Sunday, February 17, 2013

TedxGCT 2013 - My speech on "Unchartered Waters"

Speech delivered at TedxGCT on 16th February 2013

“You don’t have to be GREAT to START, but you’ve to START to be GREAT” a powerful quote from Zig Ziglar. 6 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined standing in front of a large audience like this and deliver a speech in English. From someone who had difficulty in communicating in English to someone who can deliver a speech to a large audience, the transformation was mind blowing.

Organizers, respected dignitaries and my dear students …

Today, I’m going to share with you some interesting events from my life that helped me to become a better speaker.

First attempt to improve my communication skills

Let me take you to the year 1996, the place was GCT, Coimbatore … one of the class rooms in the ground floor of the main building... It was a Friday evening. I was a youngster, then. Yes! I had lots of hair at that time. I dropped into a meeting of Literary & Debate Society (also called as LDS). That was my first attempt to develop my communication skills. I saw a bunch of students from various classes and years. I knew some of them, but most of them were strangers to me. I occupied a seat in a remote corner of the room. The meeting started. Suddenly, one of my seniors called me to the stage to be part of a group discussion. I got very nervous... I didn't want to say "No!" I felt that "Others may think badly of me". I went to the stage and sat with a group of other students. The topic that was given to us for group discussion was "Brain Drain". Those days, a number of Indians were leaving to USA at that time for work/studies. So, that was the popular topic at that time. First of all, I didn't know "What Brain Drain" means... Second of all, I was not adroit at handling impromptu-speaking situations like that.

Imagine that you are a student and you get a question in the exam for which you don’t know the answer. What would you do? You'll start writing what you know... So, I assumed that "Brain Drain" means, "Brain losing its memory capacity" and I started talking about "You should eat healthy food for you to have good memory capacity" and everyone in the hall started laughing.

I was shocked. I started sweating... I didn't know what mistake I did... however, I knew that I'm not making sense to the audience... My lips were sealed... The flow of words from my mouth completely stopped. I didn't utter any word after that. That was my first and last visit to Literary & Debate Society in our college. My dreams of becoming a better speaker, shattered into pieces, like a jar that was dropped on the floor.

How did my lack of communication skills affect me?

Time went by… It was my final year - the year of graduation. Companies visit colleges to recruit people during the final year of the course. Like most of you, I had a dream company in my mind, to work for, after completing my studies. Some of my close friends were also interested to get a job from this company.
We were eagerly waiting for this company to show up for campus recruitment. We had always dreamed about getting a job in this company, going to BANGALORE, renting a house and starting our new life. The company is WIPRO TECHNOLOGIES. 

It was July 1997, the college had just re-opened after the holidays. Wipro had come to our campus on that day. My friends & I were eagerly waiting for this day for almost 3 years. We were so excited to hear that WIPRO is in our campus. We worked hard and prepared well, to get into WIPRO. We were given the written tests, first. Then, we were shortlisted for the technical interviews. My friends & I were very happy because all of us were shortlisted for the interviews.

I was asked to first attend the HR Interview. I walked into the interview hall. The HR manager was a senior guy in his mid 40s. During the interviews, he asked me “What do you think of Wipro?". I immediately answered ... "Wipro has less number of more competent people".... while my intention was to say "Wipro has less people... but all of them had more competence".

For another question about team work, I said "I know how to extract work from people... even if they are not motivated"... while my intention was to say "I know how to motivate people to get the job done ". When the interview results were announced, I came to know that I was not selected. I was completely disappointed and dejected. Imagine how it would feel like, when you don't get your dream job ... The one for which you've been dreaming for 3 years.

My communication skills costed my dream job. While all of my friends got selected in Wipro, I was left out. My dream of joining Wipro burned into ashes.

What forced me to improve my communication skills?

