Written by Caroline Dowling and Modesta Abugu. Caroline Dowling (@CarolineD0wling) is a Plantae Fellow and a PhD candidate at University College Dublin in Ireland, researching hemp flowering, development, and genomics. Modesta Abugu (@modestannedi) is an ASPB Conviron Scholar and a master’s student at the University of Florida researching flavor improvement in modern tomatoes. 

As graduate students, poster presentations are the easiest way to showcase our research findings to the wider plant community. While both of us have had fantastic experiences presenting traditional posters pre-COVID, the prospect of presenting an iPoster at PlantBio20 had us somewhat nervous with the uncertainty of what to expect from the experience. Here, we seek to highlight our iPoster experiences and let you in on some lessons we’ve learned from presenting virtual posters versus that of the traditional format.

Firstly, the iPoster came with a range of templates that were easy to edit and navigate, and this was one less thing to worry about when compared to designing a physical poster. The additional features of adding voice recordings, videos, GIFs, unlimited photos, and text helped to make our posters infinitely more interactive than a printed one. It was relatively easy to make our posters stand out. Furthermore, the expandable boxes allowed a lot of content but did not give the poster an overcrowded appearance. A traditional poster with a similar amount of text would have sent everyone running in the opposite direction!

The virtual format also facilitated us graduate students to use one of our most finely honed skills: multitasking! On the day of the conference dedicated to poster presentations, we could monitor our own poster chat boxes while also interacting with other presenters at their posters simultaneously. At traditional poster sessions, one can easily miss out on interacting with other presenters as you fear that if you leave your poster unattended you may miss out on fruitful discussions with people who are interested in your work.

The alternative format also facilitated different avenues for engagement such as the option to receive a copy of the presenter’s poster via email, which initiated email discussions. This provided easy access to a list of people who are interested in the work and might be conducting similar research, thus prompting collaboration discussions.

In the end, the online format ended up being less nerve-wracking than the traditional poster session. When asked questions the luxury of time was added- you can actually think and process the question rather than trying to come up with an immediate, eloquent response on the spot. Plus, you could Google something you were unsure of in the questions asked. Another advantage was the written record of any questions asked as well as the responses you gave. At a normal in-person poster session you may not have a notebook to jot down that interesting question you were asked, and it is undoubtedly forgotten after the hour of questions from others.

Another luxury was being able to update the poster throughout the conference. Any new results or images could be readily inserted, and no need to fear that one typo that you inevitably miss before printing your poster- everything can be rectified in 30 seconds with the virtual format!

From environmentally conscious and financial perspectives, the virtual format saves resources and costs. How often is a $50 poster printed for a single conference and then rolled up under your reading room desk for six months? (ahem speaking of other people we know of course…)

An additional perk of the virtual poster is getting a DOI. There are no excuses grad students- you can finally start sprucing up that Google Scholar account!

But on a more serious note, here are some lessons we have learned that we hope will help you with your future virtual poster presentations:

  1. Take it seriously: Even though your poster could appear hidden amid other amazing posters, participants would be able to find you and see your research. In fact, it is easier to point out errors in iPosters than physical posters.
  2. Promote yourself: The Twitter world is full of networking opportunities. Invite conference participants to view your poster through sharing information about it on social media. When you do, be sure to practice your presentation and be ready to answer questions both on Twitter and during the poster live chat session. Here is an amazing line up of iPoster tweets from #PlantBio20.

3. Align contents: It’s important to ensure that the content of your poster aligns with the audio, photo, and video files you’ll be uploading. Focus on content that will improve the understanding of your methods, results, and conclusions. The iPoster format allowed the presenter to keep updating content which made it more current than a physical poster.

4. Be confident and be prepared to answer questions: With the online format, it was less nerve-racking answering questions. The iPoster presented the opportunity to look up answers to certain technical questions which may not be clear at the moment. However, you cannot totally depend on Google- you need to be able to give prompt replies and responses to cultivate fruitful conversations.

5. Don’t be discouraged: Don’t be disappointed if participants do not reach out to you on your poster. This experience is the same with physical posters where people walk by and have no questions for you. Add a note to encourage viewers to reach out to you via email or Twitter should they miss your live chat hours. Remember: the most important thing is the contribution you have made to the research community by putting your work out there. Be proud of it!