Object of Play
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what would 50 pictures be worth? What if 50 people could present their most passionate ideas to each other—without any long-winded explanation? A poster session accelerates the presentation format by breaking it down, forcing experts to boil up their ideas and then present back to each other via simple images.
Number of Players: 10–100
Duration of Play: 20 minutes to develop posters, an unlimited time to browse
How to Play
The goal of a poster session is to create a set of compelling images that summarize a challenge or topic for further discussion. Creating this set might be an “opening act” which then sets the stage for choosing an idea to pursue, or it might be a way to get indexed on a large topic. The act of creating a poster forces experts and otherwise passionate people to stop and think about the best way to communicate the core concepts of
their material, avoiding the popular and default “show up and throw up.”
To set up, everyone will need ample supplies for creating their poster. Flip charts and markers are sufficient, but consider bringing other school supplies to bear: stickers, magazines for cutting up, and physical objects.
Start the game play by first framing the challenge. In any given large group, you could say the following:
“There are more good ideas in everyone’s heads than there is time to understand and address them. By creating posters that explain the ideas, we’ll have a better idea of what’s out there and what we might work on.”
The participants’ task is to create a poster that explains their topic. There are two constraints:
1. It must be self-explanatory. If you gave it to a person without walking her through it, would she understand?
2. It must be visual. Words and labels are good, but text alone will not be enough to get people’s attention, or help them understand. When creating their poster, participants may be helped by thinking about three kinds of explanation:
Before and After: Describe “why” someone should care in terms of drawing the today and tomorrow of the idea.
System: Describe the “what” of an idea in terms of its parts and their relationships.
Process: Describe the “how” of an idea in terms of a sequence of events.
Give participants 20 minutes to create their posters. When they have finished, create a “gallery” of the images by posting them on the wall. Instead of elaborate presentations, ask the group to circulate and walk the gallery. Some posters will attract and capture more attention than others. From here, it may be worthwhile to have participants dot vote (see Dot Voting) or “vote with their feet” (See Open Space) to decide what ideas to pursue further.
As a variation, the posters may be created in small groups. In this case, it’s important for the group to have decided ahead of time what their topic will be, and to give more time to come to a consensus on what they will draw and how they will draw it.
On a smaller scale, a group may do this around a conference table. A small group of experts may create posters to explain their different points of view to each other at the start of a meeting, to make their models of the world, their vocabulary, and their interests clear and explicit. Twenty minutes spent in this way may save the group from endless discussion later in their process.
The Poster Session game is based on academic poster sessions, in which authors of papers that are not ready for publication share their ideas in an informal, conversational group.
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