Monday, December 22, 2014

CC Project #5 - Body Language - Take me with you

Introduction – Longing to visit beach

“We are going to the beach!”… When my uncle said this, my excitement became uncontrollable. I haven’t been to beach before… though I have heard about it in radio and television. I always wanted to go to beach… but I was too small and I couldn’t go on my own. Someone has to take me with them. I was longing for that day when I can go to beach… and the day has come.

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and guests…

How many of you would love to go to beach? I was like you…

City of Birth

I was born in a city where there was no beach… in fact, the city was so dry that you could hardly see any water outside of your home. They used to bring water to our home in huge tankers and lorries. So, the thought of going to beach… and seeing large quantity of water in one place was simply unbelievable to me.

Kid’s excitement & getting ready to go

The moment my uncle said “We are going to the beach!”, not only me… but my uncle’s kids Priya & Gautham, also got very excited. They were literally jumping in joy. I wanted to jump too… but I was too small and I was afraid that I might fall down and break my crown.
I can see everyone running around in a hurry and getting ready to go. Priya, who was just 6 years old started packing all of her toys to play on the beach sand. My uncle’s son Gautham, who was 8 years old packed his Frisbee and Ball. My aunt made sure that I’m also ready to go. I was happy that someone took care of me.

Car Journey

We got ready, locked the door and squeezed into my uncle’s brand new Maruti car. Priya, Gautham and my aunt occupied the back seats. I was thrown into the front seat. I thought I will also sit along with them and play with them at the back seat. But, I didn’t know why they wanted me to sit alone in the front seat. The only company that I had was the bag full of toys near me.

We were listening to one of those Ilayaraja melodies. When it comes to music, nobody can beat Ilayaraja. How many of you love Ilayaraja music? I too love his music.
I wanted to see the road and Chennai traffic… however, I was too small that I could hardly see anything outside of the car. I was patiently sitting in the front seat, eagerly waiting to reach the beach.

Reaching Beach

After a short drive, Priya & Gautham screemed … “We’ve reached the beach”. I got very excited to see the beach for the first time in life. My uncle parked the car and all of us got down. My aunt carried me with her. Priya & Gautham were running fast on the beach sand. I wanted to run too. But, my aunt didn’t let me down. What can I do?

Beach Experience

Finally, my uncle selected a place for all of us to sit… facing the water rushing to the short. Priya & Gautham were playing with the sand by building castles and with all the toys that they brought from home. I was happy watching them play with the sand. I was sitting near my aunt on the sand. The cool breeze made me to feel cold. I started enjoying it.

Breaking the surprise

After playing for 30 minutes, Priya came to my aunt and asked her “Mom! I’m very thirsty. Give me something to drink”. My aunt lifted me from the sand and gave to Priya, for her to drink. Priya pierced a straw into my head… and emptied me in one full gulp. When she realized that I’m empty, she threw me on the sand again.  My uncle said “Kids! Let us pack and go. It is getting dark”. My aunt picked up all the toys and packed them up. I was eagerly waiting for her to carry me. But my aunt completely ignored me. They all stood up, dusted the sand on their legs and started walking towards the car. I shouted “Uncle… Aunt… Priya….Can you take me also with you… please… don’t leave me here”. But, they hardly could hear my voice. I started crying … but, it didn’t bother anyone.


Dear toastmasters… did it bother you? The next time you go to beach and see me there… will you please take me with you? TMOD…will you take me with you? 

CC Project #4 - How to say it - Make it theirs

“If an egg is broken by a force outside, life ends. If an egg is broken by the force inside, a new life begins”. During my Division Governorship in Toastmasters, I learned a number of leadership lessons. One of them was “to motivate members”. I thought I had mastered the art of motivation and I can motivate anybody to do anything. My self-confidence became overconfidence, when I thought I can even motivate an unhatched egg and make it fly.

Also read: CC4 - Good to Great (How to Say it)

Good morning Toastmasters and Guests,

Let me take you back to the year 2012… almost 6 months since Chennai Communicators Club sprouted in Velachery. It was a beautiful Sunday evening and the meeting was supposed to start at 3 pm. However, the time was already 3.15 pm and only a few members had come to the meeting. I was nervous and was walking back and forth on the corridor, like a hungry dog. None of the role players were present and 3 guests were already in the meeting hall. I am a man of punctuality and I always wanted to start the meeting at 3 pm … no matter what. But, we had only 3 or 4 members and it is absolutely impossible to run the show with those new members. This was the scene in Chennai Communicators club for nearly 6 months in a row.

I had tried all of my “usual techniques” in the first 6 months… I tried talking about the benefits of starting the meeting on time… I tried to write lengthy inspirational emails about punctuality… I tried commenting about late start time, whenever I played the role of a GE … I tried, I tried, I tried… until I became really tired.

