The conference I was at last week included a session in which each poster presenter was given a one-slide, 60-second slot—a movie trailer for their poster, you might say. It’s an interesting approach, though I’m still unsure whether I like it or not. One thing that really struck me was that the vast majority of presenters never even stated what their main finding was. Most of them were like, “Here’s the general topic of my poster and the organism I study. If you want to hear more, come by my poster.” I found it frustrating as both as a potential poster viewer and as someone who believes in taking scientific communication seriously. So please, poster presenters and papers writers of the world:
Scientists already struggle with a deluge of more papers, posters, and talks than they could ever feasibly process. Give them reason to believe their time and attention will be well-spent on yours.
Also, the whole “if you want to hear more, come by my poster” bit is just wasted time and breath. Advertisements for toothpaste don’t bother saying “Buy FluoroWhite Tooth Creme if you want teeth like this!” because they know their viewers already recognize the ad for what it is—an ad.
I think they don’t have that comment in the tooth paste ad because the people making the ad KNOW its an ad. In my experience many scientists don’t really seem to realize that.
I suspect that some people didn’t get around to their main finding because they hadn’t though about their data carefully enough to be able to say it succinctly. Succinctness is really hard.
I’m going to try doing this with the (undergraduate) students in my lab this summer. They write up posters at the end of their research, and I think that giving a 60 second overview will be a good challenge for them.
Succinctness is indeed hard, but I think it’s good to work on. It helps you realize what’s most important about what you’re doing. I’ve heard that Nature almost never uses the short blurbs they ask from authors, but they keep asking because it helps authors focus on what’s most important in their writing.