Fortunately, I attended the off campus interviews at HCL Technologies and got a job. I worked for HCL for nearly 4 years and moved to Silicon Valley, in USA. Valley is a place filled with people who dream big… who venture into exciting things… people who pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Looking at those entrepreneurs, I started dreaming about starting my own company and becoming the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

I thought I should prepare myself for becoming a CEO. One of our college seniors advised, “Saro… If you continue to do what you do, you’ll continue to get what you get”. If you really want to be the CEO of a company, you should consider doing an MBA and groom yourself. In about 2 years, I completed my part time MBA. However, I still felt that I’m missing something. I was obsessed with the thought of becoming a CEO. I started following and carefully observing a number of CEOs from big corporations. All of them had one skill in common. They were all great communicators. That is when I realized… “If you want to be a CEO… you’ll have to talk like a CEO… you should know how to inspire and motivate your team like a CEO”. In fact, I was ashamed to call myself an MBA, without having the ability to talk fluently in English.  I saw communication as a HUGE MOUNTAIN that is blocking me from reaching my dreams.

Drenching the feet in Unchartered Waters

I started looking at ways of improving my communication skills.

My close friend introduced me to Toastmasters… a non-profit organization that helps people develop their communication skills. I joined Toastmasters… in September 2006.

That is when I started drenching my feet into the unchartered waters. I learned 2 key lessons in my journey to become a better speaker:

1.      Habits Come in Series
·         Speaking is a skill that is similar to cycling or swimming. You cannot learn swimming by reading a book or by standing near the shores. You’ll have to jump into the water to learn swimming. Similarly, you can improve your speaking skills only by speaking. Toastmasters provided me a platform to practice my speaking skills and get feedback on my performance.
·         The toastmasters club that I joined had a number of Americans. During the initial days,
1.      I was finding it difficult to come up with content for delivering speeches
2.      It was hard for me to follow the English spoken by American speakers
3.      It was hard for me to write speech scripts using good English grammar
·         I started getting help from my fellow club members and mentors. They told me “You’ve been used to speaking in Tamil for so long… your ears, your tongue and your brain are accustomed to Tamil. You’ll have to train them now to get accustomed to the English language”.
·         They gave me a number of practical tips to improve my language skills.
1.      I started reading English newspapers loudly to train my tongue.
2.      I started reading one new word everyday… to improve my vocabulary. In fact, it is funny… Earlier when I want to appreciate someone or something I used to say “It is good…” or if it is much better… I’ll say “It is very very good”. Today, I can use words like “outstanding, amazing, extraordinary, incredible, brilliant” … to appreciate people. It definitely makes a difference.
3.      I developed the habit of reading books, to find content for my speeches.
4.      I started writing a blog to improve my writing skills
5.      I started listening to Podcasts and Audio Books to improve my listening skills.
Before joining toastmasters, I used to waste a lot of time in browsing Internet, chit-chatting and in watching movies. After joining toastmasters, I became more disciplined and started using my time well. In about 2 years, I noticed that I’m surrounded by a number of good habits like reading books, writing blogs, reading newspapers etc., It all started with the 1 habit that I brought into my life… joining toastmasters.
You bring in “one good habit into your life”… it will bring in a number of other good habits”. You bring in “one bad habit into your life… it will bring in a number of other bad habits”.

Habits always come in series.

2.      Small things make perfection, but perfection is not a small thing
·         I got regular feedback from my fellow club members on how to become an expert speaker. They helped me to focus on the nuances of communication. To give you a sample of the techniques that I was taught… There is a lot of difference between saying “I had a great vacation” and “I had a great vacation”. I constantly incorporated feedback from my club members and practiced regularly.
·         In about two years, I started seeing the transformation in myself due to repeated practice. Earlier, I used to think in Tamil, translate that into English and then convey my thoughts. My rigorous training, helped me to start thinking in English right at the first time.
·         All the small things that I focused on produced results – how to write a speech script, how to organize the speech, how to use the stage, how to establish eye contact…
·         You won’t believe … I became the “Winner of the Speaking Contest” that was held in our club in 2009. “Small things make perfection, but perfection isn’t a small thing”. I was very happy when I won the speech contest at my club. That night, when I went home with a trophy in my hand… I got reminded of my experience in Literary & Debate Society. I told myself “Saro! You are not stopping this until you become a DTM…”
·    I continued my journey towards excellence in communication & leadership. Along the way, I helped mentor a few members to achieve their dreams of becoming a better speaker.
·        In the year 2012, I was given the prestigious Distinguished Toastmaster Award. For every 1000 members who aspire to become a DTM and join toastmasters, only 3 get it.

