U.S. Department of Energy

Environmental Management Science Program Workshop

Tips for Effective Poster Presentations

In a large exhibit session, a typical viewer tends to stop or slow down only at the exhibits that catch the eye. You only have a few seconds to attract someone's attention. To have a successful exhibit you need to know not only how to catch the viewers attention but also how to clearly and accurately present the purpose and results of your scientific research. Many exhibitors make the mistake of putting too much emphasis on their name and logo and not enough on their message. An effective exhibit design presents your message in a precise, interesting, and unique way. The goal should be to make them want to ask for more information.

The information here is intended to help guide you through the process of making the content of your exhibit precise, to the point, and easy to read. This information and suggested guidelines also takes into account that your exhibit will be presented in electronic form as part of the workshop's online exhibit hall.


Focus on introduction, methods, results to-date, discussion, summary, and publications.

Organize to Motivate

When designing your poster exhibit concentrate on your most important objective, the one with the greatest return on your investment of time and energy and makes the greatest difference. Look at the long-term goals of the project, consider the potential benefits of each task, prioritize, and then decide on the one or two thoughts that are the most important for your audience to remember. If you are to sell your ideas, you must speak from your audience's point of view. When you prepare your presentation, decide what it will take to motivate your audience to agree with you, understand you, or take action. Then develop your ideas so they provide that motivation.

An effective exhibit, just like a written summary or report, is logically organized into an opening, body, and conclusion. The opening or headline is designed to catch immediate attention. It must arouse the audience's interest in your topic. It also leads into the body of the presentation.

The conclusion of your presentation is the climax. It should tie in with your opening and should leave no doubt about what you want the audience to do with the information you have given them.

Once your opening, body, and conclusion are clear in your mind, make a rough layout in a page layout or illustration software to determine how text and graphics should be displayed to effectively catch the viewers attention and then carry their interest through your information in a logical fashion. Doing your exhibit design on the computer will give you more control and flexibility and make it easier to provide an electronic version for the online Exhibit Hall. If you are not comfortable with exhibit layout or graphics, it is to your advantage to consult a graphic designer. Otherwise, make a small-scale sketch of poster to ascertain that all point you want to stress as well as headlines, text, figures, and tables, photos, etc. will fit into the dimensions allowed. A rough layout on a chalk board is a nice way to see if the presentation makes a "visual" statement. Keep in mind that the useable space on the display boards is slightly less than the outside dimensions.

Keep in mind that the useable space on the 4-ft-high by 8-ft-wide display boards is slightly less than the dimensions and that English speaking viewers are used to reading from top to bottom and from left to right. If you plan to use a monitor as part of your display, be sure and design your exhibit around it so you don't block the exhibit graphics. Don't crowd too much information into the presentation. Avoid overwhelming the audience with too many numbers, words, or complicated graphs. Yet, since people will study the exhibit while you are away, make sure your message is clear and simple.

Materials and Large-Format Output

There are many options available today. Almost all Copy Centers can produce an 11 in. x 17 in. color copy and many can output your digital file onto a roll-fed device with 36-in.-wide material. Be sure and ask about turnaround time. Most Copy Centers need two days to provide the large display-sized output.

Most computer output centers prefer to receive files in Postscript format. Be sure to use a Postscript print driver when creating your Postscript file. If you do not have Postscript drivers, convert your file to PDF. When writing your PDFfile be sure to specify the final output size. If you choose to provide your file to the computer output center in it's native software, be sure and provide all links, graphic images, and fonts to ensure proper output.

Poster board is available in a variety of colors for mounting your presentation after output. However, 3/16-in.-thick foam core board will not wrinkle or warp like the lighter weight poster board. Foam core board is made in 48 in. x 96 in. sheets and is usually available in the following pre-cut sizes: 40 in. x 30 in., 40 in. x 60 in., and 40 in. x 32 in. Spray adhesive or rubber cement is usually used to mount paper to poster board or foam core board. If your Copy Center can laminate your presentation, you may not need to mount it on a backing board. Velcro (the hook side) can be used to make it easy to move panels around. However you choose to put your exhibit together, it should be neat, uncluttered, and well labeled.

