crushing it
  • remembered to bring whatever you need to put it up
  • dressed appropriately
  • shown up on time

and then…… you stand and wait.

You may have opted for a poster because you wanted to engage with people in a way that isn’t possible in a formal presentation. You may have been allocated a poster presentation by the conference organisers. For some of you however I’m sure it will have been because, at the time, it felt like a better option than giving a presentation. But guess what – you now realise you have an hour during which anyone at all can come and talk with you. No chair person will intervene on your behalf and the onus is on you to draw people into your space. Yikes!

These are busy sessions with lots of people walking round talking, meeting up with colleagues, grabbing coffee, breakfast or a glass of wine. They can feel lively and fast paced if you pull in a crowd but long and drawn out if you spend much of the time standing alone. This is one of those social situations where the emphasis is on you to seize the bull by the horns, take the initiative and invite people in.

Some tips might help.

If you are wondering how you might do this there are some great tips in this 12 minute video. If you have a poster session coming up I’d really encourage you to watch it. It is well worth 12 minutes of your time.

A few things to add

Don’t waste an opportunity

If you have great discussion with someone make sure you find out who they are, get their contact details and follow up after conference. It is easy, when you get home to add those business cards to your growing stack and do nothing about them. Making the most of these amazing opportunities to connect is a key building block for developing your networks. Why not allot time now in your diary, before you go to conference, to make sure you do this work?

Turn up in person

OK so this may be a personal gripe but make sure you turn up to your allotted session. There is nothing more annoying that ear marking posters that you want to talk to authors about and then not being able to find them. There may be times when you really do have to be somewhere else but, if this is the case, leave a note and let people know. Give them an idea of how they can contact you during or after conference.

Think about who you turn up as.

This is a moment for you to share your work. So who do you want to be for the hour? Someone who is open, ready and keen to engage, proactive in talking to people or someone who looks like they are living one of their worst nightmares. This is about setting out with intention. There are conversations to have, people to meet and connections to make if you set out to do this.

AND if you have a quiet poster session don’t beat yourself up. It is so easy to attach judgement to this, “my work isn’t interesting’, ‘no one wants to talk with me’, etc. etc. There are lots of reasons why this may be the case. Stand tall and proud in the knowledge that you have made a contribution. You haven’t just turned up to the conference with nothing to give, soaked up everyone elses’ contribution and gone home. You have made a positive contribution to your community, developed a range of skills and expertise and added to your CV.