Poster vs. Presentation: the face-off

I’m at the American Geophysical Union‘s fall meeting in San Francisco this week, along with about 20,000 other… geophysicists, if that’s what we’re collectively called. I presented a poster Monday afternoon, which I think went really well – I talked to a lot of interested people about my work, and one scientist was definitely interested in applying my method to her own research, which was my overarching goal.

My poster on stable isotope partitioning

My poster on stable isotope partitioning

It’s interesting to see how each conference treats posters vs. oral presentations – I’ve found different societies take markedly different approaches. At the AGU, it seems that the talks are highly curated, with half or more of the speakers in a given session being invited, and it being relatively exciting to be awarded a talk as a student, while at the tri-society meetings, it seems like it is relatively common to be assigned a speaking slot if you apply for one, although there are then sort of two tiers of talks, with the invited ones being longer.

I usually apply for a talk, since I enjoy presenting, but there are definitely¬†pros and cons for each option. I’ve often thought of poster sessions as representing the extremes of the experience – i.e., the best poster session experience will be better than the best talk, and the worst poster experience worse than the worst talk. In the ideal scenario for a poster, the people you want to reach come to your poster, and you are able to engage them on a deeper level than in a talk, because you can skip background, get into more detail, and discuss for longer. Thus, you can get a lot of valuable feedback on your work and really engage with other scientists. In the best scenario for a talk, you may reach more people, but likely at a shallower level, and people are sometimes heistant to ask questions, or there’s not much time, so you are less likely to gain much directly from the short question period afterward. The benefits are less tangible – you may be able to convince a large crowd of people you are doing interesting and valuable work, but you may not receive much immediate feedback.

On the other hand, while the worst case scenario for a poster is that you wait there helplessly and no one comes to see it, the worst case scenario for a talk still probably involves an audience of at least a handful of people.

I’d be interested to hear what other people’s experiences or opinions are – do you always prefer one over the other? What could improve poster sessions or talks? Is your goal more to receive feedback on your work, or just to reach a wide audience?

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