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How to create a presentation

Poster Presentations


This guide is intended primarily to assist Schreiner students and researchers with preparing for a poster presentation. It will point you to resources that can help you design and prepare your poster and presentation and also to understand what to expect during the poster session.


Before You Start

Before starting your poster, be sure to get all the necessary instructions and requirements for your final product. Check with your instructor if it's for a class. Organizations hosting poster sessions will normally have the information on their web site.

Some things you will need to know:

  • size and materials for the poster
  • any information required to be included on the poster
  • any formatting requirements
  • will the whole poster need to be printed, or is posting separate pages on a background acceptable?
  • any instructions for printing the poster
  • due date for the poster
  • if a formal oral presentation is required


What is a Poster Session?

Posters are ways of communicating your work visually and concisely to interested viewers. As viewers walk through the poster display area, they may skim your poster, stop to read, or ask questions. A poster session is a good opportunity, not only to explain and promote your research or project, but to get feedback on it, make connections with researchers working in related areas, and possibly even meet a future employer.

Often held in conjunction with conferences, poster sessions are an important part of the scientific communication process. They allow you to  reach a large audience more informally than a prepared research talk and to interact directly with interested viewers.


Why Do a Poster Session?

You might be preparing for a poster session for a number of reasons:

  • a class assignment
  • an undergraduate or graduate research display
  • a promotional event highlighting work done at the University
  • a conference or professional meeting

Regardless of the purpose, the same basic principles of poster design and presentation apply. Some details may vary depending on the requirements of the session organizer and whether you are presenting for a class assignment or for a conference.

Source: Poster Presentation, ULS.

Helpful Web Sites

Source: Poster Presentation, ULS.

Design Considerations


Color can enhance your poster and attract viewers, if used effectively.

You might use color to:

  • improve the visual appeal of your poster
  • improve the reader's ability to understand it quickly
  • highlight important elements in your poster
  • connect related information
  • distinguish different categories of information
  • present results in graphic form
  • provide accurate images of examples from your work

Things to watch:

  • don't overdo - very bright posters can draw attention, but may be difficult or tiring to read
  • dark and brightly colored backgrounds can use a lot of ink when printing
  • many prefer to read dark text on light backgrounds
  • choose colors with sufficient contrast. Your text must be easily readable against the background, and colors on graphs and charts must be easily distinguished from each other.
  • maintain a color scheme
  • avoid using green and red next to each other to limit difficulties for those with color-blindness


Poster Content

Your poster should tell the story of your research or project - what you did, why it is important, what your results and conclusions were. It should highlight the main points of your work without going into all the detail that you would include in a research paper.

Here are some things to think about as you organize the content of your poster. 

  • identify the message you want viewers to take away with them
  • focus on the main points of your message
  • organize your information in a logical flow
  • minimize text
  • present your story visually as much as possible
  • include your results in an easily interpretable form, such as graphs or charts, if possible
  • make your conclusions clear and obvious
  • use bullet points and lists to make key material readily visible
  • describe methodology, but leave out the details that would go into a research paper
  • plan on presenting details in conversation with your viewers or in a handout
  • choose a title that is specific, informative, and will catch viewers' attention
  • if an abstract is required, it should concisely summarize the story of your work
  • captions should make clear the significance of an illustration or the conclusion drawn from a chart or graph
  • authors' names, affiliations, and contact information should be readily visible
  • acknowledge any sponsors, research grants, and assistance
  • cite any direct use of others' work
  • include any information or content required by the session organizer

Remember, most viewers will not read your entire poster in detail. They should, however, be able to understand its basic message by looking at the title, abstract or introduction, section headings, figures, and conclusions.



Text is an important part of your poster. Use it effectively to tell the essential parts of your story.

  • minimize text - long sections of text detract from the visual appeal, make key facts less visible, and take more time to read
  • break text into sections that can be separated and arranged with your graphics
  • write concisely
  • choose fonts that are easily readable
  • use font sizes that are readable from at least 5-6 feet away
  • titles should be larger than section headings, which are larger than text and captions
  • captions should be easily readable and written horizontally
  • use bold type for titles and section headings
  • use bold type or color to highlight key terms
  • using all capitals is generally harder to read than using mixed cases



In choosing a layout you'll want to keep these issues in mind. 

  • the story of your presentation should be readily apparent and easy to follow
  • the most important parts of your story should appear in the most prominent locations
  • the sequence of your presentation should be obvious and natural
  • take advantage of natural eye movement patterns - top to bottom and left to right in English
  • don't overcrowd - leave blank space to separate the sections of your poster
  • leave margins around the edges
  • limit text to short blocks
  • title should be prominently displayed at the top
  • authors' names, affiliations, and contact information should be readily visible near the title

Templates and Examples

You may choose to design your poster from scratch, but sometimes a template already exists that may fit your needs. Check out examples of real posters to get ideas that may work for you.



Using visual components can help present your story to viewers in an appealing style that helps them grasp your content more quickly. Here are some issues to think about in planning your visuals. 

