Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Who needs live speakers? A poster session finds out the hard way

If you're an organizer who gets annoyed with speaker, or a speaker made to feel superfluous, look away.  This medical blogger describes what happened at a professional dermatology conference at which the traditional "poster sessions" -- free-for-alls in extemporaneous speaking, where hundreds of scientists stand next to a poster describing their research, and answering questions from passers-by -- are replaced by a digital poster session, speakers not required. Some background for those in non-technical fields: A poster session's not quite a regular panel presentation or keynote, and so it's a good experience-and-confidence-builder for researchers to share what they know, with a limited, fixed visual and an audience on its feet, ready to move along.  Poster sessions often are jovial, crowded networking scenes, but they serve a real purpose, helping researchers to get the benefit of colleagues' opinions and questions, which may help shape the research in progress. The blogger, a medical journalist, notes how it felt when she visited the "digital poster session," a roomful of computer terminals:
Once there was one doctor, who told me this was the second “session” he’d attended – neither of which was graced by the author of the scheduled poster. “I asked about it at the registration desk,” he said. “I was told it’s not mandatory for the presenter to attend. People can come in here any time and view all of the posters on screen.” The proctor in charge of the room told me only one presenter had shown up all day – and no one was there to hear her speak. I checked it out. The program is easy to navigate. It brings up the poster in a series of PDF images. There’s even a link to email the presenter – although after you input all the data you get a message saying “Thank you. Your email will be delivered after the meeting concludes.”
Even in an age where social media rules and we're eliminating paper, meeting attendees flock to conferences for the chance to see and meet speakers, face-to-face. Have you seen this at other conferences? Share your perspective in the comments.  (Photo by Colin Purrington, from Flickr, and a hat tip to Ivan Oransky for sharing this post.)

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