Author Topic: Poster presentation etiquette  (Read 2745 times)

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Lynn2000

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Poster presentation etiquette
« on: December 06, 2012, 09:54:06 PM »
Here's a topic I haven't seen on here. So I work in science, and a couple times a year I go to scientific conferences for professional development, paid for by my boss. I always take a poster I've made that explains my project. The conferences have a big hall where everyone hangs up their posters in numbered spots and attendees can look them over. There's a couple hours set aside when people are specifically supposed to be standing by their posters to answer questions from other interested attendees.

I've been to over a dozen conferences but at the last one, I had the rudest person I've ever encountered. Now I'm worried that I will see this specific person again at the next conference, or someone like her, and I'm wondering what kinds of things I can politely say to her. I'm honestly not sure if there is a polite way to say, "Leave me alone now," during a stated poster session, when the purpose is to talk with other people about your project; unless maybe someone else comes along, and you can be like, "Nice chatting with you, but I want to give this other person the chance to ask me questions."

She started out nice, interested, asking a lot of questions, which is good. Her specialty was one particular thing, which accounted for about 10% of my project and was largely done by collaborators (not me). I explained this to her but tried to answer her questions about it anyway, and I thought I answered them pretty well; I also encouraged her to contact my boss if she wanted to know more (which is what my boss says to tell people). Then she started asking such nitty-gritty detailed questions that I'm not sure my boss even could have answered them, and getting frustrated when I couldn't answer them.

Then there was some confusion about the terminology she was using--she was like, "What did you do about X?" and I said, "Oh, we did Y and Z," and she was like, "That doesn't make sense. What did you do about X?" Then I said, "Hmm, I guess I'm not sure what you mean by X then, could you explain it to me?" And she got all huffy and was like, "X is X! You know? It's X! What did you do about it?"

It all seemed to boil down to the fact that she didn't like our method because it wasn't what she would have done, even though we followed the method of a leader in the field (as I pointed out). Keep in mind this is all just about 10% of my project, which she had interrupted my overview speech to focus on. Then, when it became obvious to her that I wasn't able to tell her what she wanted to hear, she said in a patronizing tone, "Well, why don't you tell me about the parts of this project you actually did," suggesting that because I wasn't an expert on the 10% she was interested in, I actually hadn't done anything at all.  >:(

I just kept a smile plastered on my face and suggested, about a dozen times, that she take her questions to my boss. But I was pretty upset afterwards.

For what it's worth: there was no language barrier (which sometimes causes difficulty in understanding and tone) and she was about my age, maybe a bit younger. She told me she had just finished her advanced degree and was starting her post-degree job, and her boss had been nice enough to let her come to this conference even though she was brand-new. Also, there was no one else around that she seemed aware of (like, someone she was trying to impress).
~Lynn2000

Hmmmmm

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Re: Poster presentation etiquette
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2012, 10:03:45 PM »
If someone wants to engage in a topic that is not relevant to your subject, just keep repeating: "I'm not the appropriate person to discuss this topic with.  You might want to find someone else here at the conference that focuses on that subject.". Follow up with, "As I said, that is not the subject I'm here to discuss.". And then "I'm sorry, I don't understand why you are so determined to discuss this with me.  I've stated it is not relevant to what I'm presenting."

And then physically turn away from her/him. 

Deetee

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Re: Poster presentation etiquette
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2012, 10:14:31 PM »
It' s been great talking to you. I need to go check out a poster. I'll talk with you later. Are you presenting here?

Then take off for five .minutes and then return.

NutMeg

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Re: Poster presentation etiquette
« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2012, 10:15:55 PM »
In my experience, a little butt kissing does wonders.

"Wow, that's a really valid point. I'll have to discuss that with my co-authors once the conference is over."

If they feel like they've pointed out a hole in your project and you have to go home and fix it, then they've won and they can leave you alone. And then you've won, because they've left you alone.

Or just start asking about her research. No one can resist that, and then you can say, "Oh did you get a chance to look at all of the other posters? I think I saw one that is right in line with your ideas."
"You're hostages! This is a life-and-death situation here. Start acting like it! We're your captors. We're armed. There's rules. There's a whole school of etiquette to this!" - Dr. Daniel Jackson                

mich3554

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Re: Poster presentation etiquette
« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2012, 10:56:19 PM »
I've presented about 30 years of posters and talks by now.  There are some that won't be satisfied with whatever answer you give.  So listen to what they say, give them credence and ignore when they walk away.  There are a fewer people who early in my career who used to do this to me, but once I let them know I know my stuff, then they backed off.  I don't think i have been challenged during a presentation in over 10 years now because they know that I don't trip up. 

