Amidst the hustle and bustle of Kurukshetra, Akshara Vishwanathan (one of the Guest Lecture Kores) took some time out from her busy schedule to give GT an exclusive interview. As we settled down in the Turing Hall after the last guest lecture, Akshara gave me a quick run-through of the struggles and excitements of being a Kore for the Guest-Lectures team.
What is it like to be a part of the guest-lectures team?
Being a part of the guest lectures team is one of the most brilliant experiences that I have ever had. You get the opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names across a variety of fields- be it authors, social activists, entrepreneurs and scientists. Having the chance to interact with these great minds, is amazing.
There is an interesting line-up for this year. Who were you most excited for?
This year, we were looking forward to two speakers in particular. One of them was Ms. Kirthi Jayakumar. She is an author, social activist, and also supports gender equality. It was one of the most interactive sessions that we’ve ever had. The other was Dr. M.S. Ananth, the former director of IIT-M, who is also a visiting faculty at IIT-Mumbai. He’s well known for saying ‘things that go against the norm’. Moreover, he was going to talk about industry and innovation. So personally, I was really excited to see how he would tie them together.
How do you decide on whom to invite every year?
First, we make a list of fields and then a list of people that the audience would expect. Every year, people would want to see an entrepreneur, a person who is a part of a large organization or someone who works at NASA or ISRO. We also invite a social activist or an author to ensure that social issues are given equal importance.
What kind of difficulties do you face when planning guest lectures?
Once we have decided the list of guests to be invited, the first challenge arises in making contact. We start by scouring the net. If they’re big names, they usually have their own blogs or websites from which you can find their number or their PA’s number. If not, we try asking around in our circles for contacts. Sometimes, after going through all the trouble, we end up being unable to invite them either due to unavailability of speakers on that day or due to difficulties in making arrangements. At the end of the day, we are a student-run organization, so it’s not always feasible. We go through over 150 people in order to arrive at the five names that you see on the posters.
Another challenge we face is planning the lecture such that it doesn’t clash with any other event or workshop. It’s all about picking the right time, slot and location. It involves a lot of co-ordination with the other teams.
What is different this year when compared to last year’s edition of Kurukshetra, with respect to the guest lectures?
This year, we decided to fix the slot and the location of all the guest lectures - all of them taking place in the Turing hall at 11 AM across all three days. A participant can receive a certificate on attending at least two of the lectures. The number of Guest lectures has also been reduced to four to ensure that people are not overwhelmed and unable to decide where to go.
Other events and workshops can gauge their turnout based on the number of registrations and subscriptions, but guest lectures are really a gamble. How do you always choose speakers that draw in a huge crowd with little or no feedback from the participants?
You can never know until the day of the lecture. Everything rides on how well people react on that day and how hospitable you are to the guest. It is quite a gamble.
Every Kore has their own responsibilities. As a GL Kore, what do you feel that people should know about heading the team?
You can never know what challenges you will have to face, so it is important to be able to think on your feet and salvage the situation. For example, this year's Kurukshetra was postponed and that was a huge blow for guest lectures. It is all about knowing how to make the best out of any situation.
How did you manage such a huge team?
It was taxing, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it. You learn how to stay calm and handle various crucial situations, without panicking.
What kind of work do you allocate to the juniors, and on what basis?
Unlike the previous years, we encouraged the third years do all of the planning this year. We only decided the names and made arrangements for travel. They handled the agenda, the location and the emcee-ing. We only stepped in for damage-control if needed. This step was taken to ensure that the juniors know what they will be getting into next year.
Any advice for students who would like to apply for GL next year?
Expect the unexpected. It is easy to deal with people on the inside team. But the hard part lies in predicting how people outside would react. You have to be mentally prepared to handle any issue. Your duty is to keep the guests happy and do whatever you need to achieve that.