Posters vs Talks at ICRS

Marguerite A. Toscano, Ph.D. mtoscano at
Fri Nov 17 15:56:34 EST 2000

Dear Coral Listers (another long message),

I wrote this message in response to Steve Coles' inquiry regarding the
effectiveness of posters and talks in both conveying and taking in new
information at a meeting.  He suggested that I share these views with all
of you, particulary those that will be planning the 10th ICRS.  Let me say
first that I enjoyed the Bali meeting immensely and am very glad I
attended.  The ICRS is not nearly as big as other meetings I attend, where
I have to make choices about which talks to miss.  If the proceedings end
up on CD-Rom, and everyone can contribute, there will be a record for
those talks and posters we could not get to.

I sincerely hope that the Coral Reef symposium will continue to allow all
presenters the choice of an oral presentation.  While I am not inflexible
about doing a poster when needed, there are several reasons for my
preference for talks:

1.  An oral presentation is a superior showcase for a paper, especially
for a youger scientist who really needs the feedback.  A roomful of
people listen to the talk, and that same roomful can potentially discuss
points of the paper as a group.  This could not happen  in a poster
session, with a few people wandering by, giving only cursory attention
to your paper.

In general, because I want my work to receive a great deal of attention, I
only consider doing talks at meetings.  Since Bali I have had
correspondence on the two talks I presented there.  This would not have
happened if they had been posters.  Regarding presentations I wished to
view, I derived much more from those that were talks than from posters,
because I was more engaged in the topic and not competing with other
people for the author's attention at a poster booth.

2.  The poster session at Bali was set up with two and sometimes three
posters arranged vertically on one board (I realize this was an anomaly
among most meetings).  How could two groups of people share the same board
and be able to utilize the display in their discussions?  The official
poster session evening was very crowded and hard to navigate. I was a
co-author on 2 Bali posters, so I was in the thick of this.  I tried to
look at posters during the remainder of the week, but then the authors
were not avaialble for conversation. Also, as I think we all agree, the
poster area and the poster sizes allowed were much too small.  If we are
all going to be expected to do posters, more accomodation must be made so
that we can actually show something and have the space to entertain
visitors to our booths.

3.  Posters are very expensive to produce properly, and very problematic
at times to create and print.  Granted, I spent a fortune on slides
because we don't have a slidemaker here, but people have the option of
bringing overheads, which are cheaper.  Slides and overheads are also more
portable, and separate pieces of the presentation can later be re-used in
other talks.

4.  There are many younger scientists who are excellent speakers doing
fine research, and we deserve to be able to do talks and present our work
in the most effective and efficient (numbers of people listening) way
possible. All-poster meetings (where only the most prominent scientists do
talks) reduce opportunities for young scientists to gain valuable speaking
experience, or to attract the attention that might land them a job.  If
the ICRS is the premier meeting for coral reef research, it would be a
shame to limit the involvement of young scientists to posters.

I am not knocking posters for many appropriate topics or for presenters
who don't feel comfortable doing a talk, but I would be reluctant to
attend meetings where I had no choice.

I will give you one example of a meeting where the poster session worked
extremely well:  the OCEANOBS 99 conference in France (1999).  The posters
were set up for 3 days and all of the breaks were catered in the poster
hall.  That meant that everyone went to the poster hall to enjoy fabulous
French goodies in the morning, in the mid-afternoon, and after the
plenaries (all excellent) were over for the day.  Authors naturally hung
out at their booths at all of those times, and people were always around
to talk to.

If ICRS is going this route, I would suggest the French model, especially
with the enticements of high-class refreshments (or any refreshments, for
that matter).  It promoted congregation at the posters, made for a
pleasant environment and more relaxed discussions with an international
scientific community.  I knew few people there, because I had not
previously been a part of the remote sensing field, but I had one of the
most satisfying experiences that I have ever had at a meeting, although
Bali was very close.

Respectfully yours,

Maggie Toscano

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