Sunday, June 24, 2018

Pathways Ice Breaker - Who am I?


Who am I?

[Play the audio clipping of “Sollunga…Sollunga…” dialogue from Baasha, while walking to the stage]

Wait … Wait… Wait… I am not a underworld Don, like Rajini in the movie Baasha

Life has given me several identities over a period of time and today, I’m going to share a few of them with you.

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and guests,

Also read:



Early Life

I got my identity as a son, 40 years ago. Thanks to my dad and mom. During those days, my dad was working in a grocery store and my mom was a home maker. We were living in a tiled house almost half the size of this room. The house had just 2 small rooms - 1 room served as the living room, study room, dining room and bed room and the other room served as kitchen and bathroom. 

Education 

I got my identity as a student very early, when I was just 2.5 years old - because of being too mischievous at home. I finished my schooling in Chennai and went to Coimbatore to do my Bachelors in Engineering at Government College of Technology. 

Life, away from home, in College was great fun. I had a dual identity in College, like the contrasting Indran and Chandran in the movie Thillu Mullu. On one side, I used to spend a lot of time in the computer lab … and that helped me to stay in the good books of faculties. On the other side, I bunked classes, jumped off the hostel wall to go to late night movies and studied just before the exams. 

Corporate Life

Right after the college in 1998, HCL Technologies gave me a new identity as corporate professional. I worked in HCL for 4 years and moved to US in the year 2002. When many Indians in US were returning back to India after the dot com burst, I was walking into US with a lot of dreams.  It was like the firefighter who walks into a burning house, when everyone in the house are running out.

Toastmasters

My English proficiency during those days was very poor. If someone asks me “How good is your English”… I’ll say “I talk English, I walk English I speak English” like Rajini in Velaikkaran movie. That’s when a friend of mine referred me to Toastmasters.  I’ve been a Toastmaster since 2006. Thanks to Toastmasters, I can express myself effectively in English today, like Rajini in Mannan movie.

Family Life

I got married in the year 2005, and received a new identity called husband. My wife is very understanding, supportive and caring. I owe half of my successes to her. The wheel of life started spinning fast. Soon, my daughter gave me the identity of a father.

In the movie Annamalai, Rajini accumulates a lot of wealth through hard work, in a very short time. Similarly, thanks to the IT industry and the US life - I achieved my financial goals very fast. I returned back to India, in 2009.

Conclusion

Like the US return Rajini in Sivaji movie… I feel bad that India hasn’t improved much even after so many years. We still see garbage on the roads… We still see a lot of poverty around… we still see a lot of corruption in the system. The urge to do something good to the society continues to haunt me, every single day. 

On one side, my corporate career is at an all time high and the momentum continues to accelerate. On the other side, my passion towards serving people is pulling me hard. But, today, I hardly have any time to think beyond work, family and Toastmasters. 

I don’t know what is in store for me in the future… So, who am I going to be … What is going to be my new identity? I’m puzzled like the Rajini in the climax scene of the movie Baba.



Sunday, April 15, 2018

Never judge a book by its cover !

I have this bad habit of judging people - no matter how hard I try to change, I find it difficult. The "real me" pops out once in a while.

I want to take all of you to the year 1994. I was doing my Engineering first year at GCT Coimbatore. We had a dozen odd subjects to study during the first year - but, the most dreadful one was Engineering Drawing (ED). The terms cuboids, trapeziums, quadrilaterals created night mares not only for me, but for the entire class. Until we joined college, all that we knew was "A pencil is just a pencil". But, after the ED class, we learned that there are different types of pencils such as HB, B, 2B, F etc., based on the grade of the lead.

To add salt to the wound, we had a professor for the ED class, who was as strict as an army major. He can't expect anything that is short of perfection from the students. In fact, he continuously said "Small things make perfection, but perfection isn't a small thing". Let us call him as Mr. Victor to keep his identity anonymous.

One day, during our ED class, one of my classmates didn't use the right pencil for the drawing. He got her drawing sheet, tore it into 8 pieces and threw it into the trash bin. Another day, another classmate didn't have the right dimensions and margins in the drawing sheet. He got the sheet and dropped it from the 3rd floor to the ground floor. All of us at that time thought "Had he been in Hitler's army, he would've grown to the ranks of  Army General in no time". He was so brutal.

Almost all students made a visit to the Vinayagar temple near GCT campus, on the day of the ED exam, to successfully clear the exam. Thankfully, all of us cleared the exam and moved to our 2nd year. And most importantly, we didn't have to deal with Engineering Drawing and Mr. Victor anymore, because we had chosen "Computer Science" as the major.

