Posted by: Jeremy Fox | June 5, 2012

Advice from the archives: preparing to present at, and attend, the big summer conferences

The summer conference season is upon us. I’ll be at Evolution 2012 in Ottawa and the ESA Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon (where I’m talking on Thursday afternoon…sigh).*

Closer to the meetings, I’ll have meeting previews highlighting talks I’m especially looking forward to attending, and places I’m planning on eating and drinking, and I’ll be blogging from the meetings as well.

In the meantime, here are a couple of posts from the archives to help you prepare:

  • Choosing which talks to attend is always tricky at a big meeting. Which raises the question: Are there any reliable predictors of talk quality? (besides “Jeremy Fox recommended this talk.”)
  • Here are a bunch of tips on how to give a good talk, and avoid some common statistical errors. Also includes links to more comprehensive sources of advice on giving talks.
  • If you’re giving a poster, here’s my one big piece of advice: YOUR POSTER HAS TOO MUCH FRICKIN’ TEXT! I know this because EVERYONE’S posters have too much text these days. Seriously, I’m not kidding. A poster is not a paper in large, colorful, flat form. No one wants to stand there reading for 15 minutes. Your poster should be a highly digested, mostly graphical summary of your work. All the text can just be short bullet points, and not many of them (like, say, 3 for the Discussion). After all, you’re going to be standing right there–if people have questions, they can ask you! In all seriousness, posters were actually much better before the advent of color plotters. It was a pain in the neck to print out and matte a whole bunch of 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper, so you pared things down to only the essential information.
  • Here’s how to ask tough questions, and here’s how to answer them.
  • Here’s why to “network” at conferences, and here are some tips on how to do it.

*And while I won’t be there, I’m a co-author on a talk at the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting. It’s on using the Price equation to separate effects of speciation, extinction, immigration, and within-lineage change on mammalian size evolution, and includes an illustrative application to a classic paleo dataset. Check it out if you’re going!


  1. I am certainly a poster text-minimalist, but I just cannot seem to do it. Any links or images of posters with a good amount of text? I opted to present a poster at ESA this year so I could talk to more people about my work. I gave a talk last year and was a bit underwhelmed by the lack of dialog that can happen at those sessions relative to the posters. I was yapping so much at the poster sessions that I only made it through all of them on one day!

  2. So, if everyone’s posters have too much text, does that actually mean they don’t? Much as, if everyone pronounces a word incorrectly, that is effectively the correct pronunciation, and indeed will eventually be recognized as such by authoritative sources?

  3. Thanks, Jeremy! It’ll be my first time headed to ESA (though I’ve attended other large conferences) and this is most helpful.

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