Today, I’m even close to achieving my dream of becoming a CEO. “When you really want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”… says the Alchemist. Looking back in my life, I can understand the truth behind this quote.

Dear friends, if you are dreaming about something in your life… if you are passionate of achieving something in your life… Get started, NOW! Remember… “You don’t have to be GREAT to START. But, you’ve to START, to be GREAT”.

Friday, February 8, 2013

How to open a bank account for a Toastmasters Club in India?

Opening a bank account for a non-profit organization is a difficult task in India. However, we have mastered the art of opening a bank account for toastmasters in the last 2 years !

Also read: New Club Chartering Steps involved

It took nearly months for us to open a bank account for a toastmasters club, 2 years ago. It took a few weeks for us to open a bank account for a toastmasters event, 6 months ago. Today, we are able to open a bank account in a week. What are the steps involved in opening a bank account for a non-profit organization? What are the collateral required for opening a bank account for toastmasters clubs in India? This blog post will provide answers for these questions.

You'll have to open a 'trust' account for a non-profit organization in India. Toastmasters clubs come under the non-profit trusts in India.

Here is the list of things that you would need to open a bank account for a toastmasters club:
  1. Club chartering certificate
  2. A document listing the names of the 7 club officers as the official "board members" of the club. It can be signed by the Area or Division Governor in Toastmasters International letter head.
  3. A print out of the club officers roster from the Toastmasters International website (Any club officer should be able to take a print out of the information from Toastmasters International website)
  4. A resolution document that says that the "board members" have passed a resolution to open a bank account for the club and have authorized the Treasurer & President to operate it on behalf of the club and its members.
  5. A small rubber stamp with the name of the club, and the titles of the office bearers who will operate the bank account (For ex., Treasurer & President). It will be used in places where the office bearers will have to sign.
  6. Pictures of the club officers who will operate the account (For ex., Treasurer & President). They both will be the "signatories" for the account. They both will have to sign the cheque / challan to withdraw money from the bank.
  7. Address proof, Identity Proof & PAN card proof for the club officers who will operate the account.
You can fill the bank account opening form, attach the collateral listed above and submit it to the bank manager. You should be able to open the account in about a week's time. Also, make sure that you enable online banking for the bank account. It helps you to login and check the account balance online. This will be very useful when you are collecting membership renewal fees.

Important Note (Updated on 24th May 2017): Banks have become stricter with respect to creating Trust accounts. Federal bank has agreed to partner with Toastmasters in India. They can help you in creating a Trust account for your club. Please refer to the D82 Blog for latest information on the steps involved in creating a bank account in Federal Bank. (scroll to the bottom of the D82 blog post for the docs to print/use in opening the bank account)

If you have additional information to be added to this blog post, leave a comment and I'll update the blog post to reflect your feedback.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

International Speech Contest Topics Selection Ideas !

One out of 3 phone calls that I attend these days are about "How do I come up with speech topics for International Speech Contests"? That reminded me... "Oh! The contest season has come". There is no magic bullet for selecting speech topics. However, here are some questions that you can ask yourself about selecting topics for International Speech Contests.