  • use the highest resolution images available - what looks good on a page or screen may be pixilated when expanded to full poster size
  • insert images as files instead of copying and pasting them to retain the image quality
  • use graphs or charts to present results instead of tables if possible. Tables have less visual appeal and don't make your conclusion or any pattern in the data as obvious as a graph does.
  • give credit for any images or graphics you did not create


Image Sources

It's very possible you will create all the graphics and take all the photographs used to create your poster. However, you may want to use images or graphics from other sources. Here are a few sources you can check for reusable images. Licensed for reuse, however, doesn't necessarily mean use without any restrictions. Be sure to check the licensing for any item you wish to reuse.

  • Government databases - Works by the government are not copyrightable, so many images and photographs from government web sites can be reused with appropriate credit. However, check each image, and don't assume it's reusable. Some images are the property of their individual creators and may be under copyright.



Credit: Copyright symbol. From "Copyright" article in Wikipedia.

If you use photographs or images in your poster that you did not take or create, you must be sure to abide by the copyright status and requirements for use of those images. Give appropriate credit to your sources.

This resource will help make you aware of copyright issues, but it does NOT provide legal advice.

Source: Poster Presentation, ULS.



Find out in advance:

When do you need the final poster?

  • Work backwards from this date, allowing time for review, editing, checking the proof, and printing.

Does your poster need to be printed?

  • This is the more professional option, but in some venues, posting multiple 8 1/2 X 11 pages with your content may be acceptable.

When should you submit the poster to the printer?

  • How much turnaround time does the printer need?
  • Is everyone in a large class submitting at the same time?
  • Do you need to include time for printing a proof?

What kind of file or files are acceptable?

  • PowerPoint - commonly used and can be adjusted by the printer
  • pdf - can't be adjusted by printer but may make a better final print
  • Mac or pc?

How do you submit the file?

  • On a flashdrive?
  • Through DropBox software for a class?
  • E-mail?

What are the cost and payment method?

  • Cost per square foot or square inch?
  • Set up or other fees?
  • Color charges?
  • Who pays - you or the department?
  • Cash, check, credit, or research account number?



PowerPoint is commonly used for creating posters. It is available in the University Computing Labs and can be acquired by all Pitt students. You will create your poster on one PowerPoint slide. Be sure to set the proper dimensions at the beginning, since the program defaults to standard settings for a slide show.


Creating Graphics



Be sure to proofread your entire poster carefully before printing.

Check for:

  • spelling and grammar
  • correct authors' names and contact information
  • captions and labels
  • correct computations
  • correct citations
  • accurate facts
  • quality or resolution of images


Poster Printing

Check with your instructor or research advisor for any specific instructions they may have. There may be a preferred printer, or special arrangements may have been made for a class assignment.

Source: Poster Presentation, ULS.


If you use another person's work, you need to acknowledge it, usually by citing it.

  • check whether your poster session expects formal citations
  • is a particular style preferred or required?  (various disciplines often prefer different citation styles)

Check out the Use Sources Research Guide for information on using citations.

Citation Resources:



Creating your poster may be entirely original work on your part, but if you use text, images, or designs from another source, you need to be aware of copyright. If an item is under copyright, there are limits on whether, how, and how much of the item it is fair for you to reuse.

Credit: Copyright symbol. From "Copyright" article in Wikipedia.


Creative Commons

Creative Commons develops copyright licenses designed to enhance the sharing and creative reuse of digital content. Copyright owners may choose to license their materials under one of several licenses with various requirements or limits on reuse, such as attribution required or no commercial use.

Learn more about using Creative Commons licensing - for your own work or for reusing others' work - at the links below.

Source: Poster Presentation, ULS.

Before the presentation day . . .

  • know when and where you need to arrive and install the poster
  • know what materials are being provided and what you have to bring
  • consider bringing some backup pins, tape, etc. in case of emergency
  • prepare any handouts you plan to give to interested viewers
  • arrange for business cards if you plan to distribute them to viewers
  • prepare an envelope to collect business cards left by viewers
  • practice your presentation
  • take a copy of your poster on a flash drive as a back-up in case of an emergency
  • know when the poster must be taken down


On the presentation day . . .

  • arrive and install your poster on time
  • have paper and pen/pencil ready to make notes, get contact information, etc.
  • dress appropriately - your instructor or advisor can give you tips on this. Generally, it's better to err on the side of looking more professional than less.
  • remove your poster on time


Although many poster sessions only involve informal oral presentation and conversation with your viewers, some sessions or class assignments may involve a more formal presentation to an audience. Be sure you know which you need to prepare, although some tips for preparing a regular talk will also be useful for an informal presentation.

Preparing for an informal poster presentation:

  • allow plenty of preparation and rehearsal time
  • identify the main points you want your viewers to take away
  • prepare a brief (1-2 min.) standard talk that explains your poster and the take-away message
  • anticipate questions and prepare answers
  • understand the background behind your work, the methodology, how calculations were made, etc.
  • rehearse your presentation

During the poster session:

  • stand by your poster, but avoid blocking a view of it
  • be ready to engage with interested viewers; don't get lost in other activities
  • speak to passers-by, but don't corral them into spending time
  • ask an introductory question to gauge how much interest or background the viewer has in your subject
  • don't monopolize viewers' time going into details when they really want the big picture
  • don't allow one viewer to monopolize your time and exclude other interested viewers

Source: Poster Presentation, ULS.