Sunday, December 8, 2019

Compete with yourself - and be a winner !

I enrolled in a gym a few years back, with a goal of becoming fit and build stamina. During my first day at the gym, I was super excited to see many body builders training their muscles. They were all bulky and lifting heavy weights. I was so passionate to become like them... soon! I met a man, a Malayaleee, whom I thought was in his mid 30s. I had more reasons to envy him - he was super fit, looked like an athlete and had thick black hair on his head. I introduced myself to him and he responded by saying "Hi! I'm Jacob and I work for a logistics company". We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. I asked him "Are you married?!" He said "Yes! I'm married and I have two daughters". He continued "My elder daughter is doing her final year at SRM and my younger one is doing her 12th standard". I was shocked when I heard that. I immediately asked his age. He smiled and said "Saro! I'm 50 years old". I was awestruck. He laughed and said "Saro! I've been exercising regularly since I was a teenager. I even won some state level body builders competition when I was young. That's the secret of my youthfulness". 

Since I met Jacob, I thought I also wanted to be like him. I started competing with him. I told myself "Saro! If a 50 years old man can do it, why can't you?". I started doing whatever he did at the gym. I started lifting some heavy weights on the first week itself. My trainer warned me that it is not wise to lift heavy weights too soon. But, I ignored the warnings from my trainer. In a few days, I sprained my elbow and I couldn't go to gym for more than two weeks. During those two weeks, I wasn't even able to lift a computer mouse, let alone any heavy weights. I had set a high bar for myself, and was pushing myself too hard. 

Instead of competing with Jacob, I should've kept him as my role model and a source of inspiration. That would've helped me to slowly make progress towards my goals. This experience taught me a very valuable lesson - "In life I shouldn't be competing with others - but with myself". Since that time, I changed my goal at the gym. I told myself "Saro! Every visit to the gym, should take you one step closer to your goal of becoming fit. You don't have to beat anyone's record. All that you've to break, is your own record from yesterday". So, I started taking one step at a time and gradually increased the weights. While I admired other body builders, I tried not to treat them as my competitors. I tried to have them as my role models. With continuous practice, today, I can lift heavy weights with ease. 

Dear friends, treat your life as a one man race. All that you've to do, is just outpace your previous performance. All that you've to do, is just break your own past record. All that you've to do, is just keep raising the bar for yourself, one step at a time. When you do that, you're surely going to be a winner. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Pathways - Negotiate the best outcome - Getting to "Yes"

Pathways - Negotiate the best outcome - Getting to "Yes" (Dynamic Leadership Path / Level 3 / Project 1)

“I have been working in this organization for 4 years and I am still not promoted to the next level. Ram has the same experience like me. Anitha has the same experience like me. All of them are promoted. But, I am not. It is very demotivating for me to do my job”. My Group Project Manager who was sitting in front of me smiled and said “Saro! You’ll get promoted at the right time”. I asked him immediately “Give me a timeline”. He said “I cannot give you a timeline”. I immediately got up from my chair, walked away from the discussion and the next day, I submitted my resignation papers.

Good morning Toastmasters and Guests,

That’s how I negotiated for a promotion, with my Group Project Manager, way back in the year 2002. And obviously that was a disaster. How many of you have had an experience like this in your career?

Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 percent of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15 percent is due to technical knowledge. Negotiation is a critical skill that all of us must have to become successful in life. Due to the absence of  negotiation skills,

  1. I used to always look at any problem only from my viewpoint, instead of trying to look at it from the other's viewpoint. For ex., I would say “I am working really hard and you need to reward me for that”. 
  2. During the negotiation process, my brain will be actively thinking how I can shoot down the other person, instead of trying to focus on the conversation. For ex., I would say things like “You guys don’t understand the value that I’m adding to the business. My hardwork and loyalty is of no use here”. 
  3. I’ll always take a fight or flight approach. For ex., I would say “I’ll quit my job if you don’t give me the promotion” 

I read a number of books on negotiation style. I learned that there are three techniques that successful people use in their negotiation. They,

  1. Seek facts
  2. Ask questions
  3. Bake positivity

Years passed. I again landed up in a situation where I had to negotiate for a salary rise. I started my conversation on a positive tone, with my VP of Engineering, Dave. Dave “I love my job, I love my team and I love this organization. If there is one thing that is bothering me today, it is my salary. It not competitive and it does not enable me to deliver my best. I would like to build a long career here and hence I’m requesting for a salary rise”. Dave immediately said, “Saro! I’m surprised to hear that you aren’t motivated. You are already paid on par with the industry”.