Fast forward to December 2017. We had our 19th year reunion at the GCT campus. We invited many of our staff members to join us for the reunion. The first person to show up for the reunion was Mr. Victor. He had grown old and he told us that he retired from GCT a few years back. To our surprise, he was one among the 3 staff members who showed up for our re-union. When he spoke to us during the reunion, Mr. Victor said "Dear students, I know I was very hard with you in 1994. But, you know what... yours was simply the BEST batch that I ever dealt with. I never saw the kind of commitment / sincerity that your batch exhibited. Your Engineering drawings are simply the BEST that I've seen in my entire career. I still have some of your drawings with me. I'm very glad to see many of you nearly after 20 years". I thought "He is trying to flatter us and this may be the standard talk track that he has for ALL reunion events". After the meeting, he told us that "He can share with us some of the drawings that he has, if we want". I was really curious to see, if he is really preserving those drawings for 20 years. We asked him to mail it to us.

A week ago, my friend received a courier. When he opened the courier, he was shocked. Mr. Victor had mailed one of the 20 year old drawings from a fellow classmate to him. This is the same girl whose paper was torn into pieces 20 years back. My friend took a picture of that and shared it in our Whatsapp group. I couldn't control my tears when I saw that picture.

Mr. Victor was so hard with us during our college days because, he was trying hard to bring the best out of us. Not only that, whatever he told us during the reunion was 200% true ! For a person who deals with several 1000s of students over a 20 years period, to maintain a drawing from a student for 20 years is unbelievable. Our educational institutions still have such sincere professors, who wanted to bring the best out of their students.

I felt so sorry for having judged Mr. Victor in a bad light. I learned a very important lesson from this experience "Never judge a book by its cover". Long live Mr. Victor and his values.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

CC Project #10 - Inspire your Audience - You are an Inspiration


The place was GCT, Coimbatore. The occasion was the reunion of all of our classmates, after a gap of nearly 20 years. 

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and guests.

Imagine how exciting it would be to meet all of your friends under one roof, after a long gap. The untold theme of that day was Nostalgia. Some of them had put on weight… some of them had lost weight… some of them looked old, some of them still looked young, some of them had lost some hair, one of them had lost ALL the hair….

The first session was an Ice Breaker session. 

I was called first to the stage. I went to the stage with an inflated chest and head held high. I boasted about my improved communication skills, as a result of joining Toastmasters. I boasted about my success in career and my role as a Delivery Head in a leading MNC. I boasted about achieving financial freedom. After talking on the stage for a few minutes, I came back to my seat with lots of pride. I thought I’m the most successful and I’m going to be an inspiration, for all. My ego got inflated like a helium balloon and started going up and up, crossing the moon… the stars and inching closer to the sky. 

[Names of characters changed to ensure privacy]

Next, they called Naren to the stage. As Naren was walking to the stage, I was tracing back my old memories… the flash back unfolded in black ’n white. 

    • Naren used to be very short, like the millimetre boy in Nanban movie. He hardly combed or oiled his hair. His teeth used to be stained. He used to wear bathroom slippers for classes.
    • Naren is from a village near Salem. His village didn’t even have electricity during those days. He was the first graduate from his village. The first time he saw a Television was after he joined the college. The first time he saw a computer was after he joined the college. Until +2, he studied in Tamil medium. So, he found it extremely difficult to cope up with the studies in college. 
    • He used to be a lone wolf at the college
    • I remembered an incident from the final year. Naren was asked to take a seminar on “Computer Hardware”, his hands were shivering and he was sweating in an Air Conditioned hall. His English was so poor that nobody could understand what he was trying to say.  The entire class pitied for him. 
    • Naren studied very very hard, but despite the hard work, he had many arrears… because, his hand writing used to be like Doctor’s prescription. 
    • During the final semester, while many of us came out with a handful of offers, Naren came out with a handful of arrears. We graduated in the year 1998 and I lost touch with Naren after that. 
“Hello Friends”… When Naren started to speak on the stage, I switched from the black ’n white to the colour  mode. Naren was in proper formals and wearing leather shoes. He had grown up a little bit, too. The millimetre boy has now become a centimetre boy. He was well groomed. Those stains in his teeth had vanished. Naren continued his speech with a lot of enthusiasm and in a simple English. “Friends… Happy to see all of you here. I work for the prestigious Hindustan Aeronautics Limited as a Technical Engineer. I take care of the maintenance of all the fighter planes that India produces. I know you may be shocked. Yes… I went through a very hard time immediately after we left college. I went back to my village. I didn’t know what to do. But, I didn’t lose my hope.  I studied hard and cleared all of my arrears in a year. Later, one of my relatives asked me to sign up for a Apprentice program at HAL. Thankfully, my application got selected. I worked in HAL as an Apprentice for a couple of years. My supervisor got impressed by my performance and gave me a full time job there. I have been working there for the last 18 years. Outside work, I love doing Yoga. I’m a certified Yoga instructor. I help a number of people in my community to improve their wellness through Yoga. I change their lives. I’m married to a beautiful wife and I have 2 young kids. Starting from a village that didn’t have electricity to graduating in GCT with arrears to maintaining Fighter planes and changing the lives of people around me, my journey was exciting”.  When he stopped speaking, there was a pin drop silence in the hall. We were amazed by the progress and transformation in Naren’s life. All of us gave a thundering applause to him. My hologram image stood up and gave a standing ovation to Naren. My inflated ego got pierced, lost some gas and came down to the moon, from the sky.

