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Design posters for maximum impact

Do you ultimately want your research or program evidence to effect changes to policy and practice? How can you effectively use posters to communicate your key messages to those who matter? How can you maximise the impact of your poster and/or poster presentation?

"An effective poster is Focused, Graphic and Ordered" (Hess et al., 2013)

Designing the poster


Focus on 1 or 2 main messages and do NOT overcrowd the poster
Keep it simple. What are the main messages you want to convey? A poster is not the medium to convey everything about your project or program.

Use a brief title : a sub-title can help describe what the poster is about. The title needs to accurately reflect the content of the poster.

"Persuading delegates to stop and read the poster is the first step towards interaction" (Goodhand et al 2011)

Be creative and capture viewer's imaginations! A TITLE ALL IN CAPITAL CASE IS DIFFICULT TO READ. A Title Using Title Case or A title using sentence case will be easier to read.

A great poster catches your eye, and is:

  • clear and simple
  • easy to read
  • organised with a logical flow
  • relevant to viewers in its content
  • taking advantage of the visual medium
  • providing viewers with 1 or 2 main messages.

Sub-headings should be descriptive
Headings are navigational tools: they help viewers to scan and identify what each section of the poster is about.

Use succinct text in ‘bite size chunks' : delegates prefer posters with less text
Keep all text (headings and body text) to a minimum. Posters are often viewed during conference breaks or during busy sessions so viewers don't have much time to read a lot. ‘Chunk' text into digestible-bites using small paragraphs, bullet lists, or text boxes. Bullet lists do not always need the 'and's' and 'the's'.

Font size ? Bigger is best !
Ensure fonts are large and easy to read. The words need to be legible from 1.5 metres away. Recommended sizes: Title: 72 pt; Headings: 48-60 pt; Body text: 24-48 pt. Sans-serif fonts (without the bits on the ends) are clearer to read from a distance.

Font size

Check: Can you still read the text if you are reproducing the poster on an A4 handout?


Graphics convey your message quickly
Posters are a visual medium and should include graphics. Graphics not only catch people's eye and draw viewers in for a closer look... they are understood more quickly than text so are valuable tools for communicating of your mainmessages. Use photos, cartoons, figures, tables, diagrams. Label them. Graphs and pictures are preferred to tables, and tables are preferred to text.


Colour also helps viewers quickly understand
For example, colour can be used for emphasis:



The sequence should be well ordered and obvious. Layout is important, guide the reader using visual aids to show the pathway and use frames to separate figures and text. Place items in sequence and if the poster doesn’t look right, then change the design not the sequence.

Compulsory content

  • author's name/s
  • author's organisation/s
  • organisation's logo/s
  • contact details (website, email, phone, postal)
  • poster publication date.

Producing your poster

Make sure you follow the poster guidelines of the conference where you are presenting; acceptable poster size and format may vary for different conferences. Allow plenty of planning time for discussions about your content, the design, and agree on timelines.

When preparing your poster you may be able to use the services of a graphic designer. If not, posters can be prepared using Microsoft software such as Publisher, Adobe, or PowerPoint.

Check out the following video links for further instruction:

Publisher (approx 12 minutes)
Adobe CS5.5 (approx 19 minutes)
PowerPoint (approx 4 minutes)
Adobe InDesign

Electronic posters are becoming a feature of scientific and medical conferences.   If you use Adobe Acrobat or PowerPoint to create your poster with embedded multimedia you can use hyperlinks to make navigation from one area of the poster to another quicker, but you should be aware that embedded media clips are not saved as part of the PowerPoint presentation, so you will need to supply the files along with your PowerPoint Poster when submitting. (Ter Haar Romeny, 2008) Contact conference organisers to find out if there is a size limit for files. Ask a colleague to test your electronic poster before submitting.

Finally: Proofread and obtain approval from all authors before final printing. Ask someone else to proof read for you... after all your hard work you may be 'blind' to errors.

Presenting the poster

Some conferences include précis-presentation sessions where poster authors talk about their poster to delegates for 3-5 minutes.
Before you get there

  • find out who the audience will be: what will they already know, what new information will they be interested in?
  • clarify your purpose: to inform, inspire, persuade, or...?
  • practice: time yourself, record it on tape and listen to yourself
  • rehearse in front of colleagues and ask for constructive feedback
  • check with conference organisers: how/where your poster will be hung/displayed, poster size guidelines and handout guidelines
  • prepare handouts
  • submit an electronic copy of the poster if requested

Take with you                      

  • materials to hang your poster (if required): pins, velcro dots, tape
  • prepare handouts to accompany the poster that can include more information.
  • a plastic sleeve to hang your handouts up with your poster
  • business cards to hand out
  • an electronic copy of the poster (some conferences display the winning poster on a screen)

During the presentation

  • do not stand in front of the poster and block it from the audience
  • SMILE! Relax (breathe!) and enjoy sharing your knowledge
  • make eye contact with audience members and speak clearly
  • use plain language and avoid using jargon
  • state why the research/project is important and relevant to the audience
  • do not read directly from the poster: talk about your work and bring it to life
  • you may wish to point to a key point on the poster, for people to peruse later

Conference Convenors can help by:

  • grouping posters based on similar themes
  • arranging the posters so there is enough room for delegates to read the posters
  • displaying the posters where the delegates will be gathering
  • lighting the posters well
  • keeping the posters on display for the duration of the conference
  • allowing delegates enough time to view the posters
  • planning and promoting designated times for poster viewing when authors stand by their poster
  • awarding a prize for best poster.

Other tips to help you maximise your impact:

  • if a poster prize is offered, nominate yourself (if nominations are required!)
  • display your poster at your workplace
  • the poster can travel with you to workshops etc
  • send your electronic copy of your poster to others
  • display your poster on your organisation's website

Fact Sheet

A summary version of this information is available in a two-page colour PHCRIS Fact Sheet

  • Download the PDF [84.3KB]


Other resources

Useful PHCRIS resources

How to communicate your research to decision-makers

How to publish your research

View Article Lowcay B, McIntyre E. (2005). Research Posters: the way to display. BMJ Career Focus, 331, 251-252.

View Article Lowcay B, McIntyre E. (2006). Research Posters: the way to display (2).  BMJ Career Focus, 332, 29.

Examples of effective posters:


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Compiled by PHCRIS
Last updated Thu 26 Oct 2017
Suggested citation
Primary Health Care Research & Information Service (2017). PHCRIS Getting Started Guides: How to... Design posters for maximum impact. From (Accessed 19 Nov 2017)