I am currently co-organizing a conference targeted at young researchers (mostly PhD or post-doctoral people). All talks are to be done by these younglings. However, there are only around 10-15 scheduled talks, while we expect at least twice as many people.

What kind of activity can we set up so that the attendees who don't get to talk still get an opportunity to share their research (with other attendees and more senior researchers)?

Our go-to option is a poster session. However, I have been at the same kind of conference before, and these tend not to be very successful. I think this is because the conference is rather small, which means few people by poster. Posters also don't seem to promote discussing with other attendees (people tend to stay beside their poster, to speak with the occasionnal interested bystander).

A few years ago, somebody organized on the fly a "research speed dating" event: from what I have understood, everybody gets five minutes to explain their reasearch head-to-head with another attendee, then the people mix up and start again. It was quite successful, or so I have heard, but the details are fuzzy and I have no experience whatsoever in organizing this kind of thing.

Our default option is still a poster session, but what other possibilities are there? Or, if nothing else, how may we run a good poster session?

Edit: the conference was last week, so I have some feedback. There were few posters, so we did a little introductory session for people not among the plenary speakers (some who submitted a poster, some who didn't). I think it was successful in fostering discussions for those who submitted posters. Thanks for all who answered here, and who helped us choose this option.

  • 2
    You could have a 1-5 minute talk session in which everyone says something. At the very least, everyone should state their name, institution, and the domain they are working in. Ideally, everyone should spend the remaining time talking about what they are working on. If slides are used, then I suggest that all slides are available on one laptop. You might want to use a gong to keep people to time.
    – user2768
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 12:48

2 Answers 2


This reminds me of maybe relevant idea. When I went to a summer-school on mathematical physics in Heidelberg, the organizers made a "Gong show". The idea was that everyone had to stand up before the auditorium and introduce themselves, both professionally and personally. The point of the gong was that you got only something like 2 minutes to do so, then the organizer hit the "gong" (he hit a glass with a spoon I guess) meaning you should finish. After that came 2nd gong and after the 3rd you had to go off stage. This was very nice as even the speakers attended this event and introduced themselves.

Moreover it really helped that we were given as a part of the conference materials printed list of names and email addresses so we could take notes on who is who.

  • As this was closest to what we finally did (which worked quite well, though without gong), I am accepting this answer. Thanks!
    – D. Thomine
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 17:39

Depending on how focused the conference is, you could do a guided poster session which I've seen used for larger conferences. Assign people to group to attend all the posters on x topic or sub-specialty led by a senior conference attendee or volunteer. Think of the poster group leaders in the same way as your think of session chairs - introduce the poster presenters and ask questions if no one else does.

The speed dating idea is also an excellent way to get people to interact in a structured way and fairly easy to set up depending on the space, number of attendees, and the amount of time. Assign people to group A or group B when they enter. Imagine one long table: All the As sit on one side. All the Bs on the opposite side. 1 minute may be too short. 5 minutes is a good amount of time to have both parties speak and exchange information. After 5 minutes, ring a bell or an alarm and have all of As move in one direction to the next participant. More than one table? use the same principle but specify the wrap around points [beginning and end]. Lots of space? Set the tables up like a circle and say the people on the inside seats stay seated.

If the conference is indeed as small as you may suggest, an ice breaking event of introductions and interests is a good idea at the beginning of the conference.

  • Finally, we did it another way (due to the low number of posters), but thank you for your suggestion. It may be helpful to other people, or to other conferences.
    – D. Thomine
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 17:40

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