Then, Suresh was called to the stage… a back bencher from the college days. He told that he is currently an entrepreneur giving jobs to 25 youngsters and delivering software to multi-national clients. Then, Vinod was called to the stage… Vinod was just an ordinary student during college days. He said “He works in US currently, for the IT department of Blue Cross. His hobby is to do counselling for a number of alcohol addicts and he has helped several dozens of people to recover from their addiction”. One after the other, all the batchmates were called to the stage. When all of them finished speaking, my ego, the inflated helium balloon was punctured left, right and centre and was lying dead on the ground. I realised that “Everyone’s life is inspirational” in their own way.


Fellow Toastmasters, look around you, there is so much of inspiration in this place. Our past Presidents Shriram and Siddharth, reviving a struggling club and bringing its membership back to 40 plus are an inspiration … Our own DTM Gautam Sharma quitting his high paying job at TCS to pursue entrepreneurship and training youngsters is an inspiration. Our current President Pravin, who rolled up his sleeves … helping the club during the last term, without looking for a credit, when we lost our then VP Education is an inspiration. You can be an inspiration too… When you have the courage to face adversities head-on, when you come out of your comfort zone and take risks, and most importantly, when you help others selflessly”… someday … someone will pop-up in front of you and say “Hey! You are an inspiration”.

CC Project #9 - Persuade with Power - Tick... Tick... Tick...

This is the last and final boarding call for passenger Shankar R travelling by Spicejet SG831 to Hyderabad. Please proceed to gate 3 immediately. Thank You.

Good morning Toastmasters and Guests,

The place was Chennai Domestic Airport. The time was 5.30 in the morning. I was traveling to Hyderabad for an office work and my flight was at 7.45 am. The security queue was too long that if you look at it from the top, it will look like an Anaconda. 

The moment this announcement was made… I saw a man in his 30s with a shiny bald head and a pot belly, popping out  from the end of the long security queue and jumping up like our Alaypayuthey Madhavan… for the “Sagiyea….” song. He immediately starts rushing to the front of the queue by telling everyone “Sir! My name is getting called. My name is getting called”. I immediately thought “Dude! They are not calling you to give Nobel Peace Prize. You are late … and it is a shame on you to jump the queue like this. Why can’t you come here 2 hours before your flight starts”.

Dear friends… I see people showing up late not only in the airports… but in office, in birthday parties, in weddings, in schools, in colleges and even in Toastmasters meetings. We, the Indians, have proudly created a new definition for “Indian Standard Time”.. which is an hour later than the promised time. 

The man that I admire for punctuality is my Dad. I still remember my childhood days. If we have to catch a train at 6 pm, my Dad will ensure that all of us leave home by 3 pm itself. Those days, we relied on public transport heavily. So, my Dad didn’t want to take a chance. Most of the times, we’ll end up reaching the station 2 hours in advance. It is not only during travel… he does that for movies, weddings and other family functions. Many times, we’ll be there at the venue even before the hosts…. And welcoming the hosts !

Why is Punctuality important? 

Let us try to understand the importance of Punctuality from the context of a Toastmasters meeting. 

    • Being punctual doesn’t mean that you are jobless, it means that you value others’ time as priceless. Lets take for example a Toastmasters meeting. When a few role players come late, they waste the precious time of other 15 odd people who might’ve come ontime.
    • Research shows that 110 million people die every year as a direct result of stress. That is 7 people every 2 seconds. You know what? “Being punctual reduces stress levels”. Not only that, being punctual helps you to manage complex tasks and work twice as better as compared to being late. If you show up early for a Toastmasters meeting, it helps you to prepare well for your role and also to minimise nervousness on the stage. 
    • Showing up early, helps you to network and socialise with people.. which you would otherwise miss if you are showing up at the last minute. In Toastmasters, it helps you to develop your interpersonal skills. 
    • If you want to know the value of one month, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby. 
    • If you want to know the value of ten minutes, see the movie Mersal. 
    • If you want to know the value of one second, ask the Toastmaster who lost in the speech contest. 
If you feel that you are going to waste time by showing up early, always carry a book along with you. You can use the waiting time to read.

So, how can you be more Punctual?

Start doing backward planning. For example, this is what I do. If I have to be in a Toastmasters meeting by 9.45 am… I have to start from my home by 9.15 am. If I have to start from home by 9.15, I should’ve had my bath and finished breakfast by 9 am. If I have to be ready by 9 am, I should’ve got up an hour early, at least by 8 am. Also, if my commute time is just 15 mins, I give some extra 15 minutes buffer time for unusually heavy traffic. The buffer time is dependant on the distance that I travel for the meeting. The longer the distance, the higher the buffer time. 

