You really should.
The poster session is perhaps the most interactive portion of the conference, putting the presenters and the audience on the same stage (well, the floor). As the audience comes and goes amongst the rest of the posters, your presentation could go in any direction. The creator of one of your dependencies might show up. One of your competitors might show up. People who don't know anything about your project might show up. People who maximize your project to its fullest extent might show up. Guido van Rossum might show up. You never know.
The layout of the event is very open, with rows of 4'x4' poster boards, leaving plenty of room for gatherings at each board and allowing attendees to flow from poster to poster. Find one you like? Stop by, listen in on the conversation, and chime in with your questions and comments. Not interested in one? Grab a snack and check out another poster. (The delicious daily snack stations usually run near the poster room.)
What we're looking for in a poster
Posters are a relatively new concept for PyCon, making their third appearance on the schedule in 2012 after two successful runs in Atlanta. Chaired by Vern Ceder, the event has gotten better each time around, and we're expecting another hit in Santa Clara.
A good poster proposal follows all of the usual suggestions. Showing the ability to take a topic in a number of directions is likely of importance, as that's exactly what your audience will do. A solid outline of your topic is probably helpful to show that you're well versed in the topic.
Posters are really an event anyone can be a part of, especially given Python and PyCon's dynamic community. It's a place where beginners can mix it up with experts, and everyone can learn a thing or two. No matter your level of experience, if you've got something to share, there's an audience for you.
A great platform for demos
Tutorials and conference talks are generally the wrong place for demos. Those platforms are usually reserved for established topics and projects. Posters, on the other hand, are an excellent place for demos, especially hands-on ones. In fact, last year there were several demos, including one that caught many people's attention, myself included.
Robbie Clemons brought his Xbox Kinect and demoed an assistive technology project he created to track exercises for those with disabilities. Using several open source libraries, he was able to produce a really cool interactive application that he packed up and brought with him from South Carolina.
His poster does a great job of listing everything you'd want to know about the surface of the topic. He covers the use of Kinect, Python, PyOSCeleton, how those things work, what's wrong with the current tools, what their potential is, and where the work is going. From there, he was open to explain more as attendees asked questions, and he provided a bunch of demos.
I had a chance to ask Robbie a few questions about his experience, and here's what he had to say.
B: Why did you choose a poster for your presentation?
R: I felt like a poster was ideal for a first time presenter (and attendee) at PyCon, because instead of giving a talk for 30 or 45 minutes I could talk more one-on-one with people that were interested in the project. Plus, since the project involved a Kinect I wanted people to be able to come and try it for themselves, and a poster presentation seemed like the best way to get that much interaction.
B: How was the audience reception for your poster?
R: A lot of people really seemed interested and were asking all kinds of questions. People were constantly coming and going, and some would wait until the crowd had thinned out to come back and talk some more or try the demo.
B: How was your overall feeling of the poster session?
R: I thought it was great. I got to talk to a lot of people about a topic I am interested in, show that Python can be used for Kinect hacking, and let some of them try out my project on the spot.
B: Any other thoughts on your poster or the poster session in general, or the conference in general?
R: I think that a poster presentation is a great choice for anyone that doesn't have enough to talk about for a 30 minute presentation, isn't sure how many people would be interested in the topic, would like to let people try a demo, or is looking for a good way to make the transition from attendee to presenter.
Thanks a lot to Robbie -- hopefully we'll see you in Santa Clara.---
We hope to receive your proposals soon, especially for the poster session. October 12, 2011 is the deadline for talk and tutorial proposals, which is right around the corner. January 15, 2012 is the deadline for posters, so you still have some time. Even if your proposal isn't 100% complete, you can still submit it. The program committee will start the review process after browsing all of the proposals, and they'll be giving you feedback and asking questions, all in the name of a better conference.