I smiled and told Dave “Dave… I bench-marked my salary with some of my peers in the industry who are doing similar work and I’m paid 30% less than what the industry pays for someone with my experience”.

Dave immediately reacted “I don’t think so”. Dave being a smart negotiator, asked me a question, “Why should I give you a hike now, out of the regular cycle. It’s absolutely impossible”. I told him

  1. “Dave... I have tested and reported 250 defects in the software, improving the quality of software by 25%. This helped us to win a major deal from a large service provider in Europe. 
  2. I have automated testing and eliminated manual work, bringing $100K savings year on year to the organization. 
  3. I’ve been consistently ranked high in my performance reviews. It is easy for me to walk away and find another job with a 30% pay hike. But, like I said before… I love my job, I love my team and I love this organization.
  4. Moreover, I’ve signed up for a part time MBA program and I need some extra cash to pay for my tuition fees. That’s why I have come to you now”. 

Dave thought for a moment and asked me to send some of this information in writing via email. He said “Saro! I’ll try my best. But, I can’t promise you anything now”. I asked him “Dave… when can I get an update from you on this?”. He said, “Give me two weeks time and I’ll get back to you”. In a week, I got a call from Dave “Saro! Can you come to my cabin”. When I walked to his cabin, Dave handed over a letter to me. I thought, it is going to be my termination letter. When I opened the cover, I was positively surprised - “I got a 20% pay hike”. Dave said “Saro! We value your contributions to the organization and we want you to continue to deliver your best”. I was happy to receive a pay hike.

Friends… all successful people are good at negotiation. If you want to be successful, you should be good at negotiation too. In your corporate career, you can negotiate many things such as a project change, salary hike or getting funding for an idea. In Toastmasters, our VP Education can negotiate to make members sign up for a role. Our VP Membership can negotiate to convert a guest into a member. Negotiation can help TM Selvan too… when he deals with his wife. Sir… next time when you are negotiating with your wife… try these 3 things seek facts, ask questions and bake positivity. Will you?

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Pathways - Introduction to Toastmasters Mentoring - Step Out to Step Up

Pathways - Introduction to Toastmasters Mentoring  - Step Out to Step Up (Dynamic Leadership Path / Level 2 / Project 2)


If playing a role at the club meeting is like swimming in a pond; stepping out of the club, is like swimming in the ocean, and our mentors in Toastmasters are our oxygen tanks, who help us to sail through. 

In my speech today, I’m going to talk about how I got pulled out from the pond to the ocean by my mentor, DTM Lalitha Giridhar. 

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and Guests,

I joined Toastmasters in the year 2006. But, up until the year 2009, I was just sticking to the pond. But, I never Stepped Out of the walls of the club and always operated in my comfort zone, until I received that call… in the year 2010.

1st Phone Call

It was a call from my mentor DTM Lalitha Giridhar, who was then an Area Governor. 

She said “Saro! I’ve a friend who is hospitalised. Unfortunately, there is no one to take care of her. I’ve to be in the hospital for the next 2 weeks, to help her out. Coincidentally, our Area Contests is coming up in 2 weeks. As an Area Director, I’m responsible for organising it. Since I’m not going to be available, would you be able to organize it as a Contest Chairman”. 

I told her “Lalitha! I have not organised any events in the past. I don’t even know what to do for an Area Contest.”. Lalitha in her usual tone said “Don’t worry Kanna. I’ll support you over the phone. I’ll email you all the templates and checklists. I know you’ll do a great show”. 

With some hesitancy, I signed up for the role. But, when I got into it, I really enjoyed the experience of forming a team, planning for various tasks, getting props like certificates/trophies, promoting the contest to the members/guests and last but not the least… putting together a great contest. Signing up for the Contest Chairman role, instilled the confidence in me that I can also work with a team … and influence people without a formal authority. That was the first ever role that I played outside of the club.

2nd Phone Call

Months moved on. It was the year 2011, right after I finished my Presidential term. I didn’t know what to do next. 

One fine afternoon, Lalitha called me and asked “Hey Saro! We are starting a new Toastmasters club in Amazon. Would you be able to mentor the club? The club meets on Thursdays in the evenings”. Until that time all of my Toastmasters activities were confined only to the weekends. So, I was a little hesitant to take up the role. 

I told her “Lalitha! I’m not sure if I would be able to take time off from the work every week. It will be hard Lalitha…”. 

Lalitha, without giving me any additional time interrupted my conversation and said “Don’t worry Saro. I have identified 2 mentors and 2 sponsors for the club. You don’t have to go there every week. The 4 of you can take turns. All that you’ve to do is visit the club once a month and support them”. 

