The development of an abstract, poster, or podium presentation is a significant undertaking. Presenting the scope of your work in a concise and effective way can be daunting, but it does not have to be. Erica Fischer-Cartlidge, MSN, CNS, CBCN®, AOCNS®, a clinical nurse specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, provided advice on abstract writing and presentation.

What Are the First Steps In Writing an Effective Abstract?

First, consider the conference goals and objectives to ensure that your research has a place there. If it’s a good fit, begin writing an abstract that clearly demonstrates the relevance of your presentation. Before starting this work, determine if your employer’s approval is needed for you to submit your research. Once approval is granted, gather all necessary information for a complete abstract.

Clearly identify your purpose, methods, findings, and discussion points for nursing implications. Identify all authors who contributed to your work, and include their names, credentials, and work settings. Determine if you are the project leader or facilitator, and include other coauthors, if applicable. In some cases, the number of coauthors who can be listed is limited by abstract guidelines.

It’s important to adhere to all abstract guidelines. Identify necessary sections, headers, and other formatting requirements, particularly word counts, as outlined by the selection committee. These can help you fill out the content of your abstract by acting as an outline. Work with coauthors to decide which parts of the research belong in each section. Selection committees will use scoring criteria to evaluate each abstract. Review them to guide you in selecting the right content for your abstract.

What Are Some Best Practices for Writing an Abstract?

Beyond including the required content and following formatting guidelines, incorporate other style considerations. Use abbreviations only when necessary and only after writing out the terminology on first reference. Present findings with data and statistics; leave speculations and conclusion for the discussion section. A good rule of thumb to follow is the mnemonic KISS: Keep It Short and Simple. Your reader should be left wanting, not wondering.

Write to express, not to impress. Your abstract will be clearer if participants always appear before verbs and you avoid passive voice (e.g., “we studied,” “patients reported”). And, of course, select an informative and dynamic title.

When finished, it helps to read your abstract aloud to get a sense flow and clarity, and to catch errors. Be sure to do a “human” check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation; don’t rely on spellcheck programs alone. Ask a friend or colleague to read your abstract draft to ensure that your work is clear and understandable. And, finally, score your abstract against the conference scoring criteria. How does it measure up?

Once the Abstract Is Accepted, How Is the Work Generally Presented?

You may present your work in three ways: poster, podium, or lecture. (Abstract submission guidelines may ask you to specify whether you are submitting for a podium or a poster.) Usually, the type of presentation is determined by relevance of the subject to the conference goals and the scoring during the review process. Lectureship is generally a separate process. Posters may be a standard paper poster, a moderated poster, or an electronic poster.

Moderated posters or electronic posters include a short (less than five minutes) verbal presentation of the project, in addition to the visual poster you create. Electronic posters involve the projection of the poster on a computer or television monitor instead of printing it on paper to hang for display.

Podium presentations are grouped by subject, and the sessions generally include three to five presenters who cover related topics. Each presenter typically has about 15 minutes to verbally present the work alongside accompanying slides.

What Are the Key Considerations in Developing and Executing a Presentation?

Review formatting guidelines before starting your work. Use institutional branding when appropriate. Be consistent with fonts, bullets, justification, indentation, and point size. Limit the use of all capitals and italics. The content and organization should mirror the sections of your abstract. When reporting data, find the best visual representation for the information you are sharing.

  • Bar graphs show trends, similarity, or differences among groups of information.
  • Line graphs demonstrate change over time for a group of data.
  • Pie charts represent parts of a whole.

For podium sessions, your research will appear in a slide presentation. Slides should emphasize your verbal content—don’t simply read from them. For this reason, aim for slides to have no more than six lines of text, as more than this can crowd the slide and distract the audience from the content. In some cases, graphics and images can replace text on a slide to better engage the audience.

In formatting your content, simpler is better. Avoid complete sentences, and avoid abbreviations for terms that are not general knowledge to your audience. Finally, pay careful attention to correct presentation of schools, titles, degrees, and more. Make sure these are capitalized, accurate, and complete.

Posters require a slightly different approach. Again, be sure to read the criteria and follow the requirements closely. Before beginning, find out whether your institution has branded templates for conferences; your organization’s information technology, graphics, or public affairs departments may be able to help you with this. When designing the poster, minimize text and use bullets for key points. Avoid excess white space. Enhance your text with graphs, photos, and/or smart art. Variation in column sizes can help enhance the design of your poster.

What Tips Can You Give for Delivering the Presentation?

Dress to impress. Come prepared with business cards and any applicable handouts. Arrive early to assess your environment. Where is the slide show projected? How is the microphone set up?

Test the microphone and volume before the presentation start time.

While presenting, make eye contact with members of the audience. Do not simply read the content from your slides—remember, these are talking points only. When fielding audience questions, allow the question to be asked fully before answering. Rephrase the attendee’s question, and repeat it into the microphone for the other audience members. Avoid over answering, be diplomatic with controversy, and don’t misrepresent any information.

Editor’s Note: This interview was edited from materials presented by Erica Fischer-Cartlidge, MSN, CNS, CBCN®, AOCNS®, clinical nurse specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, at the 2017 ONS 42nd Annual Congress.