One day, I lost my patience. I called the perpetual late attendees outside of the meeting hall and gave them a real bash. I said “Each week you give a fancy excuse for coming late. I’m coming all the way from Choolaimedu to Velachery for the last 6 months and I’ve never come late even once. If you are signing up for a role, you should be here 15 mins before the meeting. If you can’t come on time, don’t sign-up for a role. Do you think I don’t have any other work to do and I’m coming to CCC meetings just for time pass? With members like you… the quality of the meetings are getting affected. Either come on time or leave the club”. If somebody other than me had done this, I’m sure the club members would’ve deserted the club and left. However, I realized that the members had lot of respect for me. The average age of the Club was just 23 … literally college kids. I believe they might’ve seen me as a passionate professor in the college who wanted his students to learn & grow.
After this incident, I stopped attending CCC meetings a few weeks in a row. I told the club officers that I want to distance myself from the club. I unsubscribed from the club officers’ mailing list. I asked them to approach me only when there is a REAL NEED. I let them conduct the club officers’ executive committee meetings without my presence. I stayed away from the club for nearly a month.

One fine day, I gave a surprise visit to the club. I was at the venue by 2.45 pm. While I thought, I will give them a surprise, I was pleasantly surprised. All the members were at the venue ahead of time… the role players were preparing for their roles. When the clock struck 3, the meeting started … yes, on time. Because the role players were well prepared, the quality of the meeting was also very high. I learned from the club officers that they are starting the meetings regularly for the last 3 weeks in a row.
That is when I learned another technique to motivate members “Making it theirs”. When you make it theirs…they’ll take it to great heights. All along, I have been indirectly passing-on the message to everyone that “CCC is my baby”… so, members & officers didn’t get a sense of ownership.

Whenever I try to motivate & persuade them, they thought “If I don’t do it… Saro will find someone else to do it”. By distancing myself from the day-to-day affairs, I passed on the message that it is YOUR CLUB and YOU DECIDE ITS FATE. That technique worked… Our youngsters have REMARKABLE capability to achieve success. If you can bring the sense of ownership to them, they can even move mountains and walk over the seas. When you MAKE IT THEIRS, THEY’LL TAKE IT TO GREAT HEIGHTS.

Also read: CC4 - Rhetorical Devices (Ideas & Examples)

Fellow Toastmasters, this technique is not only for youngsters. It works well for others too… the next time your kid doesn’t do her homework, the next time your spouse  doesn’t keep the house clean, the next time your team mate doesn’t take work seriously… when you MAKE IT THEIRS, THEY’LL TAKE IT TO GREAT HEIGHTS.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Chennai Communicators Club Interview for 125th meeting newsletter

1.             On the 125th meeting of Chennai Communicators Club, travel your memory lane and ‘Reflect’ on the journey that CCC has gone through!! Which was possibly the best Excom team, accordingly to you who were the trend-setters? Some memorable events that you can share.

I have closely observed the growth of CCC over the last 2 years. From a flight that is just on the runway and trying to pick up speed with its jittery moments… today, CCC has successfully launched itself into the air and is at cruising altitudes. The pilots who have steered the ship - Divya Iyer/Dharma, Akshaya, Chandramouli and their team of co-pilots have done a spectacular job of ensuring that the flight continues to reach higher altitudes. Each Excom has brought in a new trend into the club. But the passion, discipline and dedication of the excom and members has never diminished.

2.            How diverse is community club? Community Club – Corporate Club – Which is better equipped to pose challenging opportunities for learning and club proceedings?

Community clubs are more diverse when compared to corporate clubs – since they are open to all.

Starting a community club is very difficult. However sustaining a community club is very easy. Starting a corporate club is very easy – however sustaining it is very difficult. Toastmasters program creates challenging experiences & situations for members to solve, thereby acquiring new communication/leadership skills. Every member who faces a challenging situation in Toastmasters has two options – (a) run away from it (b) face it with courage and transform. Both corporate and community clubs provide equal amount of challenging opportunities to its members. However, I see members of community clubs rising up more often to such challenges than corporate clubs.

3.            What motivates you to attend TMI sessions?

I joined Toastmasters in the year 2006. From someone who had the difficulty of thinking in Tamil, translating into English and then expressing thoughts… today, I am able to talk fluently in English.  The credit goes to the Toastmasters program and my mentors. I continue to attend Toastmasters sessions for 2 reasons:
·         I’ve got so much benefits from Toastmasters and I want to give it back to the community
·         Any Toastmasters meeting/event that I attend, helps me to acquire new skills and new ways of solving communication/leadership challenges. Toastmasters is a platform that brings “small, but continuous improvements” into your life.

4.               How to pick up a topic of common interest in a group and develop it?

Always pick topics that you know, topics that you love to talk about and topics that audience care. If you pick topics that are at the intersection of those 3 criteria – you’ll definitely be an admired / sought after person in any group. There is a famous ZigZiglar quote “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care”. So, when you are in a group always pick topics that the members in the group, care about. When you show genuine interest in listening to others’ views, the topic will automatically get developed into a productive discussion.

5.             Being a DTM has helped you in your professional life in what way?


I don’t want to mislead members by saying “If you get a DTM, you’ll be successful in your career”. I know of several DTMs who completed their communication / leadership journeys for the “sake of just getting the DTM title”. I doubt their professional success.

