Secular Events

Guidelines For Organising A Freethought Event In India

Yukti 2011, was a two day workshop to promote scientific temper, organised by Nirmukta’s Bangalore Freethinkers at the Karnataka Rajya Vijnana Parishat. The event was very successful and brought together a number of freethinkers from Bangalore and around.

Organising an event like Yukti involves disparate tasks. This post will lay out all of the planning that went into Yukti, and hopefully help others around the country host their own freethought events.

A quick run through of the short-list:

  1. Organising Team
  2. Funding
  3. Location
  4. Website + News outreach
  5. Talks
  6. Food + Catering
  7. Logistics
  8. Kit + Giveaways
  9. Recording
  10. Misc

Organising Team

At a minimum you’d need 3-4 people who are driven towards making the event happen. Additional people are always better. You should start planning at least 1 month before the event.

Team runs on Meritocracy – Those who do more, have a higher say in how to do things.

Making time – It is possible most of the organizers are professionals or students who have other concerns on their time. There is no silver bullet here. You need to talk to each other and ensure you can all put in the time.

Skills – You’ll get an idea of the range of skills involved from the points below. Ensure you have someone to take up all of the below.

Manhours – When you assign tasks between the members, you also need to consider the time each task will take, and ensure the assigned member is available to put in the requisite time. The members should also meet up every week towards the event to keep track of the progress.

Funding

For Yukti, we decided to fund the event by participants’ ticket sales. We were fortunate enough to get speakers who were available and willing to putting in their own time and funds for travelling to the event. For the first round of the event, the organizers were willing to fund any shortfall.

Number of participants: With Yukti we aimed at a maximum of 100 participants. We ended up receiving about 75 via website registrations (about 60 of whom showed up), and 20 who showed up directly.

Cost per participant: We decided to give sumptuous food to our audience, and the cost was estimated at Rs. 200 per head. The food we gave turned out to be Rs. 80 on day 1, and Rs. 60 on Day 2, bringing the actual cost of food to Rs. 140. Other items added up to Rs. 50-100. So at an early stage we decided to only meet our costs, and priced the ticket at Rs. 300 for both the days at the event. Delicious food is crucial, especially to draw people on the second day; also to drive home the point that participants are getting their money’s worth.

Another source of funding to consider is sale of merchandise like T-shirts. We printed out good quality T-shirts with Yukti logo at the back, and a popular science webcomic on the front. We bought 40 pieces at Rs. 200 each. These were at sale for Rs. 250. We sold about half, and are looking to sell the rest at local meetups to interested folks. (Get in touch if you’d like one!)

Lessons with funding: Our predictions on the number of actual participants were slightly off… many non-returnable consumables like food and gift items were thus bought extra. There’s no easy way to getting this number right. Something that helped was asking the registrants to let us know if they couldn’t make it. We had about 5 registered members who informed us close to the event that they could not make it.

Sponsorship

We did not reach out to sponsors since this was the maiden attempt. However, we heartily noted 3-4 offers via email and Facebook offering personal contributions ranging from Rs. 3000 to 6000 to help with the event. Aim to fund the first instance of the event without sponsors, and if you do obtain sponsorship, take it as a bonus.

Location

The Karnataka Rajya Vijnana Parishat’s campus also has a conference hall, and via their sponsorship, we were able to get the venue at no cost. We also considered hosting the event at a science university. You should be able to get a good meeting hall from any of the local universities or science organizations. Ask your local freethinkers’ group and you can find possible venues.

Website + News Outreach

Any event looking to attract young working professionals needs to have a website explaining the event. Yukti used Google sites with the nirmukta.com account to setup a website. We incurred no cost in setting the site up. It should at a minimum have pages about the event, the schedule and contact details. For registration tracking, we created a form in Google Docs, and included this in the registration page. Any new registrations showed up in spreadsheet attached to the form.

While website and social networks brought in a majority of the participants, the power of print media was apparent in the registrations. The days we had articles in major newspapers were the days we had most number of new online registrations. So reach out to newspapers and reporters who report on local events, and scientific topics. They would really be interested in covering the event. Have someone assigned to specifically tackle this, and be the contact person for any press queries. One lesson we learned was to always have a press release prepared beforehand to present to any interested media persons.

Reaching out via social networks is easy. We created an event on Facebook, and spread the word by inviting our friends. We also posted the event on the Nirmukta group which had a large number of members. This helped us spread the word. We also posted on the Nirmukta twitter feed which had many followers. Another form of outreach is to notify influential freethinking bloggers. They made one line posts on their blog, and this brought in at least 5 people to Yukti.

