Usually, conferences give you between 1-2 hours to present your poster. My dilemma is that sometimes I am interested in learning about other posters during that time period. But I also have to keep next to my poster in case a referee or a potential collaborator of the conference comes and wants to learn about my topic.

So my question is what should I do? Should I stay next to my poster and try to talk to the other poster attendees afterward or should I visit their poster and risk missing out on potential important visitors to my poster?

  • 3
    Should, should... I think you "should" relax a bit :-D And just naturally follow what you feel driven for ;-) of course responsibility is part of that but I feel like you need to up the other elements now :-D
    – Tomas
    Dec 13, 2019 at 22:24

8 Answers 8


It depends on the venue. In a small room, you can easily wander around and get back to your poster quickly if you spot someone interested. In a huge conference hall, if you abandon your poster you may never know who visited it and when.

So, if you have a large venue, ask yourself, what is your priority: to get your work out and have a chance of presenting yourself, or to check out what others are doing. Both are valid options, and both are important. It's your call how to balance them.


Bring some post-its and a pen. Stay at your poster for half an hour. If you have people to talk to, continue talking to those people. If time frees itself up, write on a postit that you will be browsing other posters for half an hour, and you will be back for discussion at X o'clock. Other interested people can still look at your poster, and return at that time to talk to you if they want to. Repeat this scheme periodically, as long as time permits.

  • 32
    Post-it notes will work if people really want to talk with you about your poster; they'll come back. But they're much less likely to work with random aimless wanderers (like me most of the time). You can probably afford to miss us wanderers, but be aware that we exist. Dec 12, 2019 at 2:27

Someone should probably stay by your poster throughout. If there is no one there it won't generate much of any interest. Posters are seldom so self explanatory that people will gain much without a bit of help. Perhaps a colleague or even your professor would be willing to help you out for a portion of the time required.

But it should be someone who can answer questions and someone who can quickly find you. Make sure that if you have to leave it, that you have something by which people can contact you. A hand-out is good, or even a business card.

  • 12
    Dear Buffy, congratulations on 100k! :)
    – YiFan
    Dec 12, 2019 at 9:10
  • 1
    If there's anyone else from your group at the conference, they could easily look after your poster for 5 minutes at a time, while you browse a few others. If it's a co-author, they could cover half an hour. I've done this at almost every poster session I've been to (as I've been presenting myself or had colleagues who were).
    – Chris H
    Dec 12, 2019 at 11:35
  • 2
    Although it sounds plausible, is it actually true? I've seen crowds standing around interesting posters, with no-one knowing where the author/presenter was. And I've found that if the presenter isn't practiced, it feels much less awkward to read the poster in detail.
    – gerrit
    Dec 12, 2019 at 18:41

For the following I assume a conference with at most a few hundred participants that is well organised, i.e., early poster session(s), and posters can stay on display for the entire conference.

In my experience, there are basically two kinds of “customers” you can attract with a poster, with little middle ground in between:

  • People for whom skimming your poster suffices that they want to talk to you about it. These people will usually make an effort to contact you even if you are not present at your poster or if you are busy at the moment they are visiting.

  • People who get lured into a guided tour of your poster by you talking them into it or by joining a running guided tour. Importantly there are some people who are much more likely to join a guided tour than to ask for one if you are alone at your poster.

The last point leads to a positive feedback loop (customers beget customers), which in extreme cases can lead to such situations as I once experienced: I hardly got any customers during the first half of the poster round (partially due to my poster being in a unfavourable location) and afterwards I was overrun and busy until long after the official end of the session.

With this in mind, I suggest:

  • In the beginning, stay at your poster and shamelessly try to talk people into guided tours. When everything else fails, explain your poster to the author of the poster next to you (and vice versa). If everything goes well, you will be busy for the entire session.

  • Only leave your poster if it becomes clear that the majority of the audience has stopped browsing posters, so you do not get any customers of the second kind anymore. Be patient; if you are amongst the first poster presenters to do so, you are almost certainly doing it to early.

