• Ashleigh Neill

How to create a winning research poster using PowerPoint

A few years ago, I won the ‘Best for Creativity’ award at the Queen’s University Belfast Graduate Poster Competition. I have since helped many academics with their posters by designing the custom-made illustration for their research. I know how daunting it can be putting a research poster together – but don’t’ worry, this blog has you covered.


This Blog covers:


· Why you should submit a poster to that conference!

· How do you make your poster stand out? Think visual!

· Designing your poster in PowerPoint




Why you should submit to a poster conference!


Posters are widely used in the academic sphere and now feature more and more at conferences. Research posters summaries your work concisely and engagingly –exactly like an abstract does. Typically, at a conference, the researcher (you) will stand by the poster display. At the same time, other participants view the posters and interact with the researchers. Interacting with other participants is a great way to make contacts in your field, get some feedback and practice your elevator pitch.



So How Do You Make Your Poster Stand Out? Think Visual!

An academic poster is usually a mix of text and visual aids like tables, graphs and pictures. To make your poster a hit – keep the text to a minimum and think of how to tell your research story visually. We are hard-wired to love visual information and absorb it a lot faster than large amounts of text (think of how popular platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok are). Visuals are eye-catching and will draw in the other participants at the conference to enquire more about your work. Visuals make it easy to understand complex information without having to scroll through heaps of text and look up the meaning of obscure jargon.

It is important to use appropriate visualisation to depict your research story. Here are some ideas:

Flow Charts

Flow diagrams show a multi-step process or series of conditional outcomes. They are a great way to walk conference participants through your methodology process. Flow charts can easily be created in MS Word.

Bar and Line Charts

These types of charts are a great way of showing trends over time, as shown in my poster below which shows bank risk over time. You can create your charts in MS Excel and import to PowerPoint when creating your poster.

Infographics

Infographics strike the right balance between cool and professional. PowerPoint even has some templates you can look at when open up the app. Infographics can communicate complex analytics, statistics and help create an engaging story.

You can use tools like Canva and Piktochart to help you quickly create an awesome story from your data.

Images

Including relevant memorable images is a great way to send a powerful message and entice the audience to learn more about your work. You could even use a series of photographs to break down a complex idea. Try stay away from stock images as they are generic. Maybe take a picture of your lab with an experiment running.



DESIGNING YOUR POSTER IN POWERPOINT

There are many creative routes you can go down when designing your poster. I hope to provide you with some suggestions and get your creative juices flowing.

Poster Setup on PowerPoint

  • Your poster will be created as ONE slide on PowerPoint.

  • Under ‘Custom’, select your width and height. The standard size for PRINT academic posters is 48 inches wide by 36 inches tall. Be sure to select ‘Ensure Fit’ to avoid lost information.

  • The title should be approximately the entire width of the poster with the main text broken into multiple columns, usually three to four. Like in my poster should above use section headings to make poster easier to read.

Some design tips to remember when creating your poster:

  • Title should be short and snazzy – you want it to grab participants attention at the conference.

  • Word count is between 500-800 words. YES, you read that right! Remember your poster is just like an abstract.

  • Like an abstract include things like the projects’ topic, scope, thesis, methodology results, conclusions and references.

  • Use bullets, numbering and headings to make it easy to read.

  • Include relevant visuals like discussed above.

  • Maintain good contrast between the background colour and text.

  • Be sure to include your name, co-authors, academic program, and University. Double check the conference website for specific guidelines.

  • Send your draft poster to academic supervisor for feedback before submitting to conference and getting it printed.

Just a few extra points regarding graphics and text…

  • Make sure your image is of suitable quality (around 150 dpi).

  • To adjust image once inserted in PowerPoint and retain image proportions, hold the shift key on your keyboard, click and drag the corners to scale.

  • Use a font that works across platforms. I recommend sticking with fonts like Times New Roman and Arial.

  • Make sure you are consistent with the text in poster – all the headers should be the same size and use the same font throughout the body of the poster.

  • Write your text in Word first that copy and paste it over. It is easier to spot mistakes in Word.

Font size guidelines by section:

  • Title: 72-120 pt.

  • Subtitle: 48-80 pt.

  • Section headers: 36-72 pt.

  • Body text: 24-48 pt.


Would you like help with your poster? Why not commission me to create an illustration specific to your work – like the academics did for their posters below. The process could not be simpler – we would just share a cup of coffee (virtually or in person). By the time you have sipped your last drop of coffee, I will have gotten the essence of your research and can work my magic in coming up with the perfect illustration. Please get in touch if you have any queries.