Talks

Yukti Talk by NN
There is no simple way of defining what talks to have, and the topics to cover. Yukti was born from a discussion with Prof. Narendra Nayak at the local freethinkers meet. So we had NN roped in, and we had a couple of very interesting topics of alternative medicine and debunking covered. NN also helped reach out to other speakers, who we asked to speak on their area of expertise. Babu Gogineni spoke about his work with the IHEU (International Humanist and Ethical Union), and humanism. Dr. Keshava Rao spoke on scriptures. Some of the organising members spoke on areas of their interest.

Your schedule will probably be defined by the speakers you are able to attract, and partially by topics the organisers are themselves able to present on. While thinking about what such an event *should* contain is important, it may in the end not be the most effective way of scheduling. Some speakers may request reimbursement of travel and accommodation, so you should take the cost into account in your event budget.

One popular feature at Yukti was Lightning Talks, an unplanned session of 90 minutes where members of the audience can speak about topics of their choice (in the theme of the event). We had hearty participation in this session featuring some very interesting topics.

Food + Catering

As noted above, we decided on providing excellent food at Yukti, even if it was at a higher cost. You want the audience enjoying themselves (and good food on the first day will work in your favour on retaining the audience on the second day).

On the first day we ordered 80 boxes of lunch, and about 65 were used. There was no hard way of putting down the exact number, so we were in the ballpark. The extra boxes were shared with the building staff. On the second we gauged the audience numbers and ordered 50, and it was exactly used.

Make sure you pin down the food and caterer 4-5 days before the event. In our case the caterer we had in mind balked at the last moment, and we had to find another one with just a day to go. Thankfully, it worked out well in the end.

Logistics

If you’re planning on having presentations by the speakers, do ensure that you have a projector arranged. Also have a laptop with requisite presentation software installed, and check that it is compatible with the projector. Ensure that the entire ensemble works with the sound system a day before the event.

At the venue arrange for water, items like paper cups, trash bags, etc. Make sure rest-rooms are available and are working well.

For your event, you can also have posters designed and printed. You can have at least one large size banner for the dais. Others can be hung at key locations of the venue.

Kits + Giveaway

You can decide on the giveaways you plan for the event. It is always nice for the participants to go back with something. Note that these are suggestions, and are optional.

  • Presents for Speakers – Provide all speakers with a small token of appreciation, as they’ve taken time out to be available for your event.
  • Printed material – Print out some material related to the talks, and other resources like links to websites, etc. We also added some interesting essays by Richard Dawkins and others into the mix to make for interesting reading. Print a good copy, and photocopy as required. The document is attached at the end of this article.
  • Calendar Cube

  • A giveaway for participants – We gave a cube calendar as a souvenir of the event. It had quotes by popular scientists and freethinkers on the six sides (printed at ‘Printo’). This cost us Rs. 75 per piece, which in retrospect seems high for the item. You should decide on how much you want to spend per participant, and then decide on a gift item that fits that price.

Recording

Recording the event is optional. But it makes sense to do it and provide it to a wider audience on the internet. We used a camera we owned, and plugged in the audio from the speaker system directly into the camera. The result was pretty good HD recording of the talks. We are in the process of downsizing it and providing it at large on video sharing sites.

Notes on recording – Get a tripod. Don’t try to setup tables and chairs. A tripod allows for easy movement, and comfortable recording. Get access to a camera that records with at least 480 pixels vertically. Try a demo recording a day before the event to check that everything works. In the end, you can convert the video to a suitable format and upload to a site like YouTube or DailyMotion.

Miscellaneous

Don’t forget to get feedback from the participants as it will help improve organising similar events in the future. At Yukti, we let participants fill up a short questionnaire (also attached with the handout file at the end of this article).

There many be more queries that you may have. Feel free to reach out to us via our event email address – yukti [AT] nirmukta [DOT] com, or the forums at Nirmukta.net. We would be really happy to help other efforts similar to Yukti.

Click to download the pdf Handout given to participants of Yukti (also contains Feedback form)

This post was edited by Murthy A V N and Aditya Manthramurthy.

About the author

Anil Gulecha

4 Comments

    • NN, the feedback was generally positive. One person suggested that the fee was actually low in comparison to multiplexes 🙂 Many liked your miracle debunking demo and Babu Gogineni’s speech. Many liked the lightning talks session.

      More than a few people were a little unhappy that the Astrology and Vaastu Shaastra talk was cancelled because of unavailability of the speaker. One person said that they did not expect this event to have an activism charged atmosphere.

  • Would membership forms for humanist organization chapters, or donation forms for humanitarian causes be feasible additions to the delegate kit? Or announcing that a certain percentage of the proceeds go to a humanitarian cause, which can give participants yet another reason to value the experience and link every freethought event with the larger movement? I am simply thinking aloud, knowing full well how organizers will have their hands full with event management, and how expecting a workshop to double up as a fundraiser and mobilization drive maybe a tall order, though probably doable in a later edition.

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