  • Make it very easy for customers of the first kind to contact you: Put your e-mail address and a portrait of you on the poster.

  • Find out early which other posters you want to see. Most conferences facilitate this by either publishing abstracts of posters, having a poster flash, or allowing posters to be displayed before the session. This way you can solicit guided tours of those posters from their owners outside of the poster session. Ideally briefly inform the owners of your interest before or during the poster session – this way both sides can work towards it.

  • 2
    As for making it easy to contact you: consider putting a QR code on your poster that links to to a website with your paper & contact info. Assume people find typing email addresses on their phone unpleasant. Make it so that people can just take a picture of your poster (so: clear researcher name and paper title on it) or scan a QR code for later follow-up.
    – ObscureOwl
    Dec 12, 2019 at 11:13

Break the rules, and don't do it during the poster session!

Before the poster session starts you quickly put up your poster (there is usually a time-slot for that with large margin) and then you look around to find if any of the other posters are interesting.

Be prepared that the other poster presenters are busy and/or missing from their poster, but at least you know which ones to contact and don't have to leave your posters to find the interesting ones.

  • 1
    How is this "breaking the rules"?
    – wimi
    Dec 13, 2019 at 13:20
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    It's not during the dedicated poster session, and it technically doesn't answer the question about how look at other posters during the poster session. Obviously if everyone is allowed to look at posters before the poster session (as is often the case) you don't really break the conference rules. Dec 13, 2019 at 14:31

Split the time allocated to the poster session 50/50. If your poster designation is odd be at your poster for the first half of the session. If it’s even, then the second half. Use the other half to look at other posters.

If the conference organizers are really on top of things, they may already have some system like this setup, in which case follow their system. If they don’t, use the conference feedback forms to suggest it and get as many fellow attendees as possible to do so. With any luck the organizers will implement the idea in the future. Be prepared for a several year effort though and to keep reinforcing the message once you get it. Back when I was in graduate school, a campaign like this was mounted at AAPT and it was only in my last couple of years that the policy finally got implemented. However, after being away from the conference for a while, I didn’t notice it happening at the most recent, so it might have lapsed due to insufficient positive reinforcement (though I didn’t present a poster this time, so I might have missed the memo).

  • "If your poster designation is odd be at your poster for the first half of the session. If it’s even, then the second half." This is arbitrary and adds nothing of value. If everybody does it, then half will be away from their posters during the only times you can walk around to see them.
    – Jennifer
    Dec 14, 2019 at 5:50
  • Of course it’s arbitrary. What matters is that you have a system for deciding which half of the poster session you’re at the poster and which half you’re not. This particular system which I have experienced so that’s what I put down. As for the “everybody does it” argument, there is no avoiding that. Unless you’re going to give each poster presenter an individual chance to wander the posters while all the other presenters are obligated to stay at their poster (something which is time prohibited at all but the smallest poster sessions) any system will have this problem. Dec 15, 2019 at 1:03

It is probably OK, but don't just walk off and abandon your poster if the other posters are in another room. In some conferences the posters are split throughout several rooms, so I think it's fine to look at the other posters in your room but not to go to the others.

For example, they might want to take a photo of you with the poster and then just take a photo of the poster by itself if you aren't there. Essentially, if have lost sight of your poster for more than twenty seconds, that's not ideal.


The most important things were said:

  • if you want to leave your poster and browse other contributions, then find a good replacement of yours (colleague, who is aware of your research, co-author, even your professor would be a good option)
  • if you don't have this persone, then be sure that you have your contacts written on your poster, print small A4 versions of the poster and place them on a visible location below or above the poster itself.
  • Inform an audience, when did you leave and when you will be back
  • Small portrait photo is a benefit to have near the title, so some interested people can even find you during the coffee-breaks.

Good luck with the poster session, anyway! Stay relaxed and enjoy!

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