Conclusion

Dear friends… Punctuality is all about planning, prioritising and preparing. 


Marvin Ashton, a famous politician said “Punctuality or the lack there of, is the only introduction that you will ever have to new groups and friends”. Punctuality is the most admired quality. Let us take a resolution today… to be on-time, all the time… throughout our lifetime. Will you?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

CC Project #8 - Visual Aids - Tring... Tring... Tring...

Tring Tring… Tring Tring…
Tring Tring… Tring Tring…

Seargent At Arms… It looks like Saro didn’t follow your instructions today.

Hey Guys and Girls...

I’m Saro’s iPhone. Do you know something? (Hushy voice) These days, he spends more time with
me than with his wife.

Saro told me on Friday night that he wanted to get up early. I promptly woke him up at 6 o’clock. It was a beautiful Saturday morning. He decided to go to the beach to jog and he took me along with him. When we went to the parking lot, he noticed that the car had a flat tyre. He got very disappointed. I told him “Hola… Say Ola.. Let’s book a cab and go”. I quickly booked a Prime Sedan for both of us.

We reached Marina beach by 7 am. Saro was still thinking about the flat tire.. and hadn’t recovered from the disappointment. I wanted to cheer him up and started singing some beautiful A.R. Rahman songs. I soaked him with Rahman’s melodies. When he finished jogging, I told him “Saro! Congratulations… You burnt 300 calories today”. He was very thrilled. He asked me to take a picture … He stood by the waves on one side and the rising sun on the other side. I told him “Say Cheese!” and clicked a picture for him.

We again booked a Ola cab, to get back home. On the way back, there was an accident and the road was completely blocked with heavy traffic. I told the Ola driver “There is another route via Cathedral road. Let’s just take that”. The driver just followed my orders, like a servant following the master.

When we reached home, Saro was very hungry. He asked me “Siri! Can I get something to eat?”. I immediately said, “I have ordered something for you from Madras Curry Cup. It will reach in 15 mins”. Promptly, in 15 mins, we heard the calling bell ringing. There was a guy from Swiggy delivering the hot meal. Saro didn’t have cash to give to him. I jumped in and said “Hey Saro… PayTM Karo”.

I've almost become Saro's half girl friend these days. Saro spent the rest of the day with me, by reading Chetan Bhagat’s “Half Girl Friend” book in a Kindle app.

Dear friends… I’m the superfast smartphone. Steve Jobs gave me my identity by combining a GPS, a Phone, a Camera and a Music Player into one device. Steve topped me with a number of applications and called me the iPhone. I’m one of the best in class smartphones. I run on a network called 4G. You can use me to watch High definition movies and fast paced games.

Are you curious to know about my ancestors?

This is my mom, the 3G phone. She was born in the year 2001. She was 10 times
slower than me. She can be used only to check emails and browse the web.

This is my grandma, the 2G phone. She was born in 1991. She isn’t multifaceted like me. On top of it, she is dead slow and very boring. She can be used for just making calls and sending text messages. Her footprints are erased in all developed nations. Countries like India, still have some traces of my Grandma lingering around.

My great great grandma, the first handheld cellular phone was invented by John F. Mitchell and Martin Cooper of Motorola in 1973. She weighed 2 Kgs. She was like Kushboo … while I’m like Amy Jackson. She was pricey. She was sold for a whopping $4000. With that kind of money, today, you can buy may be 10 smartphones like me.

Today, smartphones like me are less of a phone and more of a distraction. We crave for attention... through the constant dings and notifications. We know more about you than your own parents or spouse. We know exactly where you are going, who you are meeting and what you are purchasing.

Fellow Toastmasters and guests, how many of you have seen the movie “The Mummy”? Do you remember the “Sand Storm” segment in that movie? The fierce sandstorm engulfs the hero’s aircraft. Similarly, smartphones like us are sandstorms. We engulfed many devices like GPS, Music Players and Cameras. We engulfed phone booths, taxi operators and post offices. Now we are gearing up to engulf you and your personal time with family and friends. We attract you like magnets … We addict you like drugs… We affect you like cancer…

Tring Tring… Tring Tring…
Tring Tring… Tring Tring…

This is your final call

Stop texting people ... Start meeting them
Stop buying online ... Start walking to the shop
Stop playing on the mobile ... Start playing with the kids in your home

My boy friend has decided to break up with me... TMOD... Have you?


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Humorous Speech Writing Techniques

It is easy to write a speech, but it is very hard to make it humorous. If you are wondering, "How to make a speech humorous"... don't worry, this article will give you tips to induce humor in the speeches and get a few (if not more!) laughs. There are a number of techniques available to inject humor in the speeches. I am not a humorist either and the wisdom shared in this article is a collection of information sourced from various educational sessions, blogs and podcasts.