However, I will give you one of my pet peeves.  I want to know information about a poster and will ask what method is used and the sensitivity of the method.  Many times, a get the 'deer in the headlight' look and the poster presenter says...'well, I didn't do that so I don't know'.  As far as I am concerned, if something is on the poster, it is fair game and the presenter should be schooled in how they got the data that they are presenting....even if it is only 10% of the poster.

For Deetee, in a scheduled poster session, you cannot take off and leave your poster during a scheduled poster presentation.  You have to stand in front of the poster for the 90 minutes and be 'on' for everyone and anyone who comes by. 

Another thing....you really don't want to blow off or be rude to anyone.  Scientific fields are incredibly small and everyone knows everyone.  That would be the best way to burn bridges that you may find yourself needing in a couple of years.

Deetee

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Re: Poster presentation etiquette
« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2012, 11:54:24 PM »

For Deetee, in a scheduled poster session, you cannot take off and leave your poster during a scheduled poster presentation.  You have to stand in front of the poster for the 90 minutes and be 'on' for everyone and anyone who comes by. 


I have attended a large number of scientific poster sessions myself as both an attendee and presenter and while you should be generally available, often the posters are unattended for brief periods, so I know that heading off for a few minutes is fine.

Sometime people are manning multiple posters. Sometimes people put up posters and leave. Sometimes people want to ask questions on someone elses posters and often people will drift off and come back if they see someone near a poster. And of course people head off to grab a drink or get caught is a side discussion. Poster sessions are also social sessions.


Gyburc

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Re: Poster presentation etiquette
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2012, 06:35:50 AM »
She told me she had just finished her advanced degree and was starting her post-degree job, and her boss had been nice enough to let her come to this conference even though she was brand-new. Also, there was no one else around that she seemed aware of (like, someone she was trying to impress).

Well, isn't she special?! I think she was trying to impress you with her overwhelming superiority. I agree with the PPs - it's not at all rude to slip off for a few minutes for a drink or a rest stop. Most people will take that as their cue to move on.

I had a similar experience a few years ago, and I think I posted about it here. In essence, I was talking to a lady about an article I was writing, and she latched onto one small detail and insisted on telling me that I had clearly got it completely wrong. It didn't matter what I said or how I tried to change the subject, she simply wouldn't stop. In retrospect, it was actually quite funny, since she had absolutely no expertise in my field, but at the time it really felt like a slap in the face. So I sympathise.
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nrb80

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Re: Poster presentation etiquette
« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2012, 08:00:33 AM »
Its days like this where I am so glad I never went to an academic grad school :-)

Let me give you some tips from my husband -

(1) Suck up.  Because some of the most socially inept are powerful in academia, and its never a good idea to do anything but suck up.  "That's a great point.  We haven't investigated that yet.  I'm still not as far along as I could be."  He's good at then taking notes and asking questions to the questioner.  To be fair once, a few years ago, this provided a brilliant insight. 

(2) Develop a tiny bladder.  No one can really argue with a need to go to the bathroom.   The poster should not be left unattended, but the look of panic, a hurried apology, and a dash and dash back is a worst case scenario.

(3) Pawn the person off on the next poster.  Enthusiastically complement the next poster, somehow tying it into the question, then introduce the questioner.  Pray they are distracted. 

DollyPond

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Re: Poster presentation etiquette
« Reply #8 on: December 07, 2012, 10:51:16 AM »
Another long time poster presenter here.

My advice, if she shows up again, is to entertain her questions for a while but don't let her monopolize your time.  If she starts to become strident just excuse yourself and direct your attention to other people who are looking at your poster asking "Does anyone have any questions?" or "Would you like me to walk you through the data?"  Spending all of your time with one person at your poster deprives you of the opportunity to network with others....who may turn out to be a lot more helpful for your career development than Ms. Let-Me-Impress-You.

Funny Poster Story

A few years ago I had recently had a strong disagreement with a prominent journal editor over one of my publications.  I knew who he was but he did not know me by sight.  At my poster session I saw him coming down my row to look at posters.  He stopped at my poster and then turned around to me and asked in a cutesy voice "Oh, are you the person who hates me?"  And with a complete stone face I asnwered "Yes, I am."  He was completely taken aback and literally ran away while stammering apologies.

Moral of the story - "Famous" scientists are not people to be afraid of

Lynn2000

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Re: Poster presentation etiquette
« Reply #9 on: December 07, 2012, 11:00:58 AM »
OP here. Thanks for the replies, everyone. I frequently go with, "Oh, that's a great idea, I'll have to look into that more," when someone gets pushy, but I've found that it doesn't actually deter many people. :( I will try to focus more on asking them about themselves and what they do, as a distraction... I've done that before, but sometimes it's hard to remember when you feel like someone is really jumping on you. I'm also not opposed to leaving for a "bathroom break" for five minutes or so, if it would shake a person who's gotten downright rude. I will keep that in mind.