I told my boss that I have to leave a little early from the office on Thursdays and he said “As far as you can take care of the deliverables, I don’t mind”. That’s how my club mentoring journey started.

After a couple of weeks, I got a call again from Lalitha … “Saro! I don’t know what magic you did. Amazon Toastmasters are amazed by your leadership. They are very impressed by your evaluations. They admire your coaching style”. 

Lalitha said “By the way… Saro! The other 3 idiots who signed up for mentoring the club, they dropped out. Can you please go there every week?”. Hesitantly, I said “Yes!” to her…. With an urge to help my poor mentor. That coaching experience enabled me to learn how to motivate a group of people to deliver their best.  


Dear Toastmasters and Guests,

With all of the skills that I developed by stepping out of the club, 

  • I was able to able to work with large teams at work place,
  • I was able to keep them motivated, 
  • I was able to influence them, get things done and produce superior results 

As a result, from just a Technical Marketing Engineer in 2009, I grew up in career to be the Delivery Head in a Fortune 15 company, managing a team of 300 employees… in 2015.

  • Like a sculptor who discovers the statue hidden in a stone …
  • Like an alchemist who transforms soil into gold … 
  • Mentors help you to form, reform and transform
  • Mentors help you to step out of your comfort zone, standout from the crowd and step up in life.

I’ve stepped out… and stepped up… how about you TMOD?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Pathways - Understanding your Communication Style - It's renewal time

Pathways - Understanding your Communication Style - It's renewal time (Dynamic Leadership Path / Level 2 / Project 2)

March 31st is the last date for renewing your Membership dues in Toastmasters. I know our VP Membership Annamalai is trying very hard to get the dues from us.  I’ve been a VP Membership multiple times in the past. Friends… trust me… it is easy to propose to a girl and make her your lover. But, it is very hard to persuade members to renew their membership. 

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and Guests, 

In my speech today, I am going to talk about my experiments with the different communication styles during my VP Membership roles.

When I was a novice VP Membership, I tried the 3Bs… 

Begging: Sir… pls renew Sir… Mme… pls renew Mme” 
Bullying: Nikhil… How many times should I tell you that you’ve to renew in time. If you don’t renew now, I’ll not allow you to enter this club again. 
Borrowing: Rahul… if you don’t have money now… no problem… you can borrow it from me… and pay me back later

But, none of the 3Bs helped me to move the needle.  Then, I started experimenting with the different styles of communication.

At first, I tried the Initiating Communication style

Initiating communication style values interacting with others and sharing stories. For example, I would go to the stage and say, 

Imagine it is 24th Aug 2019… a bright sunny day… you are attending the Toastmasters International convention at Denver, Colorado…. the finals of the World Champion of Public Speaking Contest… the hall is filled with people… people are busy talking to each other … you can smell the coffee brewing … your name gets called on the stage… Contestant #1, Farhan Ahmed… Farhan Ahmed, Contestant #1… the crowd starts to cheer… Farhan… Farhan. All of a sudden, the Chief Judge walks to the stage and stops you from talking “Farhan… You are not eligible to contest. You haven’t paid your membership dues for this term”. Fellow members, if you don’t want to lose an amazing opportunity to participate in WCPS contest, pay your membership dues now

After listening to my pitch, members told me “Saro! What a nice tale!”. But, the tale didn’t make any sale.

Then, I tried the Supportive Communication style 

Using, supportive communication style, you can earn the audience’ trust by providing them with plenty of reassurance. For example, I tried this.. 

Hello team… I know you have been working hard to develop your communication and leadership skills. We, the club officers are here to serve you and support you. We’ll assure you that you get the value of the $45 that you are spending for Toastmasters.  I know some of you didn’t like the hot tea served after the meeting… and that too, during hot summer. After this renewal season, we promise to change the hot tea to butter milk or fresh juice. I trust that all of you will pay the renewal fees by this week

Members appreciated the trust, but, my dream of getting renewals on time, went bust. 

Later-on, I experimented with the Analytical Communication style

Analytical communication style uses facts and figures. So I made my sales pitch with statistics. 

Dear folks… only one in every 200 members who join Toastmasters achieve their Distinguished Toastmasters award. If you want to be such a rarest of the rare Toastmaster… pay your club membership fees now. Toastmasters’ average retention rate is just 55%. Who knows … the person sitting near to you, may not see you, after the renewal season. So, better renew your membership now, to replenish your commitment towards becoming a DTM

I was expecting some pats for the stats, but all that I got were brickbats. 