1. The Literal Meaning

You can use the actual meaning of some words, to trigger humor.

  • I was always an outstanding student in my class. Yes, dear friends... my teacher always makes me to stand outside of the classroom. 
  • Almost everyone looked up to me in my college, because I was the tallest guy in the class 

2. Self-Deprecating  

The easiest way to make people laugh is to use self-deprecating humor. Never attempt to make fun of others. Also, stay away from taboo topics such as sex, religion and politics. Using these topics will make you and your speech look cheap.
  • Once upon a time, I used to have a small face to wash and lots of hair to comb. Today, I've more face to wash, and less hair to comb 
  • Some day, I thought I'll be like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I worked out really hard... and finally, after several failed attempts I did become like Arnold. Wait wait wait... not like the Arnold in his 20s, but like the Arnold in his 60s. 

3. Exaggeration

Exaggeration enables audience to visualize .. and that triggers humor immediately.

  • Chennai looks like Venice during rainy seasons. And you would need a boat, not a car. 
  • I got a new Credit Card to my wife. She spent so much in a month, that she got into the Master Card Hall of Fame. 

4. Compare / Contrast

Comparisons help you to tie two unrelated things / situations / people. Comparisons help you to highlight your frustration, which triggers humor.

  • I was looking for a perfect better half. But, I wasn't lucky. The ones who looked like Aishwarya Rai, hadn't crossed 10th grade and the ones who had completed Ph.D looked like a 40 year old. 
  • My friend is like a radio... if she starts talking she wouldn't stop. The only difference between her and the radio is, she doesn't even give commercial breaks in between.  
  • Who said finding God is difficult, try searching for a plumber on a weekend.

5. Word Play 

This is the most (ab)used form of humor. You can use word play like spices on the soup, and not as the main ingredient.
  • The moment I told my friend that I am going to get married, he said "Congratulations on the termination of your isolation and may I express an appreciation of your determination to end the desperation and frustration" 

  • A man was hit by a coke can, but he wasn't injured at all... because it was a "soft" drink.

6. Twisting quotes 
 

Quotes = Inspiration.  Over usage of quotes have irritated people more than inspiring them. That provides you an opportunity to twist some quotes, to trigger humor.
  • If you are talking about your mom and wife, you can say Behind every successful man, there is a woman... and behind every unsuccessful man, there is two. 
 
  • If one door closes and another one opens, probably your house is haunted

7. Setup / Pause / Punch 
 

This is the most effective technique to trigger humor. When you setup the situation, you are actually making the audience to think in a particular direction.. and immediately, you pause and surprise them with the punch.

  • The classic joke "Take my wife ... PLEASE !

"
  • As you all might know, I’m a very organized person. Immediately after the marriage, I wanted to prepare myself for a successful married life. The first thing that I did was I bought the book “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus”. I read the book page by page, line by line, word after word. After reading the book, I thought I’ve mastered the art of “understanding a women”. I thought I had learned all the tricks to keep my wife happy. A few months into the marriage, I realized “Men are from Mars, my wife is not from Venus”.
 

8. Obvious Statements


Sometimes, an obvious statement would trigger humor.

  • A warning label on a baby stroller: "Remove child before folding". 

  • My boss said "Have a good day"... and I went home
  • I went to the grocery shop... and I saw this sign on the glass door "Open the door before entering"
9. Rule of Three

Rule of Three is very similar to the setup / pause / punch technique, but will help you to do the "setup" in a more systematic manner. 
  • Judges in contests are always consistent. They are consistently punctual, consistently sincere and consistently pick the most undeserving person as the winner. 
  • The best part of getting married in Las Vegas is you'll get everything that you need at one place - music, flowers and divorce document
If you know of other techniques, please post here as a comment. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Venture out ... NOW !

Chennai Speakers Forum Newsletter Article Oct 2017

How many times have you taken a risk in your life and failed?! Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of the social media company Facebook says “The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that changes really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks”.

Let me admit it. I had never taken a huge risk until I finished my college. In fact, I had never ventured out to try something new, until I joined my first job at HCL technologies. I always signed up for something only when I can see the end result clearly. The year 2002 put an end to my risk- free life. That was the year after the 9/11 attacks and the dotcom crash. US President Bush’s administration was planning to launch a war against Iraq any time. US economy was at an all-time low and going through a recession. I was in a well paid job in HCL Technologies. But, I decided to quit HCL and look for opportunities in US because of not getting promoted at HCL. My family members asked me “Why do you want to go to US when the condition there is very uncertain?”. My friends were asking me “Saro! You are in a well paid job and in a good position. If you leave now, and come back later, you may not have the same respect and influence here. Why do you want to take an unnecessary risk?”. I was in a very confused state and asked myself “Should I leave the golden goose? Should I leave my comfort zone? Should I move out of my cheese factory?”. After some serious thought, I decided to take the plunge. I got an offer from a start up in US. But, the unfortunate part was, the startup company had hardly 6 months of funding left-over. My friends warned me “Saro! You are looking at the light at the end of the tunnel. But what we see is a train coming in the opposite direction”.

