Scientific conferences are a crucial way of disseminating information on ground-breaking advances in medical research. However, the three main types of conference content – oral presentations, posters and abstracts – traditionally have only been seen by relatively small groups of scientists, limiting their impact. Following the widespread appearance of virtual scientific conferences, brought on by COVID-19, now may be the time to rethink the best way to present data and enhance its communication to a wider audience. A recent article by Mike Morrison and colleagues, published in Cell, outlines some key steps that can be taken by conference organisers and the scientific community moving forward.
While posting recorded talks on conference websites is valuable, sharing talks, posters and abstracts on public sites is a powerful way to increase their reach. For example, conference talks could be uploaded to video sharing sites like YouTube, which receives over one billion views per day. While encouraging scientists to upload their talks individually would increase impact, the biggest change would be brought about if conference organisers posted all of the recorded presentations on online platforms after the event.
Posters are a common way of presenting data at conferences, as they allow large numbers of scientists to showcase their work. Unfortunately, traditional ‘wall of text’ poster designs do not facilitate the quick exchange of key messages, as Morison recently discussed with The Publication Plan.
One pilot study conducted by Morrison and colleagues found that traditional scientific posters only received an average of 6.4 visitors.
As founder of the #betterposter movement, Morrison discussed layouts that may make posters more user-friendly for conference attendees. In addition, uploading posters to sites like figshare after the conference could allow thousands more virtual visitors to engage with the research.
Extended conference abstracts, required in some fields, could also be posted on preprint servers to widen their discoverability.
Finally, social media can greatly increase the impact of scientific content. Social media posts can be good advertising, which may drive up conference registrations, but they can also provide scientific information in ‘microlearning’ posts. For example, ‘flipbook’ mini-posters comprising 3–5 slides with key messages and data can be used to showcase work in a highly engaging and visual format (see #TwitterPoster).
The technological possibilities that the scientific community could utilise to maximise the impact of research are seemingly endless. Moving beyond COVID-19, the authors recommend continuing to utilise online platforms and social media to make science more accessible worldwide. Ultimately, this could facilitate scientific advances and aid communication with the public, helping to promote better understanding of science.
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