The Science Behind a Memorable Life Sciences Meeting
According to renowned scientist Normand Voyer, a successful meeting requires three things: human connection, local resources, and emotionally resonant experiences.
While technology has allowed for virtual gatherings of innovative thinkers to present their findings, there is a critical component missing from today’s scientific conventions: “Talking over a coffee,” says Normand Voyer, PhD, Professor of Chemistry at Université Laval and Director of the Québec Research Network on Protein Function, Engineering and Applications.
Without question, hearing presentations about ground-breaking research is vital to the advancement of science, but it is the human connections made at these meetings that make them meaningful and fuel attendees’ passions to unlock future discoveries — arguably, the most important aspect of any life sciences event.
As the world awaits the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine that will allow us to safely enjoy one another’s company in large groups, Voyer explained why the place where he teaches and conducts research, Québec City, Canada, should be the first location meeting planners think of when we emerge on the other side of the pandemic.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Destination Canada: In your opinion, why do associations select Québec City as a host city for their life sciences meeting? What benefits do attendees receive?
Normand Voyer: First of all, we’re so lucky to have the Québec City Convention Centre located at the most perfect position within the city: basically on Parliament Hill across the street from the historical district. All of the hotels and facilities are within a walking distance too. Québec City enjoys excellent weather; it’s also safe and clean. But the reason why life science meetings are so successful in Québec City is that this is a hub of scientific research. There is so much collaboration and activity within the research community and high tech industry, and it offers wonderful opportunities for meeting attendees to visit research centers — such as the Research Center at Université Laval — and get involved themselves to learn more.
Destination Canada: Research has shown that emotional connections can drive audience engagement and brand affinity. How do you see this play out in the business events you’ve been involved with?
NV: What makes a good meeting great are the little things. In Québec City, there are all of these little outdoor spots where you can sit and have informal conversations over coffee or a drink. Because in science, if you want to know what is going on, you don’t read the papers. The information in those papers is 12 to 24 months old by the time they’re published. If you want to understand the latest research, know the most recent discoveries, and uncover the newest thinking in your field and related industry, you go to a business meeting. That’s where top scientists talk about their most recent results.
One example of a resonant experience with emotional connection for attendees: I organized an event during the Québec City Summer Festival — 11 straight days of free outdoor music ranging from the Rolling Stones to local French-speaking artists. And the attendees loved it! You go to meetings, discuss science, then at night you’re having a beer and listening to great music with colleagues. It was memorable and impactful because it was different.
Destination Canada: How do virtual events compare?
NV: Honestly, I don’t think they do. Between teaching and running my research virtually, I am Zoomed out. I do think webinars are an incredible way to learn and they allow you to cherry-pick what you want to see cheaply and easily. But scientific meetings aren’t just about sharing information, they are about keeping the fires burning within the community. To get excited, to make connections, to recruit talent and find like-minded scientists for collaboration.
Destination Canada: When the world reopens, why should Québec City be a destination where scientists might want to attend a meeting?
I would recommend that attendees don’t just attend a meeting here, but organize one! The Convention Centre provides amazing support to help you have an event in Québec City. This is a city built for tourism, so there is a tremendous amount of infrastructure and excellent human resources to assist you. Look, I am a scientist. I am the worst meeting organizer in the world. I need people who know how to run the operation, so I don’t have to look over my shoulder and worry. I can concentrate on the speakers and the research and the human connections because I know things are going to run smoothly. Registration will occur without a hitch. The website is going to be beautifully designed. You can feel confident that everything is going to run smoothly when you have a partner to guide you along the way.
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Université Laval Professor of Chemistry Normand Voyer, PhD. (Marcographie)