Introduction Posters are used at conferences to convey an overview of clinical and scientific research. Previously we have shown that only a minority of delegates visit an individual poster, and often only for social reasons.1 We aimed to assess the memorability of poster presentations and to identify aesthetic factors that increase their visual appeal.
Methods 6 abstracts were randomly selected from the inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) clinical section of the 2009 Digestive Diseases Week (DDW) meeting. 25 British delegates with an interest in IBD scored each poster for its scientific merit, originality and aesthetic qualities on 5 cm visual analogue scales. Two weeks later recall of the study populations, experimental designs and conclusions was assessed by cold-calling, using six point Liekert scales (maximum score 18).
Results Overall, recall of poster contents was poor, although comparable for a poster of distinction (mean 3.5 (SEM 0.8)) and the delegates' highest (3.9 (0.9)) and lowest (3.1 (0.6)) ranked posters. Positive correlations between aesthetic scores and both scientific merit (r=0.25, p=0.02) and originality (r=0.31, p<0.0001) were seen. Univariate analysis using stepwise forward regression was used to identify visually appealing poster characteristics (Abstract 087). Multivariate analysis confirmed that the aesthetic score was influenced by the perceived scientific content; every unit increase in scientific content resulted in a 0.15 (95% CI 0.05 to 0.25, p=0.002) parameter estimate (PE) increase in aesthetic score. Similarly, the presence of one or more pictures/graphs improved the aesthetic score by 1.3 (95% CI 0.49 to 2.12, p=0.002). In contrast, as the number of words increased, the aesthetic score reduced (PE −16.4, 95% CI −25.8 to −6.7, p=0.001).
Conclusion Expert delegates when asked to scrutinise posters in detail recall little of their contents. Researchers need to produce posters that are visually appealing; aesthetic appeal improves with the inclusion of pictures but not tables, and a lack of overcrowding. What is not clear is whether the scientific content improves the aesthetics or whether a well presented poster improves the perceived scientific content.
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