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Should You Present at a Data Science Poster Session? Should You Present at a Data Science Poster Session?
Conferences are great places to meet new people and find new ideas. The presentations are informative, and workshops help you gain practical skills in... Should You Present at a Data Science Poster Session?

Conferences are great places to meet new people and find new ideas. The presentations are informative, and workshops help you gain practical skills in new areas (you can also brush up on your soft skills). You’re thinking about presenting at a conference yourself, but there are a few roadblocks to your data science poster session.

If you haven’t had the chance to attend a data science poster session, you may not know that this could be an exciting aspect of a conference. If you have attended, you may have an idea of what this specialized type of presentation could do for your work.

Let’s take a look at what a poster session is and why you may want to consider presenting at one during a conference.

What is a Poster Session?

Poster sessions are less formal styles of presentations. They forego the official format of a full-length presentation or workshop in favor of a more casual, Socratic style. Traditionally, you’d put the vital information onto a poster instead of in an elaborate presentation. The presenter answered questions and engaged with the audience less formally.

If you’ve ever participated in a middle school or high school science fair, you’ve done a poster session. You had a limited research idea and came to a preliminary conclusion. Then, you posted your findings on that classic tri-board. When the time came, you stood in a room with your classmates, waiting for people to stop by to ask questions or make comments.

Poster sessions are similar. Your research may be a lot more complex than that volcano you made, and you design your poster using graphic design principles instead of gluing cut out letters to a tri-board. Still, the concept is basically the same.


Why Start Presenting at a Conference through a Poster?

Conference organizers must set up a conference along with guidelines designed to attract and engage an audience. In a field like data science, there are so many exciting things happening and so much niche research out there—it’s impossible to get to everything during a formal conference.

The conference itself typically follows a theme and is organized along with specific guidelines. This helps attendees plan more efficiently, but it leaves a lot of things out. 

Poster sessions provide a chance for conference organizers to: 

  • Address more varied research—the conference itself may have a specific focus, but what about research that’s fascinating and important? Breakthroughs don’t always fit the planned conference format.

  • Offer niche subjects with a narrower or adjacent focus than the formal conference—Not everything will be general-purpose enough to be a well-attended presentation. Does that mean it doesn’t interest a small subset of people? Posters provide an avenue for these highly specialized fields to disseminate information.
  • Provide a way for preliminary research to see the light of day—In a fast-moving field like AI, for example, breakthroughs move quickly. Ideas may not be fleshed out enough or tested in the field to qualify for a formal presentation. Informal poster sessions provide these ideas an outlet for feedback, questions, and brainstorming.

The Benefits of a Poster Session

Poster sessions aren’t just the B-team of the conference world. They’re exciting, dynamic ways to engage directly with people in the field. Poster sessions have these benefits over traditional presentations.

Informal Set-up

When I was in middle school, my dad (a communications professor) made me practice giving a speech with a basic outline—no memorization, no reading—with plenty of feedback like I was one of his students. I’ve since lost the fear of speaking in front of people. If you’ve never given a presentation, and you haven’t practiced public speaking, it can be daunting to jump right into a traditional presentation. 

Poster sessions provide a way to build up your public speaking skills in a more informal setting. During a poster session, people are free to move between presentations. You may have moments where there are only one or two people, allowing you to practice your elevator pitch. You may get a huge group of 20 moving through and have the chance to expand that presentation delivery.

You may have moments where no one is stopping, allowing you to catch your breath. The nature of the presentation will enable you to deliver the key insights, answer questions, and engage in conversation without the barrier of the presenter/presentee dichotomy. 

Better Dynamics For Niche Ideas

I’ve delivered formal presentations, workshops, and poster presentations and let me just say—nothing is more demoralizing than having no one show up to your presentation. I gave a presentation-that-should-have-been-a-poster to three people in a room that seated 100, and one person got up and walked out. 

Just because your idea is targeted to a very specific group of people doesn’t mean it isn’t a great idea. It just means that you need to give it the format it deserves. Poster sessions allow your people to find you and stick around, alleviating that awkward single-person presentation and allowing for more dynamic feedback. 

An Outlet for Preliminary Research

Much like niche research, preliminary research is sometimes too promising to wait a year for full results. You need the feedback now, but presentations rely too heavily on tried and true subject areas.

Posters allow you to report your initial findings—sometimes even the shade of an idea—and open the process up to the public. This type of brainstorming presentation could help you get over an obstacle in your research. It could spark a new angle. It could identify a glaring omission from a bigger expert in the field.

To have someone criticize the formal presentation is awkward, but with poster sessions, it’s a conversation. You may find yourself getting over a hurdle. You could also get your idea out there to the right people who have resources to help you finish what you’ve started. 

Get Your Ideas Out There by Presenting at a Conference with a Poster

ODSC is introducing poster sessions, and this could be just the thing you need to get your idea in front of the right people. If you’ve balked at the thought of delivering a full presentation or workshop, but you have a burning idea, you may want to consider applying for ODSC East’s Poster Session

We can’t wait to see your research!

Elizabeth Wallace

Elizabeth Wallace, ODSC

Elizabeth is a Nashville-based freelance writer with a soft spot for startups. She spent 13 years teaching language in higher ed and now helps startups and other organizations explain - clearly - what it is they do. Connect with her on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethawallace/

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