Congratulations! You are presenting a poster of your research at a professional conference! You have worked hard to organize your research story and results into a poster format. The poster is ready; you are at the conference; and you are standing right next to your poster ready to talk about it with anyone who is interested.
You are pretty much an expert on the content described in your poster. After all, you probably did the research yourself. And you are ready to talk about the ideas.
So how do you get started?
Do you greet every passerby who pauses to glance at your poster? “Hi — are you enjoying the conference?” And then “Are you interested in this topic? I’d love to tell you about it.”
Do you wait for the observer to open the conversation? “So — this looks interesting. What is this all about?”
Is there a “right” way to open the poster conversation? Not really, in my view. The choices you have for how to get started — and how to keep the talk moving — will depend on how you diagnose the context. You need to take account of the entire situation.
•How many people have approached your poster area? Only one person? Or if there is more than one person, are they standing together as a group or is one person standing right next to you and others are standing on the other side of the poster?
•How much does your audience know about your topic? You will need to ask “Are you familiar with this area?” Why? So that you know what to talk about. How much introductory material will you need to mention? Perhaps your audience is familiar with your topic and would like you to jump right to a discussion of your findings.
•What feels right at this given moment — Do you feel comfortable launching into a canned talk? Or does it seem more appropriate to let the conversation unfold organically through a natural question-answer interaction?
•And what is your purpose in the first place? Do you want to pitch your ideas no matter what? Do you feel that it is only necessary to answer specific questions?
Poster talks are more than mini-presentations. They are more casual; your audience is standing close to you; it may be noisy; people may want to look at a lot of posters so they are only willing to stop and listen for a short time. And so on.
Play around with your poster interaction and build a repertoire of openings and interactive styles and see what feels comfortable and natural.