Nell Greenfieldboyce of NPR covers the trend toward making posters at academic conferences more like billboards on the highway: “To Save The Science Poster, Researchers Want To Kill It And Start Over”.
"Imagine you're driving down the highway, and you see billboards, but instead of an image and a catchy phrase, there's paragraphs of text all over the billboards," says Morrison. "That's what we're seeing, we're walking through a room full of billboards with paragraphs of text all over them."
It's impossible to take in unless you stop in front of a poster to read it. But there are so many posters that we just keep moving.
"It's mostly noise. You're just skimming desperately," says Morrison, "and you're going to miss a lot as you walk by." Maybe people stop and engage with one or two posters, Morrison says, but it generally takes time to even figure out what the poster is about. That means researchers often spend time with a poster that turns out to be not all that significant for them.
Anything to make posters more engaging and useful is worth doing. I wouldn’t go for this style myself, because in paleoanthropology and genetics we can rely instead upon compelling graphics, which are not part of the “billboard” style. But I completely agree with the basic idea, recognizing that presenters try to cram too much detail into their posters, and usually fail to make editing decisions that reinforce their takeaway points.
The important thing with any presentation is to build with your audience in mind. Posters are a style of presentation. They are more personal than a podium presentation, and that means that the poster should serve the purpose of introducing the presenter to the audience.
For a scientific meeting with 30,000 attendees, and many non-presenters who are attending for professional enrichment, the billboard poster may be the best way of focusing the audience on a single takeaway. But for a smaller conference where building relationships with other professionals is the main goal, a more nuanced approach is probably the way to go.