Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Poster Sessions - Hey, My Eyes Are Over Here

Today and tomorrow are my companies annual internal poster session, so lab work will be down to zero as I will be presenting for both days. It is quite an exhausting experience, especially for a natural introvert like myself. But if you see me at the show, you would never guess I'm like that.

My attitude towards poster sessions has changed over the decades. At first I was trying to put as much information and words and data and graphs as possible on the paper, although I did know enough to ensure that the visual appearance wasn't too horrible. But the overwhelming thought was that the whole project would be there for someone to read while I stood silently by the side. If they had questions, I would gladly answer them. And when the session was over, I would judge it as a success if I talked to no one.

Coincidentally, my Powerpoint slidedecks were set up the same way. All the information was there and I didn't need to be there, although I never, never not even once stood there and read off the slides directly. That is and always will be a waste of time for all parties.

That all changed at my previous job where we did contract R & D. In a job like that, you are always selling yourself and your company. That's a big part of the reason you are reading this blog. It started as an aid to establish the credibility of me and my (previous) employer. And so despite being an introvert, I learned to engage people. And a great way to do this is to tell stories. There is a great story in every research project, you just have to find it. There is something about storytelling that attracts people. As long as people have gathered around a fire, they have told stories. I'm just tapping into that powerful aspect of human nature

So after 8 years of learning to sell myself and tell stories, my posters sessions have come to reflect that. The posters are now greatly simplified and stand as an aid to what I am talking about, a prop and not a crutch. Furthermore, I'm like a used car salesman - don't make eye contact with me. If someone slows or glances at my poster, I literally wave them towards me and start into my story. And to further freak them out, I talk to them face-to-face about my research. When I come to a point in my talk where a visual would help tell the story, I point to a section of the poster that has what I need. And then it's back to making eye contact until I need another visual. At the end, I now know that the person got the story I want to tell. And in most cases, I can tell that they are thankful. They will leave the session knowing at least one research project to some level of detail instead of it being a blur of endless posters.

Similarly, my Powerpoint presentations have over time had less and less on the slides to the point that now when someone asks for a copy of my slidedeck, I am quite sure that they will get very little out of it. Without me and my story, there is little there.

Unfortunately, I can't always get away with approach as often my slidedecks have to be approved/reviewed by others prior to my presentation. You can easily guess the feedback I get.



Previous Years

September 10, 2013 - A Pitch Drop Contest



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