However, I will give you one of my pet peeves.  I want to know information about a poster and will ask what method is used and the sensitivity of the method.  Many times, a get the 'deer in the headlight' look and the poster presenter says...'well, I didn't do that so I don't know'.  As far as I am concerned, if something is on the poster, it is fair game and the presenter should be schooled in how they got the data that they are presenting....even if it is only 10% of the poster.

I knew someone was going to say this. :) And I agree, it is completely a valid point. In this case, I felt I gave her "reasonable" answers to her questions, but she wanted to go into much greater detail, even when I tried to defer her. I think next time I will be more firm about just repeating over and over again, "You'll need to talk to my boss Dr. Smith about that."

She was interested in a single computer program in the data analysis portion of my project and her questions were, I felt, not things I could be reasonably expected to know about the code and the algorithms and so forth, given that I'm on the biology side. She was on the computer side and was actually familiar with that program herself; and she projected this sort of astounded disbelief that we had used it for this project, when she felt another program would have been more appropriate. Okay, great, thanks for the info, but you realize I can't magically erase my poster, redo the data analysis while we stand here, and change my entire research career around to suit you, random person looking at my poster... right? That was kind of the attitude she had.  ::)
~Lynn2000

figee

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Re: Poster presentation etiquette
« Reply #10 on: December 07, 2012, 05:05:51 PM »
My stock answer:

'You know, I can't answer that specific question.  Can I grab your contact details, and take a note of the question and get back to you with an answer?'

And then follow up later when you do have an answer.  I've found that works for everyone I've tried it on.

mich3554

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Re: Poster presentation etiquette
« Reply #11 on: December 07, 2012, 06:23:06 PM »
Moral of the story - "Famous" scientists are not people to be afraid of

I had one of these too.

Must have been one of the first few posters I've presented and I knew that poster inside out.  I did all the research on the poster, wrote the poster and put the data together so there was nothing I could not answer.

One person came by and started talking to me about it.  Of the 90 minute session, he must have taken a good 75 minutes of my time.  People would come up to us talking, see who I was talking to and walk away.  However, the person's name tag was hidden and I was utterly clueless as to who he was.  So I answered and answered (I don't think I got grilled this much when I was defending my MS), to the point where I was starting to lose my voice.

Finally, he took his hand out of his pocket to shake my hand.  His name tag flipped over and I got to see the name.  One of the most famous microbiologists that is alive today.  He told me I did a nice job with the poster and a great job talking to me, I obviously knew what I was talking about......and walked away.  His name is all over everything that I work with!

One of the other PIs I worked with came up to congratulate me, apparently this scientist is known for his grilling but rarely, if ever compliments young scientists.

Lynn2000

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Re: Poster presentation etiquette
« Reply #12 on: December 07, 2012, 10:18:16 PM »
Very inspiring story, mich3554! :)

Figee, I also like the idea of asking the person for contact details so I can get back to them about a question. I'm honestly not sure I WOULD get back to them--I would have to check with my boss first and see if she was okay with me sharing whatever information, and I would tell the person that--but it would put the onus back on them, I think. Do they REALLY want to know the answer, enough to go through the hassle of writing down their email address etc.--or are they just trying to make me feel inferior to them by harping on something I've already said I don't know? At least at that point I could say, "I'm sorry, I've said I'll have to get back to you on that already. Maybe we should move on to other questions?"

I think there's such pressure on the presenter to be ingratiating and accommodating to the questioner--even if you have no idea who they are--that it can be difficult for the presenter to take control of the conversation, you know? If you're even able to think about it in the haze of answering technical questions, it feels kind of rude. The one thing my boss has really drilled into her employees, though, is to never promise/offer anything (data, protocols, collaboration, etc.) to anyone--tell them to contact our boss about that! So maybe I just need to drill myself on ways to politely redirect people away from questions that they're beating to death.
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bonyk

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Re: Poster presentation etiquette
« Reply #13 on: December 08, 2012, 06:29:27 AM »
Maybe something like, "Wow, you're really well-versed in ComputerSide.  Did you ever consider going into BioSide, or did you always know that you wanted to go into ComputerSide?"

And then any follow-up direct back to them.  "Oh, so you studied at CompterSideU?  I've heard that their computers are awesome!  Are they as super awesome as they say?  That's so great!  I hope someday I can see super awesome computers, too."