Honestly speaking, the journey/experiences/opportunities that were presented to me when I served as the Division Governor, helped me to learn a number of communication/leadership skills which in-turn helped me to establish a successful career. From just a Technical Marketing Engineer in May 2009, I become a Product Manager, then a Sr. Product Manager and finally, Director Technology in Jan 2013. I attribute my professional success to Toastmasters. What my MBA program couldn’t do to my career, Toastmasters program was able to do J

6.               Who is your ‘Role Model’ in Toastmasters? Why? How one should chose their ‘Role Model’?
I have several role models in Toastmasters – both seniors and juniors. Many of the current/past District/Division/Area Governors are my roles models. I have learned “what to do” & “what not to do” from each one of them.
Some of my role models include volunteers such as Sharma Duraisamy (Medleys), Thanigeash (CTM), Thiagarajan Sir (Medleys), and Ramakrishnan Sir (Medleys) who inspire me with their selfless service, dedication, and passion to serve fellow Toastmasters. They never ask “What is in it for me… if I do this for you?”
Choose role models who continue to inspire you and help you to scale to greater heights.

7.             What is one important thing that any new Toastmaster should look-up to TMI?

Thomas Alva Edison once said “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”. It is true in Toastmasters too. I encourage new Toastmasters to sign up for a variety of roles (both communication & leadership) at the club level. It will help you to transform into a great person. After all, I was like you … 8 years back. When I started my leadership journey at the club level as a Sergeant at Arms, I was a Sr. Development Engineer at Ericsson with 8 years of industry experience. There is never a perfect time to start your self-development journey. So, never hesitate to sign-up and never procrastinate to deliver.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Toastmaster of the day (TMOD) script - Chennai Articulator’s Club – Meeting #1

Chennai Articulator’s Club – Meeting #1 
Toastmaster of the Day Worksheet

Date: 10th April 2014
Word of the Day: beachhead
Theme: New Beginning

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.

70,000 babies are having their new beginnings in India, every day
Approximately 3 new clubs are having their new beginnings every day in Toastmasters International
Today, is the “new beginning” of Chennai Articulators Club. All of you are part of this historical meeting… and give a big round of applause for yourself.
“New beginning” is the theme of the day, today
The first Toastmasters club in Chennai was established in the year 2003. Starting Chennai Toastmasters Club, became the  beachhead for Toastmasters movement in Tamilnadu
Beachhead - an initial accomplishment that opens the way for further developments

3. Explain the flow of meeting and the 3 segments (Prepared speeches, Table Topics and Evaluation) for guests.

April marks the new beginning for the Financial Year 2015.
For any “New Beginning” to be successful, there should be 4 things: (1) plan/ preparation (2) execution with commitment and passion (3) ability to handle impromptu situations and (4) continuously fine tune the strategy based on feedback.
Prepared speeches – Provides an opportunity for members to plan & prepare their speeches
Table Topics – Provides teaches members how to handle impromptu situations
Evaluation – Provides members an opportunity to improve, through feedback from peers

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

1) Work at TCS Siruseri as a Systems Engineer.
2) Been with Toastmasters since March 2012
3) Internship with Duke of Edinburgh - It began his journey across Asia and India in discovering stories of social entrepreneurship.

Please join me in welcoming the General Evaluator for today TM Rahul Shankar

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

Speaker #1 TM Srinivasan
Project Details Manual: CC
Project #: 9
Project Title: Persuade with Power
Speech Title: Sometime for yourself
Introduction of the speaker (based on the meeting theme)
1) Tech trainer (Internal) for 12 years, DGM Training in S&N Hayakawa Enterprises Pvt. Ltd Chennai
2) Been with Toastmasters for the last 1 year
3) New Beginning: The day I started doing my Technical Training, and realized that it is my real "calling" from inside

Before I call TM Srinivasan to the stage, may I request the evaluator of the speech TM Vishnu to read the project objectives?

Speaker #2 TM Mahendra Varman
Project Details Manual: CC
Project #: 10
Project Title: Inspire your audience
Speech Title: Belief
Introduction of the speaker (based on the meeting theme)

1) Working in Real estate industry i.e building promotion and land promotion
2) With Toastmasters for 3 years and has already completed CC/CL
3) New Begginning : Serving as Conference Chairman Division M Conference

Before I call TM Mahendra Varman to the stage, may I request the evaluator of the speech TM Paul Baskar to read the project objectives?

Speaker #3 TM Nandith Durga
Project Details Manual: ACG – Entertaining Speaker
Project #: 3
Project Title: Make them laugh
Speech Title: That Night
Introduction of the speaker (based on the meeting theme)
1) CA in the Final stage
2) Has been an active member of TM from 2 years and has played club officer role in Vishakapatnam TM Club
3) New beginning: Life in Chennai
Before I call TM Nandith Durga to the stage, may I request the evaluator of the speech DTM Suganthi to read the project objectives?

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):

Working as Analyst IT Quality Assurance working with Verizon
Has been with Toastmasters for the last 2 years and has served several officer roles in the club
Memorable New Beginning: First day in my Job with my previous organization Alcatel lucent it was a start of a dream career in Telecom industry

Please join me in welcoming the Table Topics Master for today TM Christopher

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 TM Rahul Shankar to conduct the evaluations segment
14. Regain control from General Evaluator.
15. Final remarks (try to end with a BANG). Not exceeding 1 minute.

Today is a new beginning … with bells and whistles ringing
Today is a new beginning ... with speeches still lingering
Today is a new beginning… with members from all over Chennai joining
Today is a new beginning … for Chennai Articulators Club to start running

16. Return control to President TM Vishnu

Sunday, August 10, 2014

CC Speech #3: Get to the Point - One Step at a Time


“Studies show that it takes 3 weeks to develop a habit, 6 months for it to become a part of your life and just 1 week to give up”.  Every year people take New Year resolutions. Do you know how many stick to it? Only 1 in every 10 people stick to their new year resolutions.
Today, I’m going to share with you a technique which you can use to successfully achieve our goals… a technique that you can use to stick to your New Year resolutions… One Step at a time.

