When I am at a conference and a little burned out and don’t want to get stuck in a session for an hour, I head on over to the poster sessions. Poster sessions are a collection of specific projects grouped together in one area. You walk through the table and displays to see what interests you.
So rather than sit through a lecture, poster sessions allow you choose which ideas and student projects you want to learn more about, as well as have fantastic one-on-one, or at least small group, conversations with great educators.
Attending poster sessions
Poster sessions are usually offered in groups, so I start by scanning the topics in the program to see which time might be best for me to visit. I like to start with a brief walk through the entire group, scanning the visuals on the display boards to determine which I might like to visit and how much time I have to do so. Then, I go back and talk with whomever looks friendly and seems to have an interesting topic or project.
But posters are great opportunities to make new friends and expand your personal learning network (PLN), so don’t rush. If you end up having a great conversation keep talking! You may make a lifelong friend.
Want to share what you and your students are doing, but hate public speaking?
Poster sessions are a great place to get your feet wet and try out how to share your idea, since you are mainly talking one-on-one or in small groups.
But don’t take this to mean they are less work! Not only do you have to set up a great looking display, but if you want people to hear about the work you are doing, you have to “sell” your project to get them to stop and have a conversation.
Here are some suggestions from my experience as well as the experiences of Tech4Learning Innovative Educators Ellen Phillips, Amy Boehman-Pollitt, and Jamie Hagan.
What is provided?
Most posters give you a table, bulletin board, and power. Some also provide a computer, or at least a monitor you can connect to your laptop to show off student work. You may also get lucky and get a spot that has a donated interactive whiteboard or projector. If you really want people to see your stuff a projection device makes a big impact!
Be sure to take at least one laptop with your presentation and student/project samples. Be sure to have a back up of your presentation on a Flash drive or in the “cloud” so that you have a backup in case something goes horribly wrong. If your laptop requires a special dongle to connect to a projector or monitor, be sure to take it with you. If your projects have student voices, take your own speakers.
What should my poster session look like?
The board, or poster, for your session is the main thing that people will use to find you. Be sure to include the title of the poster and your name in text large enough for people to read from a distance, then fill, fill, fill the space with student work. The more colorful the better.
Run a slideshow of student work on a large monitor or over projection. The color, sound, and movement will attract people closer. This also gives people something to watch without having to talk to you, which helps if they are shy. Once they have a clearer picture of what you are sharing, they are more willing to ask questions and start a conversation.
Remember to have a high-touch table as well. While you don’t want to bring oodles of stuff, having printed examples of student work encourage people to approach and explore.
How do I prepare?
While you might be tempted to have a presentation ready, be sure that it is non-linear (why Share makes a great presentation tool!). Because you will be having lots of small group conversations, you should tailor your discussion for each participant. Share your story by referring to specific examples in the slideshow or by opening individual project files.
Ellen Phillips suggests creating a rough list of points you want to cover. She suggests being sure you share:
- how what you are sharing will work for their kids in the classroom, and
- how easy it will be for them to learn and use it.
In other words, while people are there to hear about your project, attendees really want to know if they can do it, how they can do it, and what it will do for their students.
To save time, weight, money, and waste, put your resources online! Then, instead of carting around lots of stuff, give people a small card or bookmark with the URL address of your project. Place a QR code prominently so participants can capture, store, and retrieve both your contact information and your presentation materials.
If your session refers to commercial tools or resources, be sure to provide product pricing and company contact information. If the company is exhibiting at the conference, share their booth number so people can find out more information.
Be sure to let the company know about your session too! They will refer people to your session and may even be able to provide addition materials.
Once the posters open, be sure to smile, smile, smile. Ellen suggests, “Assume everyone is dying to see what you've got.” They came because they WANT to hear from you, they wouldn’t have shown up otherwise.
Once you are talking, the posters are easy, and the hardest part may be getting people to stop and to start a conversation. A colorful board filled with student work, combined with a slideshow and printed examples they can touch will help to engage them.
If you are having problems connecting with people, starting asking lots questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Turn on your charming and funniest self, but be real. The posters are as much about meeting new people and making connections as they are about learning about new ideas.
PS - I'd love to hear how you make attending or giving poster sessions a success. Please share your comments.