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Science Conferences Are Stuck in the Dark Ages

This headline is the title of a recent Wired magazine piece with a photo of Albert Einstein at a scientific conference in 1933 noting that not much has changed since then.

I encourage you to read the article for yourself, but here’s my take. Having attended upwards of 50 different medical, scientific, and technical conferences over the past few years, I’d say many of the article’s observations and criticisms are accurate. However, I’ve also seen scientific conferences pave the way for fresh thinking, innovation, and progress.

Three examples come to mind. The American Geophysical Union, AGU, has introduced a powerful narrative and creative theme at its annual Fall Meeting over the past several years. The strong story arc and visual identity instills in the audience, comprised of the leading Earth and space scientists from across the globe, a deeper connection to their science and a personal sense of pride in their impactful work.

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, AIAA, is launching a brand new “space ecosystem experience” in November 2020. The event, called ASCEND, is now three years in the making. It will bring the entire space ecosystem together to help build the new off-world future. This transdisciplinary scientific, business, and investment conference will be a game changer, advancing science through new learning models and a fully interactive experiential design approach. Talk about leaving a conference transformed.

And ASTRO, the American Society for Radiation Oncology, has made great strides in transforming its highly technical, scientific, and medical conference into an intellectually provocative experience. By hosting a debate on the main stage that addresses an elephant-in-the-room topic regarding cancer care, ASTRO sparked open dialogue and collaborative problem-solving, ultimately leading to better clinical understanding and patient care.

Science, medicine, and technology are “full contact environments.” Events in these industries require the most advanced, human-centric design to serve the individuals who invest their lives to improve the health, wellness, and scientific outcomes that our society expects.

Three things AGU, AIAA, and ASTRO have in common: Visionary leadership; the ambition to disrupt the status quo; and a clear three-year strategic plan and investment model to achieve greater relevance, improved audience retention, and an overall higher ROI for all the event constituents - attendees, business partners, and the organizations themselves.

If you’re swimming around the possibility of transforming your event like many organizations are, you need a gravitational set point to latch onto. Having a vision for the future, coupled with the ambition and strategy to make it happen, puts you in very good place to move your organization and industry forward from your own “dark age.”

Want to spitball a few ideas and see how we may be able to help?

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