Poster presentations in the primary care setting: Mary Ann Nemcek and colleagues describe how to prepare a poster for professional and practice use at conferences and in the workplace

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Date: May 2009
From: Primary Health Care(Vol. 19, Issue 4)
Publisher: Royal College of Nursing Publishing Company (RCN)
Document Type: Clinical report; Conference news
Length: 2,784 words

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Communication is a direct driver of quality health care and creating a poster is an effective strategy for communicating with primary care nurses and for teaching patients about preventing illness or improving their health. This article outlines key elements of a successful poster, including layout, flow, presentation and clarity, and suggests that well-designed posters can be an eye-catching alternative to other text-heavy forms of communication.


Communication, poster presentation, primary care settings, patient education


CREATING A poster is an effective strategy for communicating with nurses in a variety of settings, especially primary care where practice sites may be geographically dispersed. While presenting posters has become an expectation for professional development, most nursing curricula do not include instruction for creating and presenting posters. This article describes the key steps in the process. Settings where the primary care nurse will use poster presentations, such as the worksite and professional conferences, are discussed for unique requirements. Finally, recommendations for presenting the finished product are given.

The ability to present a professional poster is an essential skill in primary care nursing, especially when primary care practice sites are spread over several campuses. The use of posters enables communication of the same information at the same time to everyone. Posters can be used to teach staff how to use new equipment, describe clinical innovations, explain patient educational strategies, facilitate discussion of clinical outcomes, present evidence-based practice guidelines or report research findings (Halligan 2008). It is important to keep patients up to date with new disease management products, best illness prevention strategies and company policy changes.

Poster presentations offer many advantages over more traditional forms of communication such as lectures. An audience of any size can be captured, including individuals or groups. Posters provide a visual display that can stand alone or give the presenter an opportunity to interact with participants (Berg 2005).

While the primary care practice site is the focus of this article, staying current as a professional nurse and sharing best practices with colleagues are vital for ensuring patient care quality in any setting. Often seen at international research conferences, posters also fit well into informal settings such as staff meetings and in structured situations such as professional seminars.

Step by step

The first step frequently begins with an assignment or project to resolve a clinical problem, meet a specific patient care need, or respond to a call for abstracts from a professional organisation. A primary care nurse concerned with the rising number of children who are not immunised in the region might create a health teaching display for the patient waiting area. The primary care network where two of the authors are employed recently purchased new pulmonary function testing equipment for asthma care and a poster was designed to educate staff regarding the new procedure.

Regardless of the reason for creating a poster, there are specific guidelines to follow. It is essential to know exactly what size and type of poster is allowed before developing it. There are several options for displaying posters, including walls, easels or tables. Clarify the size of the poster, the amount of space you will be allotted and whether you are expected to be present. In the primary care setting, also decide whether multiple versions of the poster will be displayed simultaneously or if the poster will travel from site to site. If using a wall banner or easel, plan for the best way to display any handouts to be included.

The next step is to identify the goals for anyone viewing the display. Answering the questions in Box 1 will help to clarify the purpose and objectives of the presentation.

Box 1 Questions

* What are the main points?

* Is the presentation suitable for the intended audience (Reid et al 2008)?

* Who will view the poster and what is their knowledge level?

* What do you want the viewer to take away from the presentation?

* Is the goal to persuade, introduce a new idea, disseminate research results, or teach?

* Will the presentation challenge beliefs, give information from a new perspective or show something new?

Remember, the purpose is to disseminate a memorable message (Radel 2008) that will ultimately improve patient care.

Communicating an unmistakable message is key to reaching the intended audience. An effective poster is focused, graphic and organised. It should contain one clearly-stated message. Everything that appears in the poster should relate to that message. Remove anything that is not relevant: 'if in doubt, take it out'. Apply the '20-second rule': can the viewer define the subject and purpose of the poster within 20 seconds (Ritchison 2008)? For a research study, summarise enough information to provide participants with an overview of the study, the purpose and outcome without overwhelming them with extensive details.

For a clinical project, summarise key points that viewers can apply to their own setting. If you will be present at the poster display, include only enough information to start conversation, not to tell the entire story.

'Showing, not telling' is the essence of a good poster. The display should be eye-catching, rather than filled with text. A general rule for a poster layout is 20 per cent text, 40 per cent charts/ graphs/pictures and 40 per cent white space or background (Ritchison 2008). Viewers usually stop reading text at three to five lines of text per frame. Keep it simple but interesting. As an adjunct to charts, graphs and pictures, the text should not reiterate the obvious. Place the title on top in large letters, at least one inch in height.

The title should be readable from 15 to 20 feet and printed in a clear, easily read text using upper and lower-case letters. The smallest text on the poster should be readable from approximately two to three feet (Miracle 2003), while most of the text should be readable from five to six feet (Radel 2008). Use a consistent font and align text with the left side of the page. Centering text leaves ragged edges and increases eye fatigue. If handwriting any text, use a felt-tipped pen with a well-defined point.