  1. What is my biggest achievement in life? Why?
  2. What is my biggest failure in life? Why?
  3. What is the most challenging situation that I handled in life? Why?
  4. What is one thing from my life that I would like to share with the entire world?
  5. What was the life changing moment for me? Why?
  6. What are some key principles / ideologies that I value in my life? Why? (For ex., "Small things make perfection, but perfection isn't a small thing" or "You don't have to be great to start, but you've to start to be great")
  7. What is the most unforgettable incident in my life? Why?
  8. What is something that I read in newspaper that moved me very much (for ex., the death of a gang rape victim, which happened recently in India)
  9. What is something that I saw in my friend's or neighbor's life that moved me very much?
  10. Who is my most favorite and inspiring person / personality? Why?
  11. If I have the option of changing the world, what is one change that I would like to change?
  12. What is a cause that I would like to fight for or already fighting for?

If the light bulb went off in you for any of the above questions, see if you can summarize that thought/message in one line. That will be the message that you would like to deliver to your audience and you can decide on the topic, based on that. Once you've decided the topic, you can expand that into a full blown speech by including stories, anecdotes, quotes etc., 

Contests are NOT meant to differentiate the bronze from the silver and the gold. Contests are meant to transform a golden ore into a golden ornament. So, I encourage all of you to participate in contests to go through that transformation, which will last forever.

Also read: Speech Crafting Checklist for International Speech Contests

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Toastmaster of the Day Script - CCC Meeting #45

Toastmaster of the Day Script
This is the script for the Toastmaster of the Day (TMOD) role that I did in Chennai Communicators Club during their 45th meeting.
DATE: 3rd Feb 2013 Word of the Day: dexterous
Theme: For the people, by the people, of the people
1.                  Accept control from President and thank him/her for the introduction. 
2.                  Introduce theme of the day and word of the day. Encourage the speakers to use them during the meeting. Ask the audience to applaud when the Theme of the day and word of the day is used by the speakers.
Who said we cannot celebrate an event from the past… like a wine that gets tastier with time, today’s delayed Republic day special meeting is going to leave a taste that is going to linger forever. So, why do we celebrate - Republic Day? Yes… It is the day on which the constitution of India came into existence.

The constitution was framed for the people, by the people and of the people. And that is the theme of the meeting.

It took nearly 2 years for the architects of our constitution to prepare the world’s longest constitution with 400+ articles.

If it takes 2 years to prepare a constitution, how long does it take a toastmaster to prepare a speech… for some toastmasters… it is several months… for some it is a couple of weeks, for some dexterous toastmasters is a few days... Well, today’s word of the day is “Dexterous” meaning Skillful. A sample usage is “CCCians are dexterous speakers”.

Whenever someone uses the word of the day or theme of the day, I request the audience to clap and boost the speaker’s confidence.

3.                  Explain the flow of meeting and the 3 segments (Prepared speeches, Table Topics and Evaluation) for guests.
Every toastmasters meeting is split into 3 segments:
·                    The first segment is called “Prepared Speeches”, where members come prepared with a speech based on objectives given in the speech manual. This requires lots of research and preparation…. For some of us, writing a speech is as hard as writing  an entire constitution….

·                    The second segment is called “Impromptu Speeches”. You’ll be given a topic and will be asked to talk about it for 2 minutes. Though this segment may sound easy like passing a quick amendment to the constitution, it really tests your impromptu thinking and speaking skills.

·                    The third segment is called “Evaluations”. In this segment, the evaluators … point out the strengths and the scope for improvement of our speakers. Evaluators play the role of guards in the constitution… they help us to differentiate the right from the wrong and offer suggestions to improve.

The guards are headed by a Chief Guard. The Chief Guard for today’s meeting is

4.                  Introduce the General Evaluator (based on the meeting theme) and ask the General Evaluator to introduce his/her team:


  •  He works as a Project Manager, in a non-profit organization called Eureka Child Foundation, Aid India
  • Playing various sports, reading books, studying bottom-of-the-pyramid zones, window shopping on flipkart, and day dreaming.
  • What is your contribution to the country? He threw away his high paying IT job to serve our country, by associating himself with a non-profit organization
Please join me in welcoming the General Evaluator for today    TM Murali Krishnan

5.                  Regain control from General Evaluator. 
6.                  Inform the audience that you are starting the prepared speeches segment.
7.                  Prepared Speeches

Speaker #1
Project Details
Manual:  CC
Project #:  #2
Project Title:  Organize your speech
Speech Title:  A complete day
Introduction of the speaker (based on the meeting theme)
1.                   She works as a Sr. Systems Engineer in Infosys
2.                   Her hobbies include sketching, listening to music, playing  video games, and recently, toastmastering
3.                   Contribution to the Country: Helping and anchoring educational sessions to improve the quality of education for the rural students
Before I call ____________ Radha _________to the stage, may I request the evaluator of the speech TM Srihari. to read the project objectives?

