Two P’s (Papers & Posters) in a Pod … Prestigious or Not?

December 6, 2013 at 7:50 pm | Posted in NAHSL Annual Meeting 2013, Professional Development | 1 Comment

Thank you for the generous Professional Development Award to attend the annual meeting in Falmouth, MA. It allowed me to take the CE course, Bullet Point 1, Bullet Point 2, Bullet Point 3… the Audience Flees: Visual Communication Skills for Effective Teaching and Presentations taught by Sally Gore.

Let me start by saying that it was not just another ordinary education class. It proved to be a four hour workshop where the time literally flew by! It was fun and informative, and at the same time, thought provoking and wonderfully appealing. Sally shared and demonstrated a communication style that could be applied to just about any teaching or presentation setting.

Yes, the course description was accurate … her class did provide an overview of a creative communication style composed of blending words with visuals for teaching and presentations. But, I was totally unprepared for its ultimate relevance to another aspect of my own professional career: the art of “communicating” my ongoing research data using the poster medium.

Since November 2003, I have been collecting and analyzing clinical questions asked at clinical residents’ educational conferences. This research has culminated into accepted abstracts for poster presentations at three Annual Meetings of the Medical Library Association (2008, 2010, 2013). I have always felt that distilling my rich research data into standard poster guidelines of “20% text, 40% graphics, and 40% white space” is challenging enough. But, then, I am continually reminded in the library literature and in the submission process for MLA annual meetings that “in general, [contributed] paper acceptance is more competitive than poster acceptance, so some consider papers a more prestigious form of presentation”. How could that be so?

After taking Sally Gore’s Visual Communication Skills workshop, I am even more convinced that there is ample evidence to re-examine the equally important contribution that poster presentations can and do make to library scholarship. And, I believe we can find that evidence in Sally’s presentation as well as in the many graphic design resources that support her presentation.

Two resources from Sally’s recommended readings that I was able to review post-conference are particularly noteworthy: Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte and The Elements of Graphic Design: Space, Unity, Page Architecture, and Type by Alex White. Both works brilliantly and visually present concepts of translating presentations (both paper and poster) from boring to dramatic by infusing a moment or an image or a graphic that keeps the interest going long after the audience leaves.

So, as I await word on the fate of my next research abstract for a poster presentation at MLA ’14, I hope to have yet another opportunity to draw on the gems and creative concepts learned at the Visual Communications Skills NAHSL workshop.

Nancy Bianchi, MSLIS

Health Sciences Librarian, Library Associate Professor, University of Vermont



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  1. Thank you so much, Nancy, for your insightful comments regarding the value of posters at professional conferences. I wholeheartedly agree that they are too often seen as “less than” by program committees and such behavior perpetuates a false notion about how much value they really hold.

    Thanks also for your comments on my class. I’m delighted to know that you got so much out of it!

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