Reducing Weight Example

What do we do when we take New Year resolutions? Let us take for example, a simple resolution of losing your weight and staying fit. The moment we take a resolution like that … We set our alarm clock to ring at 4.30 a.m in the morning … We start with Yoga for 1 hour. Then you sign-up for a costly membership in a nearby gym. We go to gym for another 2 hours. You stop eating anything that an ordinary human being eats. You start taking only salad… or cut fruits for your meal. I’ve seen people carrying a huge tiffin carrier to work before their resolution… but they start to carry a small Tupperware box after taking resolution.

You’ll do this for a week and or may be a month and give up because it is practically unsustainable. Who in the world would find 2 hours every day for exercising – unless your full time job is to maintain your body like athletes. Who in the world can sacrifice their cravings to eat food like pizza, icecream and cakes? After the 2 weeks, you’ll start getting philosophical thoughts “Saro! What is the purpose of living in this world… Is it worth sacrificing your sleep … Is it worth sacrificing good food… At the end of the day, everyone is going to die… and may be, you’ll die faster… Is it all worth it?”.

When you try to climb up fast… you’ll give up fast.

Toastmasters Example

Let me give you another example which is near and dear to all of us… Toastmasters. I’ve seen people joining Toastmasters wanting to be become DTM in 2 years… or Toastmasters wanting to master communication skills in just a year. They’ll start attending meetings of 4 clubs a week. Whenever they see a flyer that says “educational sessions”… they’ll be there. They participate in all contests. You can see them all over the place. And all of a sudden, they vanish. They delete their Facebook account… They stop responding back to emails… and they don’t even pick up calls from Toastmasters.
When you try to climb up fast… you’ll give up fast.

Saro’s story to become a Vegetarian

I have gone through the same set of challenges whenever I want to develop a new habit. I had tried to give up non vegetarian food several times in the past… but, failed miserably because I was trying to take “Too many steps at a time”.

It was the year 2001. I was young, charming and good looking … then.  I got a chance to read the book “My experiments with Truth”, by Mahatma Gandhi. Immediately, I got inspired and wanted to become a pure vegetarian like Gandhi. However, I didn’t become a “pure vegetarian”, the next day. At first I stopped eating meat – I continued to have eggs & sea food. It went on for a year or so. Then I stopped eating eggs and sea food… but, I continued to have milk and other dairy products. Later, I stopped eating Pizzas, I stopped eating cake, I stopped eating curd and ice creams - I became a pure vegetarian (aka Vegan). It took me about 5 years to transition from a non-vegetarian to a pure-vegetarian. If I had tried to stop eating meat, eggs and Pizzas on day one, I would’ve soon given up my quest to become a Pure Vegetarian.

One step at a time… for results that last for a life time.

Fellow Toastmasters… Be it reducing your weight… be it starting your own business… be it getting a good girl friend or a boyfriend … Achieving your goal… or sticking to your new year resolutions… is like eating an orange. If you try to eat the entire orange in one go, you can’t… you may probably get choked to death. If you try to eat one slice at a time… you can finish eating it soon.

I encourage all of you to take … One step at a time… for results that last for a life time.

Also read:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Are shortcuts worth it?

Last week, I was driving with my family in the Padi area in Chennai. Songs of A.R. Rahman was playing on my car stereo. Padi area was relatively new to me. I had asked directions from a relative who asked me to come through the main road to reach his house. However, I thought I will use my (“so called”) intuitions and take one of the cross roads to get to my destination faster. I drove my car into one of those narrow streets which was just 15 feet wide. Half way into that street, I found a water tanker filling water on the black water tank erected in the street. People surrounded the tanker like bees in a bee hive. There was absolutely no space for me to overtake the water tanker. I thought I would take reverse and get to my destination through the main road. To my surprise, a few cars followed me into the street and were right behind me. My car was pretty much jammed in between, with water tanker on the front and with loads of trucks and cars behind me. I had to wait for nearly 15 mins for the water tanker to finish its job and leave the street. I had to pay a price for taking a short cut on that day. I reached my destination 30 minutes late.

Also read: 3Rs of a Successful Toastmaster

How many times, we try to take such shortcuts and get stuck in our life, career and even in Toastmasters. Sometime or the other, we end up paying the price for it. For example, all of us join Toastmasters with the intention to improve our self. However, after joining the movement, some of us get side tracked by awards and recognition. Some of us rush to complete our projects and do speeches just for the sake of doing them.

