So you’ve secured your funding, conducted your research, written your findings, and, possibly, had your work published.

Now, you desire or have the opportunity to present your work as a poster presentation, workshop,or educational session. Presenting the scope of your work in a concise and effective way—usually in the form of an abstract for your proposal or poster—to appeal to audience members can be daunting, but in reality it may be easier than you think. In this interview, Erica Fischer-Cartlidge, MSN, CNS, CBCN®, AOCNS®, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, NY, gives insights on abstract writing and presentation.

What are the first steps in writing an effective abstract?

First, you should consider the conference goals and objectives to ensure that your research has a place there; if it’s a good fit, you should begin writing an abstract that clearly demonstrates the relevance of your presentation.

In preparing to submit, you will need determine if you need your organization’s approval to submit your research. Once you have approval, gather all necessary information for a complete abstract. You should be able to clearly identify your purpose, methods, findings, and discussion points for nursing implications. It’s important to give credit, so identify all authors who should be included. Determine if you are the project leader or facilitator, and include other coauthors if applicable. At times, the number of coauthors who can be listed is limited by abstract guidelines. 

It’s important to follow all abstract guidelines. Identify necessary sections, headers, and other formatting requirements—such as word counts—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 what parts of the project 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 the best writing practices for creating an abstract?

Beyond including the required content and following formatting guidelines, there are other style considerations. Use abbreviations only when necessary and only after writing out the terminology fully. Present findings with data and statistics; leave speculations and conclusion for the discussion section. A good guide is “K.I.S.S.”: keep it short and simple. Your reader should be left wanting, not wondering. Write to express, not to impress. One tip is that your abstract will be clearer if your subjects appear before the verbs; e.g., “we studied,” “patients reported,” etc. And, of course, select an informative and dynamic title.

When finished, it helps to read your abstract aloud to get a sense of ease of reading and to catch errors. Be sure to do a “human” check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Offer the abstract to a friend or colleague to ensure that your work is clear to other readers. And, finally, score your abstract against the conference 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 lectureship. (Abstract submission guidelines may ask you to designate if 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 electronic poster. Moderated posters or e-posters include a short, less-than-five-minute, verbal presentation of the project in addition to the visual poster you create. E-posters are the projection of the poster on a computer or television monitor instead of printing it on paper to hang. Podium presentations are grouped together by subject and the sessions generally include three to five presenters with related topics. Each presenter generally has about 15 minutes to present his or her work verbally with accompanying slides.

What are the key considerations in developing and executing a presentation?

First, review formatting guidelines before starting. For style, use institutional branding when applicable. Be consistent with fonts, bullets, justification, indentation, and font size—limit the use of 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 trend, similarity, or difference between groups of information.
  • Line graphs demonstrate change over time for a single group of data.
  • Pie charts represent parts of a whole.

For podium sessions, your research will appear in a slide presentation. Slides are meant to emphasize your verbal content—you will not simply read from them. For this reason, aim for slides to have no more than six lines of text; more than this can crowd the slide and distract the audience from the content. Sometimes, graphics and images can replace text on a slide to engage the audience. In formatting your content, simpler is better. Avoid full sentences but also abbreviations for terms that are not general knowledge to your audience. And, finally, always adhere to formal titles for schools, titles, degrees, etc. Capitalize formal names such as degrees, titles, and schools and make sure they are complete.

Posters have a slightly difference approach. Again, be sure to read the criteria and follow it closely. Before beginning, identify if your institution has branded templates for conferences before beginning; your organization’s IT helpdesk, graphics department, or public affairs department may be able to help you with this. When designing, minimize text and use bullets, but avoid excess white space. Enhance your text with graphs, pictures, and/or smart art. Various column sizes can help in designing 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, etc. While presenting, make eye contact and do not simply read the content from your slides—remember, these are talking points. When fielding audience questions, let the question be asked fully before answering. Rephrase the question asked 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®, at the 2016 ONS 41st Annual Congress.