Box 6.5

Choosing a meeting for the presentation of results

By David A. Grimes, MD, Distinguished Scientist, Family Health International, and Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC

Choose early
When possible, both the intended journal for submission and the intended venue for presentation of research findings should be agreed upon by the team before the study begins. As with the journal, the choice of meeting should reflect the intended audience. To whom is your message going? Some meetings draw public health professionals, others include clinicians, some a mix, and some attract lay or professional media as well.

Be businesslike in planning
Deadlines for submission of abstracts tend to occur six to nine months before a meeting. Do not let these deadlines sneak up on you. After you choose your intended meeting, get the abstract submission date on your calendar, with regular calendar warnings in advance of the deadline.

Poster or oral presentation
Meeting organizers are more liberal in accepting abstracts as posters than as oral presentations. Because of limited hours for oral presentations, most abstracts are accepted only as posters. Weigh the pros and cons. Posters are harder to produce than PowerPoint presentations, cost more, are hard to transport, and get less attention. However, posters are still prestigious at some scientific conferences, and may offer the only opportunity to share your findings.

Be cautious about sharing your slides or manuscript
A reporter may ask you for a copy of your full manuscript (“I wasn’t able to take notes as fast as you presented; would you mind giving me a copy of your paper so that I can get the facts straight?”) Politely decline the request to share any more detail than what was in your public presentation. According to the Ingelfinger rule (Relman 1981), publication of abstracts up to 400 words in length does not constitute prior publication. Should a reporter write a column about your presentation that carries more detail (such as tables) than your oral presentation, you may compromise your ability to publish your work. When dealing with reporters at meetings, be careful about sharing unpublished data. Helping an interested reporter may inadvertently sabotage your publication.

Prior publication
Some meetings refuse to consider research that has been published. If your manuscript is in press at a journal, you have little control over when it will be published. Advise the meeting organizers of this and submit it anyway. Given the long publication queues at many journals, your paper may not appear in print until well after the meeting.

Collaborate with the meeting press
The meeting organizers may hold press conferences. Journalists may ask for an interview after your presentations. These opportunities provide you a chance to share your results with the public via the press, but stay on message regarding your data. Stick to what you presented.

Network with colleagues
Spend time in the lobby, at social functions, and in the exhibit hall. Often more is learned in these settings than in the formal sessions. Carry a stack of business cards with you. Send new contacts a friendly e-mail upon your return to home, saying that you enjoyed meeting them. Networking is important, and those who express interest in your research may appreciate getting a copy of the published article when available.