Despite the warnings, I took the risk. I booked my tickets and flew to US. When Kannagi and Kovalan tried to enter the famous Temple City Madurai, the flags on the fort waved their hands fast alerting them not to enter the city. But, despite the alert they boldly stepped into the city. I had the same feeling when I landed in US. I heard horror stories of people leaving their home, car and belongings and moving out of the country due to the economic situation. The commercial buildings were empty and the IT corridor in silicon valley looked like a ghost town. When all the inmates of a burning house were running out, the fireman boldly walks into the house. I imagined myself as the fireman.

I joined the start-up in US and worked hard for nearly 6 months. Like my friends rightly predicted, the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be a train coming fast in the opposite direction. The company that I joined shut its doors in 6 months. One fine morning, our CEO called for an all- hands meeting and gave pink slips to nearly 60+ employees working for that startup. I was in the job market with just 6 months US experience. I hardly received any calls from potential employers. Thankfully, the founders of my old startup formed another new startup and I was among the first few employees to onboard the team. I spent a solid 3 years in that startup, learning a multitude of skills such as full products development, handling customers and doing product demonstrations/trainings. I also completed my part time MBA in the mean time. Around the same time I joined a well established company Redback Networks, which got acquired by Ericsson. After spending 4 years in US, I decided to get ready for my return to India. I took the opportunity to travel to nearly 32 states in US over a 2 years period. Those travels opened up the doors for many more new learnings and experiences. After meeting all of my monetary goals, I finally decided to return to India in 2009... almost overnight. Now, I am happily settled in India with my family.

[Also read: Returning back to India ...]

Lucius, a famous roman philosopher once said “It’s not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It’s because we dare not venture that they are difficult”. If I hadn’t ventured out to US in 2002, I wouldn’t have had the exposure that I have currently. Living in US for 6 years not only filled my pockets, but also brought-in a number of good things into my life. For example, I got introduced to a wonderful group of people called Toastmasters in US. Joining Toastmasters helped me to develop book reading and blogging habits. Today, I strongly believe that “If you have a dream, pursue that. If you have a passion, give it a try. If you want to venture out, venture out now!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

CC Project #7 - Research your Topic - Ms. Smelly

Introduction 

She is in my neighbourhood. I’ve seen her almost everyday. Whenever I walk past her, I hear her giggles. She is dark, but anyone who looks at her for the first time will give her a curious second look. I’ve seen her dancing in the rains, jumping in joy.

No… No… No… I don’t have a crush. I hate her… for just one reason… she stinks. She is our Chennai’s identity… She is our Chennai’s pride… Instead of me talking about her… I would let her talk to you directly. (Change of caps - white cap to black cap)

Dear Toastmasters and guests, I am your stinking Cooum river. I stink because of you.

(Also read: Sweetie ... I hate you)

Origins of the river 

I originate from the excess water that gets diverted from the Kesavaram dam. I am from a place called Koovam in Tiruvallur District near Chennai. Though I am 72 Km long, I am the shortest river that drain in to the Bay of Bengal.

During the ancient times, I played a major role in maritime trade between Roman empire, South India and China. If you think I’m boasting, check with those archaeologists who discovered ancient wine jars, Roman and Chinese coins along my banks. I was once called the “Thames of South India”.

There are close to 100 temples along the sides of me. I was once a holy river. People believed that even the sins that were not washed away by my elder sister Ganges could be washed away by bathing in my waters.

State of the river today

I go through the rural areas of Tiruvallur for nearly 40 Km. I am unpolluted, there. In fact, those people use me as a source of drinking water even today. But the moment I enter the Chennai city I lose my virginity… and I become a carrier of sewage, thermocol, plastics and trash. It is not the slum dwellers who pollute me, it is also educated folks like you who dump garbage, sewage and waste on me.

Until the 1950s, I was clean. I was so clean that I had the company of 49 species of fish, who were my friends. But slowly, I started losing my friends. By late 1970s, I had only 21 of them. However, today, all of my friends are dead owing to the highly toxic pollutants that you guys dump into me.

Restoration Efforts

I made multiple attempts to seek justice from Tamilnadu government in the last 50 years. I wanted the government to punish the folks who polluted me and to cleanup and restore my pride. In 1967, C.N Annadurai, kick started a restoration project to clean me up and he allotted Rs.1.9 crores. In 1973, Karunanidhi cleaned me up and even launched a pleasure boat service at a cost of ₹ 2.2 crores. But, none of those programs sustained… People continued to dump garbages, sewage and waste into me and I again got polluted.