Remark (based on the speech): You took all of us to the hollywood movie “2012”!

Speaker #2
Project Details
Manual:  CC
Project #:  #4
Project Title:  How to say it?
Speech Title:  Enjoy Planning !
Introduction of the speaker (based on the meeting theme)
1.                   She works as a coach for McKinsey consultants
2.                   Reading articles related to communication and self development. Loves to watch kid's music and dance reality shows in TV
3.                   Contribution to the Country: She teaches the values of being a good human being , to her children

Before I call TM Kavitha to the stage, may I request the evaluator of the speech TM Pradeep Varman  to read the project objectives?

Remark (based on the speech): “If you don’t plan to succeed, you plan to fail… the story that you shared with us re-emphasizes that”

Speaker #3
Project Details
Manual: CC
Project #: 6
Project Title:  Vocal Variety
Speech Title: Conversation with Freedom Fighter
Introduction of the speaker (based on the meeting theme)
1.                   Works as a Systems Engineer in TCS
2.                   Reading books and playing football
3.                   Contribution to the Country: Member of Youth Red Cross (YRC) and a active member of Green Peace Revolution

Before I call ____________ Aravinth _________to the stage, may I request the evaluator of the speech TM Akshaya Mahalingam to read the project objectives?

Remark (based on the speech): Thank God … Gandhi wasn’t alive.

Speaker #4
TM Divya Iyer
Project Details
Manual: ACB (Story Telling)
Project #:  3
Project Title:  Moral of the Story
Speech Title:  ATM
Introduction of the speaker (based on the meeting theme)
1.                   Assistant Systems Engineer, at TCS
2.                   She is passionate about Reading, writing, travelling and public speaking
3.                   Contribution to the Country: “being born an Indian”. (Gandhi: My life is my message)

Before I call TM Divya Iyer to the stage, may I request the evaluator of the speech TM Dharma to read the project objectives?

Remark (based on the speech): When I see a long queue near ATM machines.. I used to complain about India’s population and non-functioning ATM machines… now, I know there is a Divya in the front of the queue.

8.                  Ask the timer if any of the speakers are disqualified due to time. Ask the audience to vote for the Best Prepared Speaker.

9.                  Introduce the Table Topics Master (based on the theme of the meeting):

  • He is a R&D engineer working for HCL Technologies in the field of medical devices
  • His interests include reading books, dancing, traveling, and photography
  • Contribution to the Country: is “He authored a paper which got published in a International conference. This paper showcases India’s technological advancements to other nations”
Please join me in welcoming the Table Topics Master for today TM Rajesh K

10.              Signal the Table Topics Master to end the session when the time limit is reached / exceeded.
11.              Regain control from Table Topics Master.
12.              Ask the timer if any of the speakers are disqualified due to time.  Announce eligibility. Ask the audience to vote for the Best Table Topics Speaker
13.              Invite the General Evaluator to conduct the evaluations segment
14.              Regain control from General Evaluator.
15.              Final remarks (try to end with a BANG). Not exceeding 1 minute.
Did you have a fantastic meeting today?! I thoroughly enjoyed this meeting. I want to end the meeting with a short poem…

“You’ve come here not by fate…
But because…
You want to be great…

You might’ve come here late
But I’m sure
You would’ve had something to take

In public speaking,
If you are blocked by a gate
Join us soon because
In CCC’s constitution
Creativity and Communication Culminate”

Over to the Presiding Officer...