Good News! Your research submission has been accepted for presentation at a national congress (i.e., ACR or EULAR). This is often a first step in the lifetime of a project – Abstract, Presentation, Full Write-up and Publication.
If you’ve ever attended the annual ACR or EULAR meeting you can be either over-whelmed or enthralled with the abstract sessions that showcase thousands of original research. For the experienced clinician, academician or researcher, the abstract floor can be an adventure and conquest. In this expose we will review my approach to creating, presenting and reviewing abstracts for a medical meeting.
Creating the Abstract
First, make sure you know what the goals are here:
- Get your research accepted – oral and poster presentations are listed as publications in the journal. You can increase your odds by – having a great title, well written clear abstract with data that supports your conclusions, submitting it on-time and under the category most likely to accept your work. If you abstract is about DMARD use in pregnant RA patients – it’s more likely to be accepted under pregnancy than the RA therapy category (highly competitive).
- Make a poster that you can easily transport and that has a look and clarity that it invites engagement. While everyone strives for more prestigious, harder to get oral presentation, most know that the interaction, education and refinement of your research project are best done at a poster. An oral presentation is a 10 minute talk with 1-2 questions. A poster presentation is about 90 minutes of interaction with either 10 or 200 people who are interested in your work!
The process of creating an abstract can take weeks for most. It’s important to know the space limitations imposed by the Congress on abstract size as this will be important when it comes to determining the elements and ultimate size of the final printed abstract. While an abstract can be put together by a graphic artist or medical illustration department, this is often expensive and time consuming.
I recommend creating the abstract inside of PowerPoint. See the attached downloadable file for a template that I often use in creating a full size abstract. Inside of PowerPoint, you need to setup the page size to approximate the final dimensions of the printed product. The attached file uses a 14” x 8” format, but this could be a 16” x 9” (more elongated) or 4” x 3” (more box-like).
You next make slides to correspond to the data you wish to insert on your PowerPoint palate that will be either 3 or 4 columns of vertically stacked boxes (slides). Each slide can then be copied, pasted onto the 1st slide (your poster or palate) and resized to fit in its appropriate column. In some programs you need to do a “paste special”. As you create your individual slides for pasting you should use pen and paper outline how this will layout and look.
The key elements in every poster includes
- Title board – the title of your abstract and presentation is the single most important way to get notice and engage others. The title and the headings for the data boxes and summary should have font that is large enough to be read from 15-20 feet away. The authors can be in a smaller font with their affiliations. You can add your institutional logo on top as well.
- The Abstract – many congresses require that this be on your poster. This can be squeezed to a smaller unreadable font because you will go into the details in greater depth on the rest of the poster.
- Introduction – keep this short and to the point. (Realize many people will read only your Title, Intro and Summary to assess if your poster is worth stopping at and discussing).
- Methods – be complete but don’t waste too much space here as most won’t read your methodology. Save the real details for the manuscript you will publish later.
- Results – this is where you need to be clear about what is the minimal number of tables, figures, images that you will need to prove your point. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SHOW ALL YOUR DATA – just the stuff that makes this interesting and well balanced. It may be wise and necessary to post the negative or quizzical findings as these may invite discussion that you will find helpful.
- Summary – only if you must and have the extra space.
- Conclusions – restate the obvious. Note shortcomings or next steps in research. Extrapolate these results into what it means to (the practitioner, rheumatology, pathogenesis, etc.).
When you have finished your “poster” (the 1st slide in your PowerPoint file – you should proof read it for mistakes and accuracy. Once final you can send it to be printed. This can be done by calling and arranging electronic transfer to either a local printer or Fedex-Kinkos. At Kinkos you can have your poster printed for as little as $20 (B&W thin paper) or as much as $75-$200 (2, 3, or 4 color on heavy stock, cloth or vinyl).
You could have this printed where you live and transport it or have it printed in the city you are traveling to and pick it up the day before your presentation date. Do this at least 1-2 days in advance so that any errors can be easily corrected by the printer.
Arrive at least 30 min before the scheduled poster time and put up your poster in accordance with the meetings printed rules and procedures. Leave it up all day and pick it up or trash it at the end of the day. I think it’s best to bring your poster home and post it in halls of where you work.
Be at your poster at the scheduled times. To me there is nothing worse than a poster without its author and presenter. This is the single biggest mistake at poster presentations. Such practices are lazy, weak or arrogant. The author who stands up for their work is more likely to learn and to be held in high regard by the academic community.
There’s no point in standing there and not interacting with the crowds to seem to drift by without noticing you and your work. You need to make eye contact, talk to be people and recognize the anatomy of traffic jams. You need to incite one and let the rubber-necking drive more people and eyeballs to your poster.
If you want a real dynamic education on the art of poster presentation, look up Dr. Ted Pincus, jot down his poster presentation times – go and watch. Stand back by 20-30 feet and see how he engages people. He says hello, returns their question with a question and then BOOM….he’s off on a 3-5 minute energized walk-through of his project. This makes 2-4 more people stop and within another 60 seconds he has them 3 deep and 4-5 across, straining their necks and backs to see what’s going on and why is Dr. Pincus waving his arms and pointing at people and talking loud enough so the people in Ballroom B can hear him. I
t’s quite a marvel and watching him has taught me tons about effective poster presentations. Also get yourself one of those collapsible pointer-pens – very old school. But very effective when you deftly, like a magician, pull the pointer from your blazer, extend it and wave it at your data or the people you’re talking to. What ensues will be either a crowd or a great discussion. Recognize the second biggest mistake in poster presentation is to be quietly modest or polite. This is infotainment and you’ve got to get the word out on who you are and what you are all about!
Reviewing and Engaging Abstracts
- Go to the abstract floor to either meet you friends and classmates or go there to learn. More folks would benefit from these big meetings if they knew how to navigate and learn from the poster sessions.
- Do not go grazing through a mind field of posters. You will learn nothing and find yourself standing in front of posters on Serial MMPI in Behcets Patients for an hour.
- Do your homework the night before and review the offerings and abstracts at that poster session. Use the App to develop a game plan.
- Jot down the numbers and have a “hit list” of what to see. With this you can attack the expanse of posters, zig and zag and avoid the lolly-gaggers that are there to limit you but entertain you – a very tough choice. My advice is keep the chit chat to a friendly minimum; no more than 2 minutes with someone you want to talk to and 10 seconds if you “just can’t right now as there is so much to see – maybe later?”
Poster sessions can be an avalanche of info and finding the nuggets is hard work. But not for those who know how.