Let me share with you an interesting incident that happened, recently. An Area Governor called me on a Friday evening and said “Saro! I have a Toastmaster who has been with the movement for 2+ years. He has completed all the roles from the CL manual, except for playing the Contest Chairman role. Every time there is a contest, he signs-up to be a contestant and skips the opportunity to become a Contest Chairman. Even this time, he is a contestant in my Area contest. However, I want him to play the role of a Contest Chairman and get a CL credit for his role. Can I do that?” I first thanked her for reaching out to me for consultation. I told the Area Governor, “Mme! The role of a Contest Chairman is to form a team, coach the team members, take care of logistics, and make sure that every role player does their job well on the contest day. If you are a contestant, you cannot do any running around on the day of the contests. I personally feel that it is not appropriate to make someone play dual roles in a contest – that too heavy lifting roles such as Contestant & Contest Chairman. Moreover, TM rulebook doesn't allow a contestant to be a role player during the contests. So, there is a chance for someone in the crowd to challenge you on the day of the Area Contests”. The Area Governor was trying very hard to convince me that she wants him to complete his CL at the earliest, so that the club and the area can get a CL credit. I asked her "If he has been with Toastmasters for 2 years and still hasn't completed his CL...Why can't he wait for another 3 months to conduct a club level contest to get the Contest Chairman credit?" She finally accepted to take him off from the Contest Chairman role.

Also read: 5Ps of a successful speech contest

It is not just new Toastmasters who are trying to complete their CCs & CLs in a hurry. I have seen a few senior Toastmasters, who rush through their communication and leadership assignments to just add a DTM to their title. The “so called” DTMs continue to pace back ‘n forth on the stage thinking that they are “using the stage”. The “so called” DTMs cannot conduct a 30 minutes educational workshop, after which at least a handful of participants would stop-by to say “Sir! I liked your session”. The “so called” DTMs cannot inspire even 5 members with their speeches. What makes you really distinguished, the title or your actions? Recently, I read a news that “Mahatma Gandhi’s spectacles were bought for $1.8 million”. I was wow-struck when I heard that. DTM title is just a name tag… the value of the tag is decided by the person who wears it.
When leaders take shortcuts to achieve results, the results are not long lasting. It is like building an empire on top of a sand castle. The next time you take a short cut think twice – “Are short cuts really worth it?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

5Ps of a successful contest - Contest Chairman Checklist


  1. Arranging and coordinating with various role players - Chief Judge, Contest Master, Judges, Tally Counters, Timers, SAA, Contestants
  2. Briefing all of the role players
  3. Contact information for all role players (email & phone nos)
  4. Contacting all the role players before the day of the contest and letting them know about the exact timings


  1. Ballot Sheets / Judges Eligibility Criteria / Contestants Originality & Eligibility Forms / Contestants Biography / Timer Sheets / Tally Counter Forms / Notification of Winners forms
  2. Lectern
  3. Mike
  4. Timing Devices / Timing Cards
  5. Trophies
  6. Sign boards / Quiet Please boards
  7. Certificates
  8. Camera
  9. Snacks


  1. Contest Venue - Quiet Area 
  2. 1 or 2 rooms for Contestants Holding Area (Table Topics & Evaluation Contests), Briefing of Role Players, Briefing of Judges
  3. Snacks Area
  4. Reserved Seats for Contestants (front rows in the contest venue)
  5. Taking care of security procedure for members, guests and role players to enter the contest venue (applicable for corporate venues that require security clearance)


  1. Detailed execution plan capturing (what, when, who & the props needed)
  2. On-time contest start and contest end


  1. Publish dates in advance 
  2. Promote contests within your club and outside your club - publicity for contests during regular meetings, sending an article / event announcement to newspapers, posting flyers in Facebook pages, shooting emails to various groups, sticking flyers in corporate notice boards, in-person marketing and promotion during various events, sending articles related to contests to corporate newsletters, invite press and media etc.,
  3. Invite Area/Division/District officials & mentors/sponsors of the club
  4. Invite heads of various functions in corporate (for corporate clubs)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How to make self-development a habit?

This is a copy of the script that I used to deliver a workshop on "How to make Self-Development a habit?"


It was 5 o’clock in the morning. The alarm clock went off. “Should I wake up from the bed … or not?” This is the decision that I had to make every week on Friday mornings … for nearly 3 years in a row. However, every single time, I made the decision to wake up from bed… because, I had to attend a Toastmasters meeting on Friday mornings at 7 o’clock.

It was the year 2007. I was in USA then. Those were the days, when I was finding it difficult to speak in English. When someone asks me a simple question such as “Hey Saro! How was your weekend?” I’ll be frozen as if I was struck by lightning. I’ll smile… say “Good” and immediately walk away from that person.  I was afraid whether that person will ask me additional questions. I had about 10 years of working experience, then… but I still was a Software Engineer. I never grew beyond a Technical role, because of my poor communication skills.

Today, if someone asks me “How was your weekend?”… I’ll say “Wow… I had a fantastic time during the weekend… You know what… we went to a conference in Bangalore and had an amazing time there. I don’t even know how the two days went”. Today, I’m a Director Technology in a MNC. I got 3 promotions in the last 4 years. That transformation was made possible through my continuous self-development.

All of you know that I have been a very ACTIVE toastmaster for the last 7 years. How did I create time for writing my speeches? How did I learn to balance between family, work and Toastmasters? How did I make self-development a habit?

In this article, I’m going to share with you some techniques that I learned & followed to make Self-Development as a habit.

Let me define what Self-Development is. Self-Development isn’t just about just developing your communication skills. You may be having the goal of reducing weight and becoming fit; you may be having the goal of completing your PMP or Java Certification; you may be having a goal of doing part-time MBA – anything that you do to improve yourself … anything that you do to prepare yourself to perform things faster/better comes under self-development.

