Monday, November 6, 2017

Bring Your Own Audience

Every year, we announce several awards which are given out on the Foundation Day. These include Distinguished Alumnus Awards, Satyendra K Dubey Memorial Award, and the Institute Fellows. About 10-12 persons are awarded. Besides, we have addresses by a Chief Guest. Lately, we have added a Guest of Honor, who can double up as the Chief Guest, if the Chief Guest decides to cancel his travel at the last minute. And of course, we will have address by Director, a couple of Deans, etc. So, may be about 15 addresses in all.

If we listen to the awardees, who have all been told that they can speak for no more than 10 minutes, typically they start with thanking the Institute for educating them, their teachers, the committee that selected them, then it comes to family - wife is usually the first, then parents, and sometimes kids for not disturbing the parents. Then, if you are an academic, you will thank all your past students, if you are entrepreneur, you will thank your co-founders, and so on. Then you will say that every alum, and if not every alum, at least all other batchmates deserved this as much. You get the drift. More than 5 minutes can be easily predicted. So they have less than 5 minutes to share their pearls of wisdom.

Students (and most other people on campus) are smart. They can figure out that out of 3.5 hours of the ceremony, they might find 15-20 minutes of wisdom. While an oldy like me may consider 3 hours of overhead as an acceptable overhead to listen to 20 minutes of wisdom, not many would agree with that. And hence, the hall is usually empty, or have a very small audience.

The expectation is that if you are really as distinguished as the committee who looked at your nomination thought you are, you should be able to bring your own audience. Either there are those 10 kids who are super impressed with you, and will come to just celebrate you getting the award, even if you didn't speak at all, or you manage to convince 10 people to come to the hall. Who can be these 10 people. Well, bring your family. They really want to see you getting this award. Ask a few of your batchmates on campus, in Kanpur, and a few really good friends who may come even from Lucknow to meet you and see you getting awarded. May be a couple of your teachers are still on campus, who can be persuaded. If you are having a collaboration with someone on campus, they better show up. If you have been approached by any section of the campus for a separate talk, you can persuade them to be present in the award ceremony as a quid pro quo. I mean, if you can't bring even 10 people as audience, you have to think whether you really are distinguished.

So, with 15 speakers, if everyone brings in about 10 people, we have 150 people in the audience (which we never have). But every year, our hopes are higher. We started this function in the auditorium about 5 years ago which has a capacity of 1200. Earlier, there were separate functions for each award on different dates. We would have less than 100 people in the audience, and in a large auditorium that would look really bad. So, after a couple of years of embarrassment, we shifted to the lecture hall complex. Even now, we are doing it in a hall of 400 capacity, which looks very empty.

Of course, we try to encourage people to come. We have high tea before the event. The attendance in high tea is higher than the attendance inside the hall. It is obvious that a high tea is no substitute for proper organization of the event. But we will not learn. The distinguished alumnus award ceremony without much audience has been going on for more than 15 years now, and it used to have a huge audience before that. But we will not try to find out what happened earlier. Has geography of campus changed in between.

To me, distinguished alums are really really special, and giving them an award in an empty hall is really telling them that we don't care. Should that be the treatment meted out to them. Can't we ensure (through proper structuring of the event and better advertisement) that there is an audience, rather than expecting them to bring their own audience.