Recently, Tamilnadu government has initiated an Integrated Cooum River Restoration Project for Rs. 604.77 crore. Government has started removal of solid waste from my banks. You know how much solid waste you folks have dumped into me over the years? One lakh tonnes. Chennai City generates nearly 5000 tonnes of waste everyday. Imagine the entire Chennai city dumping all their waste continuously for a month into me… that’s how much solid waste is accumulated in me. So far, about 18,000 tonnes of solid waste has been cleared by the government as part of the restoration project. 55 slums have been identified and nearly 14,000 families zeroed in on for eviction.  This project is expected to be completed in another 2 years. I am eagerly looking forward to regain my virginity.

Dear Toastmasters and Guests, Yes… I stink… but, I stink because of you (shouting voice)

“Oh! Oh! Oh… Cooum dear… don’t lose your emotions” (Cap change… black to white)

Conclusion

Friends, knowingly or unknowingly, directly or indirectly, we have spoiled the life of a beautiful girl, Cooum. It is not just Government’s responsibility to keep her clean. We also have our obligations to her. What can we do to help her? Let us refrain from throwing waste or dumping sewage into her. Let us help her to rejenuvate, regenerate and restore to her old glory. Let us take the pledge to make Ms. Smelly as fragrant as Ms. Lilly.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Serving Leader by Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert

Today, Servant Leadership is taking a prominent place not only in volunteer driven organizations, but also in corporates. With the growing number of "matrix organizations" and teams embracing "Agile" for project delivery and led by a Scrum Master, Servant Leadership skills are the need of the hour.

I had a chance to read the book "The Serving Leader" from the Ken Blanchard Series, written by Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert. The authors have sandwiched the Servant Leadership lessons in a fictional story. This blog post summarizes some key lessons and learnings from the book.

The following are the 5 powerful actions that the authors teach for you to transform your team, your business and your community:
  1. Run to Great Purpose 
    • To do the most impossible good, strive for the impossible
    • Sustain the greatest interest in pursuits beyond self-interest
  2. Upend the Pyramid
    • You qualify to be first by putting other people first
    • Your are in charge principally to charge up others
  3. Build on Strengths
    • To address your weaknesses, focus on your strengths
    • You can't become the best unless other do, too 
  4. Raise the Bar
    • To serve the many, you first serve the few
    • The best reach-down is a challenging reach-up
  5. Blaze the Trail
    • To protect your value, you must give it all away
    • Your biggest obstacle is the one that hinders someone else

Source: The Serving Leader, by Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert

Some traits of a servant leader and key messages worth noting from the book:

  1. He spent a lot of time in activity that looked more like "teaching" than "managing"
  2. He was known for setting high goals and standards.
  3. He encouraged risk taking, though he wasn't afraid to remove people for "persistent" underperformance
  4. He unleashes the strengths, talents and passions of those he or she serves
  5. When she points out a problem, she also offered several solutions and she always showed up when it was time to do the hard work of implementation
  6. She constantly gets her ego out of the way and builds up the confidence / self-esteem of others
  7. By putting others first, the Serving Leader is able to catalyze the creation of high performance teams
  8. He ensures that the right people join the team, those with the right skills and values, those who embrace the same shared purpose. He is tough on selecting people and setting standards
  9. In order to serve many people, the servant leader at first picks just a few other leaders to serve, people who can meet the Servant Leadership standards
  10. He ensures that "activity" is no substitute for "results". At first its about being selective in choosing the leaders you're going to work with. And second, it's about continually raising the expectations for performance
  11. When the performance of an individual doesn't improve after "heavy coaching", the Servant Leader helps him or her get a position somewhere else
  12. People by nature try to live up to what others expect of them. That's true for rich and poor, people who have an easy life or a hard one. Expect little, and we live up to the expectation. Expect a lot, and we stretch and grow to meet the expectation. What kind of service is it... when you deny a person the challenge to become really terrific
  13. Life is too short to waste on sentimental pursuits that don't actually improve anything
  14. Servant Leaders teach others the knowledge, skills and strategies they need to succeed. And the Servant Leaders work hard to get obstacles out of their team's way so that the team can make progress.
  15. Servant Leaders build teaching organizations to create excellence at every level. Leaders who teach become consistent in their own performance.
  16. Community happens when everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets to work
  17. You get better results by shifting attention away from your weaknesses and focusing on your strengths
  18. Serving leaders articulate a purpose so compelling that people are willing to run toward it. The leaders set the pace and this spirit gets transferred to the people they serve
  19. If the purpose isn't bigger than the people involved, great things wouldn't happen
  20. Mistakes aren't the issue, what you do with them is the issue. Ask to be forgiven for the past, and then seize your future with all you've got. 