You might’ve heard about the story of the wood cutter who takes regular breaks to sharpen his saw. The wood cutter who sharpens the saw regularly will be able to cut more trees than the wood cutter who works hard, but doesn’t sharpen the saw. Self-development is improving yourself… making YOU a BETTER YOU!

This article describes 5 techniques that you can use to make Self-Development a Habit.

1. Make it URGENT

"I don't have the time to write my next speech!"

When you ask someone "It has been months since you gave a speech in our club meetings. What happened?" Immediately they’ll say “I don’t have time”.

Everyone on this planet has the same 24 hours in the day. The question is: What do you choose to do with yours? All of the self-help books tell the same thing and the chances are, you might've already tried some of those things and given up already!

Get up early in the morning
Maintain a to-do list
Time each and every activity
Review your time usage regularly
Yada ... Yada... Yada...

I want to challenge the toastmasters who say ... "I don't have time to attend the club meetings... or I don't have time to write a speech script". You have the time with you. You just have not PRIORITIZED toastmasters in your life. You just have not PRIORITIZED your need for becoming a better speaker. In your packed day-to-day life, if your dear ones get sick... you manage to find time to take them to a hospital; if a relative/friend drops-in to your home and spends an hour or two, you are able to engage them; if your vehicle or home appliance breaks down and needs a repair, you are able to find time to take it for service; if you get some illness and the doctor advices you to come for weekly check-ups, you manage to find time to go to hospital. How are you able to find time to do these activities?

The next time you say "I don't have time for doing this... or doing that", think whether you have really PRIORITIZED that activity in your life.

You may be interested in developing a daily exercise routine – however you would continue to postpone it until it becomes Important & Urgent. One fine day, your doctor is going to say “You’ve high cholesterol or you have high diabetes” and you will automatically get up early in the morning to do exercise.

To start with, allocate just 15 minutes every day to spend on self-development – may be reading books, doing a quick exercise, or reading newspaper. If make an activity URGENT, you’ll naturally find ways to schedule it in your day to day, life.

2. Change Small, Change Often

“Change Small, Change Often” says, Craig Valentine, the World Champion of Public Speaking.

What do we do when we set self-development as a goal? Let us take for example, a simple habit of exercising every day. The moment we want to develop a habit like exercising, we tend to overdo it. We’ll get up early at 4.30 in the morning to do Yoga. Then you’ll go to gym for another 2 hours. You’ll do this for a week and give up because it is practically unsustainable. Who in the world would find 2 hours every day for exercising – unless your full time job is to maintain your body like athletes.

In the year 2001, I read the book “My experiments with Truth”, by Mahatma Gandhi. Immediately, I got inspired and wanted to become a pure vegetarian like Gandhi. However, I didn’t become a “pure vegetarian”, the next day. At first I stopped eating meat – I continued to have eggs & sea food. It went on for a year or so. Then I stopped eating eggs and sea food… but, I continued to have milk and other dairy products. Later, I stopped eating Pizzas, I stopped eating cake, I stopped eating curd and ice creams - I became a pure vegetarian (aka Vegan). It took me about 5 years to transition from a non-vegetarian to a pure-vegetarian. If I had tried to stop eating meat, eggs and Pizzas on day one, I would’ve soon given up my quest to become a Pure Vegetarian.

Whatever you want to achieve in life, try to “change small, but change often”. This will help you to develop and sustain a new habit.

3. Make it Public

Whenever you want to develop a habit, make a public disclosure. It will help your environment and friends/family members to understand your goals. You won’t believe how much support you would get from them.

In the year 2005, I wanted to reduce my weight. I shared my New Year resolution with my wife. I told her that I want to go for a brisk walk every day in the morning. She religiously got up at 5.30 in the morning, woke me up for my morning walk and she again went back to sleep. I'm not sure if she did that to help me to achieve my goal or she wanted to sleep comfortably in the bed. The reminder system helped me to accomplish my goals and make self-development a habit.

Find out mechanisms to make a public disclosure of your habit, telling your family/friends, putting it as a backdrop in your monitor, pasting posters at home/workplace, writing blogs, updating your status message in Skype/Facebook etc.,

A good friend of mine introduced me to Toastmasters because I had told everyone that I wanted to improve my communication skills. Had I not made a public disclosure of my self-development needs, I wouldn’t have ended up in Toastmasters.

4. Substitute Bad Habits with Good ones

Most of us here are addicted to bad habits. It all would have started with just one bad habit. Take for example - you may be having a habit of "watching TV in the night". When you spend more time watching TV in the night, you’ll go to bed very late. You won't be able to get up early in the morning. You won't have time for a regular exercise. You'll start to gain more weight and become obese over a period of time. You’ll go to work late and since you’ve gone to office late, you may end staying late in the night to complete your work.

Having spent a lot of time at work, whatever little time you get over the weekends will be spent in relaxing - mostly by watching television, or movies. You will not find time to read good books. You'll start to assimilate hundreds of other bad habits.

I was no different from you folks until 7 years back. But, I found that people who lead a balanced life were able to excel in their career as well as on personal front. I decided to bring-in a change into my life.

