Now let me be clear, I am not blaming their professors for this. There are only so many hours in a day and professors have full plates. Between conducting and writing up their own research, planning and giving lectures, and mentoring their students' research projects they are insanely busy. Add in departmental meetings, reams of bureaucratic paperwork that need to be filled out, and applying for grants I'm surprised they have time to tuck their kids into bed at night.
So if professors are too busy, whose job is it to teach students (and junior researchers for that matter) how to explain their poster presentations efficiently and maximize the time they are given to speak during general sessions at conferences? Too often they are unable to organize their content in a way that clearly explains the problem they were attempting to solve, the solution they tried, the outcome that justified creating the poster or applying for the speaking slot, and only then explaining how they accomplished it.
Two recent examples come to mind and I will use these stories often when coaching young scientists. The first case is from the chemistry lab students. One of the graduate students was practicing his 10-minute presentation on a fairly significant breakthrough. He found a way to conduct a test that previous took ten seconds and now could be accomplished in one tenth of second. Wow, right? The problem was that he waited until the end of the talk to tell the audience what we had achieved. We all waited patiently while he explained the background of the test and the procedures he went through. Slides and slides of charts and tables were shown without telling the audience why we should care. It was a textbook example of "burying the lead". He shared all of the methodology before he got to the results (like he would in a journal article).
Similarly, one of the poster presenters in Osaka was unable to give an elevator pitch for her experiment's results. I asked her to give me the 15-second version of her research and she looked at me like I was speaking Greek (her English was pretty good, so that was not the problem). I then asked her to briefly tell me the problem, what she did, and what the outcome was so I could decide if I wanted to hear how she did it or not. There was a professor emeritus standing behind me as I said this. I pointed to him and explained that he was a busy guy who didn't have time to hear the details of everyone's poster. He needed to know what the achievement was to help him decide if he wanted to hear more. He nodded and said that was correct. "Time is money," he agreed. I think she got what I was trying to emphasize because she came over to my table at the closing banquet to say thank you for the advice. No one had explained that to he before.
It's not fair to generalize and say that Korean students, or Japanese students, or science and engineering students don't know how to sell their research because I'm not sure any students are being mentored on how best to share their research outcomes at conferences and symposiums. Perhaps it's like putting together one's first Western-style CV; you see someone else's CV that you like and change their info to yours. Students should watch other presentations and take note of organization styles that help them get the most out of what is being said and shown. In a perfect world students would be taught ways to share their work with international audiences more clearly and efficiently but for now I'll summarize it into one key tip: "Put the WOW before the HOW."