Thoughts on thematic poster sessions

by Paul DeVita, PhD, President of ASB:

Some thoughts on thematic poster sessions, moderating these sessions, and attending these sessions…

ASB will be using, “thematic poster sessions,” at the 2016 annual meeting. You may remember that these sessions were, in a word, fantastic, last year. The audience and the moderators were energetic and enthusiastic and they combined to create excellent scientific discussions. I know that many people thought these sessions were the highlight of the meeting. The source of this success was the “maturation” of both audience members and moderators. Everyone is more comfortable with these sessions and with their participation expectations.

If you do not mind, we would like to reprint some comments I provided last year about thematic poster sessions in order to continue their previous successes. Of course there is no single definition of a thematic poster session or of how it is run. ACSM has used these extensively the past few years with their particular style and they have been quite successful. To come directly to the point, the single aspect of thematic poster sessions at ACSM that makes them successful is that they are discussions among everyone in the session; they are focused on the topic and not on the individual presentation or presenter. Therefore, thematic poster sessions are not like slide presentations in which every question is directed to the presenter. Questions are directed to and from the moderator, to and from the presenter, and to and from the audience. Audience members should ask each other questions on the topic and they might easily answer as many or more questions as does the presenter. QED, we have discussion and scientific fun. Participants should leave having both learned about the work presented but also about how the work will be integrated into the field and what some next steps might be.

They key element that makes the discussion successful is the preparation and skill of the moderator in enticing audience members to join the discussion. Moderators need to spend time prior to the session preparing and have a preliminary list of questions to ask audience members questions (e.g. about the data or about the previous question and answer or even about an audience member’s publications on the topic). Skillful moderation would also include delaying a question that is off-topic until the current topic is fully discussed and then returning to that question. The moderator should make this discussion-based procedure clear to the entire group at the start of the question/discussion session. In fact moderators might start the entire process by asking an audience member the first question in one or more presentations.

If this procedure is going to work, moderators must exert themselves a bit to pull out discussion from the group. They might for example initially, “exploit,” their audience friends to pull out some answers and discussion from them. In short, moderators must moderate with verve and energy. Discussion is fun. We all travel long distances to spend time with each other and have a meeting of the minds. Our minds can meet in thematic poster sessions if we let them and if we invite everyone to participate.

The sessions at ASB are set with a brief open period during which everyone can view the posters and then each presenter will briefly show three slides to tell his or her story. This procedure should help disseminate information and serve as a basis to start the discussion. After this brief report, moderators must do their thing and lead the discussion. Thank you.


Paul DeVita