The first thing that I did is to come home 1 hour early from work. Instead of spending 12 - 14 hours at work, I started to spend just 8 hours. I did a better time management during the day, assigned proper priority to tasks and avoided all the unwanted activities. This helped me to complete the work in time. Having come early from work, I wanted to spend that time usefully. Instead of dining outside, I started to prepare my food every day at home. I had more time left out after I was done with the cooking. So, I started to go to the fitness center. With a balanced diet and regular exercise, I became more fresh & active. I could do more things in less time. I realized that I had more time left out in a day.

For quite some time, I had a passion to do a management degree. I enrolled for a part time MBA program. My whole world changed after that. In my classes and during various networking events, I got opportunities to meet new people from different industries. But I found it hard to initiate or participate in conversations. I hardly had any topics in common, to discuss with them. I started to keep track of the current events, tech-industry, economy, and stock market. This gave me a wealth of knowledge to participate in any conversation with strangers.

Bringing a change into your life isn't very easy. Especially, the habits that were cultivated for a long time, take a long time to get rid-off. What happens when you go to the battle field with a wooden stick, and your enemy has a machine gun in hand? The mechanism that you use to bring in a change has to be much more powerful and persistent.

Stephen Covey, the author of the famous book "Seven habits of highly effective people" says "substituting a bad habit with a good habit" is an easy way to get rid of bad habits.

Many a times New Year Resolutions fail because “People try to desperately RUN AWAY from their bad behaviors”. Instead of RUNNING AWAY from something, focus on RUNNING TOWARDS something. The only time RUNNING AWAY FROM SOMETHING works is when you are chased by a hungry dog.

When you try hard to UNLEARN your bad habits, you focus too much on the BAD than focusing on the GOOD. For example, when delivering a speech, the more you focus on getting rid of nervousness, the more nervous you become. Instead, you should focus on how you would feel if you deliver the speech successfully.

Substitute your bad habits with good ones.


Fellow toastmasters, life is too short to be wasted in doing things that are mundane. The story that you want to tell the word tomorrow, is getting created today. If you continue to do what you do, you’ll continue to get what you get. You cannot be an extraordinary person by just doing ordinary things like everyone else.

I'm sure you have a passion to follow in your life - may be becoming a better speaker, doing exercise, or starting your own company. From President Obama ... to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam... all of them have the same 24 hours. If you want your dreams to come true, make self-development a habit.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

10 things that I liked about Reveberation 2013, District 82 Conference

Reverberation 2013… it was really a BIG BANG. When I ponder about Reverberation 2013, one thing that comes to my mind is the passion and dedication of the volunteers from Bangalore who had put together a fantabulous show.
District conferences always provide an excellent opportunity for Toastmasters from various clubs and divisions to connect, communicate and cross-pollinate. Reverberation 2013 wasn’t an exception. I felt as if I had gone to a totally new world for 2 days – a world filled with fun, education and togetherness.
Here is the list of top 10 things that I liked the most about Reverberation 2013:
  1. TM Sujith showed up at the Bangalore railway station at 4.30 am in the morning with a charming smile on his face to pickup the delegates. I was amazed by his dedication and passion to serve fellow Toastmasters. 
  2. The proximity of the conference venue to the hotels. We paid just Rs. 35 to catch an auto to reach the conference venue from the hotel. The hotels were neat/clean and within the budget.
  3. The "grand" inaugural / opening ceremony. The simplicity, diversity and the elegance was unmatchable. Especially, I liked the Panchatantra group’s performance, very much. 
  4. The educational value – many Toastmasters come to the conference to gain knowledge. If attending club meetings is like taking a bus to reach your destination, attending a conference is like taking a jet to reach your destination. In Reverberation 2013, the organizers maximized the educational value by arranging parallel educational sessions and by lining up high profile speakers/trainers.
  5. Smooth check-in procedure at the Registration desk in the conference venue. One notable thing is that volunteers were there at the registration desk almost throughout the day on both the days
  6. Quality of the food was unbeatable. In addition, there was a wide array of food choices for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. 
  7. The space for networking around the meeting halls (there was enough place for people to hang around in groups and take pictures/chat) - TATA Auditorium venue was ideal for networking.
  8. Being the Chief Judge, I want to highlight the remarkable job done by Sunny & his team for the spectacular coordination and meticulous planning in the last one month for the contests. During the contests, whenever I reached out to Pearl Fernandes, Natasha, Mala Mary Martina, Kavya or Ajay for help... they offered help immediately. 
  9. The quality of our contestants has exponentially grown this year - both humorous and evaluations contests. The contestants gave a tough fight and made the job very tough for the judges 
  10. Last, but not the least… a very young team managed to pull off a huge conference like Reverberations 2013. Simply... unbelievable. This is a DREAM conference team.

I will cherish the memories of Reverberations 2013, forever.

7 ways to prepare for Table Topics Contests

"It usually takes me more than 3 weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech" said Mark Twain, the famous author. It is really true. Fluency in English alone is not enough for you to become a great impromptu speaker. When you get a topic during contests and if you don’t know what to speak, your brain will start spinning rigorously like an empty grinder... making a lot of noise without any useful output. You should feed the grinder with something to reduce the noise and to get useful output. How do you go about feeding the empty grinder? This article outlines some simple techniques that you can use to prepare for Table Topics contests.