If you want to learn more about Servant Leadership, visit the authors' website http://theservingleader.com/

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Vocal Variety - 4Ps of Voice

“Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs” said Stephen Covey, the famous author and speaker.

Delivering a speech to the audience, is similar to the journey that you take in a train. The train journey becomes much more enjoyable and adventurous, when the train traverses through peaks and valleys, instead of just going in a flat terrain. The train changes its speed based on the terrain. Similarly, your speech should also be going through moments of peaks, valleys, flat terrains and at times, even a complete pause. You can achieve that by tapping on the power of voice.

Toastmasters provides you a platform for “finding your voice”. When it comes to voice modulation, one of the speakers that I admire is Zig Ziglar. Despite the age, his voice comes across as energetic, attractive and inspiring. Watch the video of Zig Ziglar, where he talks about the "Art of Selling".


In this article, I'm going to describe the 4Ps of Voice - Pitch, Pause, Pace and Projections.

Pitch

Pitch can be used to communicate emotions. A high pitch reflects "high emotions" such as anger, happiness or excitement. Low pitch reflects "low emotions" such as a somber mood or sad moment.

Listen to my recordings:

“How dare you take my bike keys?”  (High Pitch)

"Why did you take my bike keys?      (Low Pitch)


Pause

Pausing is good - do you know that? As a novice speaker, we may think that Pausing means "You forgot the content". While the reality is, advance speakers use Pause as an effective tool to maximize the impact of the speech, on the audience.

When you are on a roller coaster, the roller coaster comes to halts in between, before picking up momentum. The halts make the roller coaster ride much more thrilling.

What are the situations in which you can pause:

  1. Before beginning to speak on the stage, to get the attention of your audience. You can easily take a 3 or 4 seconds pause, trying to establish eye contact with audience. Even an unsettled crowd will become settled when you pause for a while at the beginning
  2. Before delivering a punch line in a humorous phrase. For example, "A doctor tells a woman she can no longer touch anything alcoholic. So she gets a divorce". The pause makes an audience to think in a particular direction and when you surprise them with your punch line, it brings humor. 
  3. When delivering a quote, to stress the important parts. For ex., "5 years from now you'll be the same person except for the people that you meet and the books that you read"
Listen to some of my recordings:


Do you know which club got the first prize….  Chennai Speakers Forum! 


You don’t have to be GREAT to START  but, you’ve to START to be GREAT 

Pace 

Pace is the most missed out tool in regular speeches. Novice speakers deliver at fast pace due to nervousness. However, it will be very hard for the audience to follow the speaker, when the pace is too fast. The best example is when Ravi Sashtri or Sunil Gavaskar narrates a wicket loss during a cricket commentary.

Listen to some of my recordings for fast pace:

Steve Jobs’ motto was to “Simplify!” He said “No” to pretty much every SINGLE thing … 

Should it have screws – NO 
Removable batteries – NO 
Stylus – NO 
Keyboard – NO 
Manuals – A BIG NO 

And that resulted in the birth of sleek, cool and attractive iPhone


All of us join Toastmasters to evolve to become a great communicator or a great leader. So, I recommend all of you “NOT TO GIVE AN EXCUSE”, after you sign up for a role. 

When YOU give an excuse, you miss an opportunity to explore, 
When you don’t explore, you miss an opportunity to gain experience 
When you don’t get the experience, you miss an opportunity to evolve 
When you don’t evolve, how will the fundamental purpose of YOU joining Toastmasters is going to be met? 

Here is an example of a slow pace: 

When I went to the stage and spoke, everybody laughed. That was my last visit to the Speakers club.

Projection 

Projection of voice helps you to reach out to the people sitting in the last row. You've to adjust your voice projection (aka volume) based on the number of people in the audience, room size, whether you are using a microphone, whether you are speaking to a live audience or over a webcast. When you have a good projection, you come across as a confident speaker. Low Projections, at times make your audience lean forward to listen to you. For ex., when you want to tell a "secret", you can use "low projection". 

How can you go about developing your vocal variety?

While there are multiple ways to improve the vocal variety in your speech, these are some of the techniques that I follow:

  1. During the early days, I used to play the Presidential campaign speeches of Barack Obama and speak along with him. I always feel that Americans are the best in expressing their emotions / feelings in voice. Speaking along with another speaker helps you to observe their vocal variety and improve your 4Ps.
  2. When you write a script, clearly underline / highlight the words or phrases where you'll inject vocal variety. I'll mark my script to say, for this phrase I'll use "High Pitch" and for this word I'll use "Low Pitch". 
  3. Record your voice/speech and listen to it. It helps you to understand the pain that audience will go through, when they listen to your monotonous voice :) This would help you to fine tune your 4Ps and improve your speech
  4. Perform in front of a mentor / friend and get feedback.
  5. Carefully observe the little kids around you. They are good at using vocal variety and they use the right voice to express their emotions. You can learn from them too.