Graphic Images

Market studies show that communication effectiveness is increased 40 to 50 percent when a visual is added to the spoken word. However, the wrong visual aid will have just the opposite effect--message understanding can be decreased. It is important to get the message to the audience as quickly as possible. When should a graphic image be used, and what makes a graphic effective? Graphics (illustrations, photographs, charts, and graphs) or other visual aids (models, props, samples, etc.) should be used for the following reasons:

Before using a graphic image, ask these questions:


Colors are powerful communication tools. According to Starch Reports, in a study of 3,819 ads, full-color ads yielded an 85% larger noting audience than black and white. Many studies have been made on the effect of color on perception. The findings of these studies have proven that color can set or change moods. We also give symbolic meanings to color. On a graph of income and expenses, for example, earnings might be depicted in green (the color of money) and expenses might be red (the color associated with debt). We use phrases like "The company is in the black or is in the red" in our conversations constantly.

Colors can be placed into several categories:

Color Categories
Hot Warm Cool Cold
reds light orange light blue dark blue
bright orange light yellow light green dark green
bright yellow light gold light purple dark purple
bright gold browns light gray dark gray
Mood and Common Associations of Each Category
excitement mildness subdued somber
passion confidence truth dignity
love knowledge tenderness frugality
action playfulness leisure strength
power earthiness neutrality constancy
aggression fellowship calm elegance

All colors, no matter whether they are pure spectral hues, darkened with black, lightened with white, or dulled with their complements, can be compared as to lightness or darkness with a value of gray. When designing an exhibit, adjacent colors should have gray value contrasts of at least 30% in order to be differentiated from a distance. Don't forget, the information needs to be legible from at least 6 ft away. Where possible, let the most important item have the most important color and the greatest contrast with its background. "Important" colors are those with high intensities and are at the light end of the value scale. Warm, pure hues like yellow and orange are considered more attention getting, especially when they are used in moderation and against a dark color. Warm colors seem to advance, whereas cool colors, like purple, blue, and blue-green, recede. Cool colors should be reserved for backgrounds.


There are thousands of possible type font choices. On a broad scale, type can be classified as either text type or display type. Text type is designed to be read quickly and be legible at small point sizes. Display type is designed for use in headlines (the words that are planned to create audience interest). This classification of type offers enough difference in the fonts to communicate things like masculine vs. feminine, modern vs. old-fashioned, hot vs. cold, etc.--in other words, display type attempts to be illustrative to a greater or smaller extent. These fonts are designed to be used only for headlines and are almost impossible to read if used in a sentence or paragraph of text.

All lettering must be easily read from a distance of 6 ft. Use a bold or semibold type for headings. The main headline should have letters that are at least 3 in. high with authors names and institution at least 1 in. high. It is preferable to have all other text at least 1 in. high, but the minimum size for text is in. high. When lettering with colored text, never place light letters on light backgrounds or dark letters on dark backgrounds. Dark letters on a light background tend to be more readable.

When writing your text, keep these guidelines in mind:

The On-line Exhibit Hall

Because people retain visual images far longer than the written word, the online exhibit hall provides a visual overview and valuable reference to your presentation. To facilitate this, exhibits should have a clearly identifiable portion containing the title, the Principal Investigator's name, and a list of other participants.

HTML (hypertext markup language) and PDF (portable document format) are the preferred formats for the online exhibit hall because of their flexibility and cross-platform compatibility. A PDFfile appears on-screen at the highest possible resolution and prints perfectly in color or black and white on a PostScript or non-PostScript printer. If you design your exhibit in a page layout or illustration software (like WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, Adobe PageMaker, Quark XPress, Adobe Illustrator, or Adobe Photoshop) and then convert the file to a PDF, it will retain it's original look and feel--complete with text, graphics, photos, tabs, cells, tables, and color--on Macintosh, Windows, DOS, or UNIX computers.

If you plan to provide a summary handout as part of the exhibit and you provide this as a PDFfile, it can be the second page of your Exhibit PDF.

If you do not have the ability to provide a PDF, a high-resolution (at least 300 dpi) JPEGorTIFF file will be accepted. For more information, see "Guidelines for Preparation of Online Poster Presentations."

It is planned to have a photographer capture an image of exhibits that have not been supplied as an electronic image; however, an on-site photograph at the Workshop will not allow for optimum legibility and certainly won't allow some of the enhanced features listed below: