Scientific Communication for Natural Resource Professionals

Chapter 11: Poster and Oral Presentations at Professional Meetings

Carl R. Ruetz III


Poster and oral presentations at scientific meetings are often the first time that research findings are communicated to peers and colleagues. A poster is a display board on which natural resource professionals describe their research (Day and Gastel 2006). In addition to the visually descriptive “hard copy” display, presenting a poster allows for individual interactions between the presenter and the audience (Hartman 1996; MacIntosh-Murray 2007). Thus, a poster is a stand-alone entity (unlike visual aids in an oral presentation) that conveys research findings and serves as a prop for discussing results; posters are hybrids between a published article and oral presentation (MacIntosh-Murray 2007; Miller 2007). In contrast, an oral presentation (often called a “talk”) is a narrative used to communicate ideas (Pickett et al. 1991; Powell 2005). Unlike a publication or poster, the speaker’s delivery plays a vital role in the success of an oral presentation (Knisely 2005).

Presentations offer a chance to impress future employers and collaborators, and possibly reviewers of grant proposals and manuscripts (Burke 2001; Powell 2005). Presentations help to expand one’s curriculum vitae or resume (Patton 1996; Sutton et al. 2006) and build communication skills (Murphy 1998). Good communication skills are often a challenge for scientists and can be critical for bridging the science-management gap needed for successful conservation of natural resources (Wojcieszak 1995; Kroll 2007).

The goal of this chapter is to provide natural resource professionals with advice that will aid in the preparation of both poster and oral presentations at conferences. This chapter is targeted at students, especially those preparing their first presentation, but it should be useful to anyone trying to hone his or her presentation skills. The chapter provides advice on choosing between poster and oral presentations, gives an overview of how to prepare a presentation, offers suggestions on what natural resource professionals should do before and after they arrive at the conference, and discusses the benefits of giving presentations at professional meetings.