(Also read: 9 ways to prepare for Table Topics & Impromptu Speaking)

1) Create a personal stories catalog – I’ve seen many people getting into the habit of writing blogs to document their life events. If you don't like to write and share your thoughts publicly through blogs, you can even begin the habit of writing diary. This will also help you to document your important moments & experiences which will eventually help you in creating stories from your own personal life. Diary will become your personal stories catalog.

2) Prepare for standard topics - Most of the table topics are around common subjects such as success, failure, most memorable event, greatest achievement, most happiest moment, leadership, hardwork, friendship, forgiving, happiness, sadness, goals, vacation, professional life, career, family, kids, education, determination. If you can prepare a short paragraph with some personal anecdotes on each of these subjects, you can easily talk about them in your speeches.

3) Read newspapers - Reading newspapers will help you to stay current with the day to day events that are happening in the country/world. Staying on top of current events will help you to relate to the audience and connect with them quickly. For ex., if you get a topic such as "Value of life in India", you can immediately relate back to the recent fire accidents happening in trains/buses because of not following norms.

4) Offline practice using Quotes – Most of the times, contest topics are quotes. So, take a printout of some 50 or 100 quotes from Internet. Cut the paper into smaller chits - each chit with one quote. Fold them, shuffle them and put them in a bowl. Now, take 1 chit from the bowl, open it and start talking about it for 2 minutes. Record what you speak. Then, play back and see how you could've handled the topic better. Be your own evaluator and write your "strengths" & "areas for improvement". Redo speaking on the same topic again, if you want to. Record it again and listen to it. Whenever you find time during the day or weekend, do this exercise. I have done this during my early days of Toastmastering and it has helped me to think instantly and talk on any subject. You can even play Table Topics ( games with your friends.

5) Treat it like a “mini” speech: Table Topics should also have a clear introduction, body and a memorable conclusion. You can use all the techniques that you normally use in the prepared speech for handling Table Topics – eye contact, vocal variety, structured thoughts, transitions, stories etc., Always end your Table Topic with a memorable or strong conclusion.

6) Tell a Story, don’t give a gyan – If you are a novice Table Topics speaker, you’ll start giving a gyan about the topic. For ex., if you get a topic such as “You booze, You cruise, You loose”… you can go on & on to talk about the effects of drinking liquor and driving. On the contrary, you can tell a story (even a fictions one) to convey the message. Personal incidents and stories help you to sustain the flow during Table Topics.

7) Volunteer for Table Topics - You cannot learn swimming by standing on the shore - you'll have to jump into the water to learn swimming. Similarly, you can sharpen your impromptu speaking skill by constantly participating in Table Topics sessions. Whenever the Table Topics master asks for a "Volunteer" to speak, raise your hand immediately without a second thought.
If you practice the suggestions given above, Table Topics contest will no more be a Terror Topics contest for you. Happy contesting.

Beyond the Speech Contest Rule Book

Hurrah! It is contest season, again. This is the time of the year when clubs, divisions and districts prepare their members to organize speech contests. Speech Contest rule book gives a broad framework to prepare for contests. This article provides some information which is not covered by the Speech Contest rule book and may help Toastmasters who are planning to organize contests.

Also read: 10 things that you should not do in Speech Contests

1. There is nothing Taboo

Sex, Religion & Politics are considered as Taboo in most of our clubs in District 82. However, some judges do not realize that they aren’t considered as Taboo in the context of speech contests. Technically, you cannot disqualify a person for touching upon such Taboo topics during the contest speech. But, you can definitely reduce the points for the speaker – if you think that the speaker used vulgar content which was not appropriate to the audience. Judging form has a section called “Appropriateness to Speech Purpose & Audience”. You can allocate lower scores to the speaker under that category.

2. Originality of the script

Speech contest rulebook says that the speeches should be substantially original – which means 25% or less of the speech can be from external sources. How do you go about calculating whether the speech script has exactly 25% or less from external sources? If the speaker has the written speech script handy, you can calculate it easily. In the absence of a written speech script, you can go by the time duration of the speech that is from external sources. As always, judges can jointly decide whether the speaker was within the 25% limit or not and give an opportunity to the speaker to express/substantiate his views.

3. Too much of drama isn’t great delivery

“Will the content of the speech appeal to a general audience? Will the speech delivery make ordinary people to enjoy the speaker’s performance”? When you carefully watch the videos of World Champion of Public Speaking contests, you’ll realize that the winning speeches would make an impact NOT only on Toastmasters but also on the average Joe. As judges, we shouldn’t get carried over when speeches are overdramatic and shouldn’t confuse them with great delivery.

4. 30 seconds grace time isn’t for audio or light failure

There is a common perception that speakers should be given an extra 30 seconds during a power failure. However, the speech contest rule book says “In the event of technical failure of the signal or timing equipment, a speaker is allowed 30 seconds extra overtime before being disqualified”. A humorous contest speaker even made fun of this statement, “if there is a timing equipment failure, how would you time the extra 30 seconds”. Well, the extra 30 seconds is used for switching from one timing device to another. The contest organizers are expected to give two timing devices (such as stopwatch) to the timers and they are available with the timers, handy.

Also read: 11 mistakes to avoid in Humorous Speech Contests

If you want to pick the right contestant as the winner, you need to have the right judges. Right judges are the ones who are trained and knowledgeable on the Speech Contest Judging rules. Together, let us pick the BEST contestant as winner, to represent District 82.