Place the most important elements at eye level. Keep the audience in mind by avoiding the use of unfamiliar acronyms. The key is to present information clearly in an attractive format (Keely 2004). Visual enhancements should be included to draw attention and keep the viewer interested. Decide how data can best be displayed (charts, graphs, tables). Graphs, charts and pictures tell more of a story than large amounts of text. Choose neutral background colours such as grey or muted colours and limit the colour scheme to two or three related colours.

Red/green combinations may make viewing the poster difficult for a person with colour-blindness. A white background will tone down a too-bright picture, and contrasts (light background with dark picture) will enhance the visual appearance of the poster. Bright colours such as neon hues may appear harsh in bright lighting. 'Clean up' charts and graphs by removing excess lines, avoiding keys and detailed legends, and delineating breaks with darker lines.

Organise content in an easily defined sequence. Place information in vertical columns rather than horizontal rows. Number frames with 1, 2, 3, and so on or use letters such as A, B, C, and so on to provide the reader with clues to the flow of information (Box 2). Place a heading on each section and number sub-elements whenever possible. Clearly state both an introduction and a conclusion. Several websites (Hess et al 2008, Radel 2008) are suggested for more detailed descriptions of poster layouts, graphics, headings and use of colour.

Box 2 Poster layout

Your name Organisational affiliation

Intro  2.  4.  6.

1.     3.  5.  Summary

Once you have a plan for developing the poster, begin by creating a mock-up. Use a card four inches by six inches to sketch the poster layout (Radel 2008). Cut a blank sheet (brown wrapping paper, shelf paper, for example) the size of the assigned space. Hang it where you are going to be working on the project and leave it hanging. Make small copies of the poster and ask two or three colleagues to critique the poster for layout, flow, presentation and clarity. Use the '60-second evaluation' (Hess et al 2008) for a quick and easy critique format.

Key elements of the 60-second evaluation include overall appearance of the poster, use of text and graphics, clear presentation of objectives and inclusion of author identification, graded on a scale of zero to two; the higher the score, the more effective the poster. Allow adequate time for proof-reading text and checking accuracy of data. Have colleagues review text for errors in content and typographical errors. Once the poster is completed, however, do not continually work on it.


The worksite and professional conferences are two settings where the primary care nurse will use poster presentations. Each setting has unique requirements (Table 1).

Table 1 Poster presentation settings, topics and outlines

            Research conference          Staff area    Patient setting

Topic    Quantitative  Qualitative      New skill or  Patient
         study         study            equipment     education

Outline  Question/     Question         Problem       Problem and
         problem                                      target group

         Theory        Design           Goals         Goals and
                                                      expected patient

         Design        Philosophical    Plan          outcome

         Sample        Sample           New skill or  Best care
                                        equipment     practices and

         Methods       Data collection  Expected      Teaching
                       and analysis     benefits      strategies:
                                                      (poster plus

         Instruments   Findings         Demonstrate   audio, video,
                                        new skill or  handouts,
                                        teach         speaker

         Results       Implications     use of new    and so on)

         Implications                   Evaluation    Evaluation

Worksites Posters fit well into informal settings such as staff meetings or patient waiting areas, where the poster is intended to empower patients. The aim of health education for patients should be stated in terms of preventing illness or improving health, along with presenting or suggesting health practices that are effective for preventing or curing illness. When creating a patient educational poster, avoid using medical terminology and use simple language. Use headings such as: 'The problem' or 'People who are most at risk' to attract viewers. Information presented on the poster may be enhanced with supplemental material. This includes placing relevant brochures in holders next to the poster and adding a CD player for audio presentations or a DVD player for video presentations.

As with other educational materials, effectiveness of the poster and any supplemental information (CD or DVD) should be evaluated. Patients could be asked to complete a brief survey to evaluate the teaching methods and assess further learning needs. Evaluation of the effectiveness of the instruction could be completed by determining patient follow-through (for example, getting an influenza immunisation or scheduling a colonoscopy.

When the aim is to educate staff regarding a new skill or equipment or to communicate other information, the poster may be placed in a conference room, cloakroom or break room. A typical poster begins with the issue or seventy of the problem and how the information being presented will advance the goal of quality patient care. In the next section, the new skill, equipment or other information is described, demonstrated, taught or presented.

The final section of the poster relates to how outcomes will be evaluated. Again, it is important to keep the audience in mind. Is the information directed primarily at registered nurses or is it intended for all levels of staff?

If a change in behaviour is expected, as with implementing the use of new equipment or a new process such as handwashing, a clearly defined start date must be included, in addition to contact information for questions prior to the start date. Just as with patient education, a poster presented to staff should be evaluated. This can be accomplished in many ways such as a brief survey, observation of staff behaviour or a formal questionnaire regarding staff satisfaction.

Professional conferences A call for abstracts is disseminated several months before a conference is held. To have your poster accepted it is vital that you follow all instructions precisely. These usually include required font size, maximum word count, headings, submission deadlines, learning objectives, presenter contact information and biographic data. Abstracts generally are peer reviewed and notification of acceptance of the poster for presentation will specify criteria regarding the poster display (Hardicre et al 2007).

Instructions will outline the display requirements, including size of the space provided for individual posters and materials provided by the sponsor, such as a felt board, and whether the poster should be freestanding, displayed on an easel, posted on a bulletin board or plated on a table. Other specifications include when the presenter is required to be present, length and location of the poster session and times for set-up and breakdown. Sponsor contact information is included and should be used for any questions regarding the guidelines. Failure to comply with all of the requirements may mean the chance is lost to present your knowledge or research to others.

The finished product should be printed professionally. Also consider travel requirements. Mailing the poster to your destination may be much easier than trying to carry it on a plane. Be sure to allow enough time for the poster to reach your destination before the conference begins and send it to yourself, care of the hotel where you will be staying. Ask the mailer for confirmation and tracking options.

Headings for the presentation of quantitative studies generally include:

* Research question or problem.

* Conceptual model or theory.

* Research design.

* Sampling information.

* Methods or procedures followed for data collection including instruments used.

* Data analysis.

* Findings and clinical implications. Qualitative reports generally include:

* Research question.

* Qualitative design such as phenomenology or grounded theory with philosophical underpinnings.

* Sampling procedures.

* Data collection and methods of analysis.

* Research findings and clinical implications.

Finished product

On the day of the presentation, be sure to arrive early. Set up the poster and any handouts to enhance flow; place handouts and business cards where they are easily accessible but not blocking the poster itself. If a handout is used, contact information should be clearly displayed on the handout, including name, title, institution, fax and telephone numbers, and email addresses.

For a poster displayed on a wall, you may want to add a wall pocket or clear envelope at the side of the poster to keep the walkway in front of the poster clear. Stay with the poster for the time allotted. Know the information presented--the focus should be on communicating with the audience, not your reading from the poster. Dress for success (business attire in most settings). A poster presented effectively will help engage colleagues in conversation (Hess et al 2008).

Use business cards to enhance professional networking or to provide contact information for posters displaying advances in patient care or quality outcomes. The content provided in a handout may be shared as PowerPoint slides, key-points or an abstract. If desired, the entire poster can be recreated on letter or legal-size paper. If no handouts are used, make sure that contact information is clearly displayed on the poster itself.


Communication is a healthcare priority and nurse administrators and clinicians in primary care know the importance of effective communication for providing quality care. Essential communication skills for nurses include the ability to create poster presentations that teach, share outcomes and enhance professional nursing practice. Posters provide an efficient, eye-catching alternative to text-laden communications.

Posters are effective in settings such as staff meetings and patient waiting areas, where health teaching related to illness prevention is key. Structured situations such as professional seminars and conferences frequently include poster sessions focused on evidence-based practices and quality outcomes. Fostering effective communication provides for informed decision-making across disciplines, reduces medical errors and drives improved patient outcomes.

RELATED ARTICLE: Implications for practice

Well presented posters can teach, share outcomes and enhance professional nursing practice and are an efficient, eye-catching alternative to text-laden communications.

Action points

Posters can be used to teach staff how to use new equipment, describe clinical innovations, explain patient educational strategies, facilitate discussion of clinical outcomes, present evidence-based practice guidelines or report research findings (Halligan 2008).

Further reading

Hess G, Tosney K, Liegel L (2008) Creating Effective Poster Presentations: An Effective Poster.


Berg J (2005) Creating a professional poster presentation: focus on nurse practitioners. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. 17.7.245-248.

Halligan P (2008) Poster presentations: valuing all forms of evidence. Nurse Education in Practice. 8, 1, 41-45.

Hardicre J, Devitt P, Coad J (2007) Ten steps to successful poster presentation.

British Journal of Nursing. 16, 7, 398-401.

Hess G, Tosney K, Liegel L (2008) Creating Effective Poster Presentations: An Effective Poster. (Last accessed: March 18 2009.)

Keely BR (2004) Planning and creating effective scientific posters. Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing. 35, 4, 182-185.

Miracle VA (2003) How to do an effective poster presentation in the workplace. Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing. 22,4 171-172.

Radel J (2008) Designing Effective Posters. (Last accessed: March 18 2009.)

Reid M, Turner J, Taylor A et al (2008) Preparing Your resources/study_guides/presentationsl.htm (Last accessed: March 18 2009.)

Ritchison G (2008) Scientific Literature and Writing Poster Presentations. (Last accessed: March 18 2009.)

Mary Ann Nemcek is assistant professor, Decker School of Nursing, Binghamton University, New York

Deborah Johnson is network educator, Our Lady of Lourdes Memorial Hospital, Binghamton, New York

Fran Anderson is nurse researcher Our Lady of Lourdes Memorial Hospital, Binghamton, New York

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A200563738