Finally, I decided to experiment with the Direct Communication style

Direct communication style helps you to get to the point very quickly. You don’t have to beat around the bush and you can be very specific. 

Folks… It’s renewal time again. There are 3 reasons why you should renew now:
You can continue to make uninterrupted progress in your communication and leadership journey
You would continue to get the unmatchable support from your mentors and club officers 
Most importantly, you’ll be able to represent our club in the World Champion of Public Speaking contests 

The renewal fees is $45 for 6 months. Will you pay the dues on time? Please help me to help you

To my surprise, dollars kept ringing and that made me singing. I managed to complete more than 80% of the renewals, in time. I discovered that “direct communication” is my real and authentic style. 

Dear Toastmasters, communication style is like the vehicle on the road, that takes you to your destination. You’ll have to pick the right vehicle for the right destination. You don’t need a sophisticated aircraft, if the place that you’ve reach, is the shop at the corner of your street. A bicycle would do. Similarly, use the right communication style with the right people, at the right time, to get the right results. I have discovered my communication style … have you? Mr. TMOD.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

10 tips for establishing a new Toastmasters club, the "proper" way

"Saro! We are trying our best to establish this club. However, it is becoming very hard to attract guests and even harder to convert them into members. What should we do?". This is the common question that I hear from sponsors and mentors, who are trying to charter a new club in the community.

I see a lot of budding and enthusiastic Toastmasters rolling up their sleeve to start a new club. However, they need to strategize a little bit for success.  To me, establishing a new club is like "farming" - you've to plough the soil, plant seeds, water the plant, remove weeds, apply fertilizer at the right time to get a good harvest. This blog post will share some tips for establishing a new Toastmasters Club.
  1. Start the meeting on time: Starting the meeting on-time is not only critical for new clubs, but also for established clubs. When you start the meeting on time, you are indirectly conveying to the members and guests that Toastmasters meeting is a serious business. Read "How to start and end club meetings on-time"? When you delay the start of the meeting and wait for members/guests to arrive, even the members/guests who are punctual this week would come late next week. It will result in a downward spiral. 
  2. Every role player should have a proper script, well rehearsed: Imagine a SAA going to the stage and starting the meeting with sweat all over his face, hands trembling, not knowing what to speak on the stage and to top it all, not speaking good English. This is what happens in most clubs. They say "First impression is the best impression". When a SAA starts the meeting like this, it sets a wrong tone for the entire meeting. Every role player should have a proper "script" in their hand (including the SAA). A "script in hand" means that the role player is prepared. It also gives the role player a lot of confidence to speak. I would also recommend the role player to rehears properly, before the meeting starts. Role player templates for ALL roles can be downloaded from Successful Clubs Templates/Worksheets.
  3. Get all the "props" ready for the new club, even before your first meeting. Here are some props that you should have for a high-quality meeting.
    1. Create booklets for Timer, AH Counter and Grammarian roles. Download from Successful Clubs Templates/Worksheets and print those spiral bound booklets  
    2. Get a Gavel for the club. You can buy them online for $20 (Rs. 1000 or less). When you submit the Application to Organize to Toastmasters International, they would send you a kit with manuals and a Gavel. Read Steps involved in Chartering a new club.
    3. Get a "standee" or a "banner" printed for the club, with the club's name and Toastmasters International logo. 
    4. Get printed ballots for the members/guests to fill the "Best speaker/evaluator/role player/TAG role player"
    5. Get some ribbons from Toastmasters International for giving to the "Best speaker/evaluator/role player/TAG role player". If you are cash strapped, print some certificates (without the Toastmasters logo) and hand them over to the "Best speaker/evaluator/role player/TAG role player", at the end of the meeting. 
    6. Pamphlets that give details regarding Toastmasters and regarding the club (benefits of joining the club, membership fee details etc.,). Search Google for "Toastmasters new members kit", you'll find a lot of samples. You can also reach out to your District for some brochures. 
    7. New Membership form - It is very important to have this document printed and available during "every club meeting". When a guest says "I'm interested to join this club", immediately ask them to fill this form and ask them to bring the cash/cheque next week (better yet, you can make them to do an instant money transfer via mobile apps like Paypal or PayTM).  
  4. Print an agenda for every meeting and hand it over to the members / guests. I know we want to "Go Green". These days, many Toastmasters who are not so organized / disciplined are covering themselves with the "Go Green" blanket. Some clubs use a board to write the meeting agenda - but, according to me, that should complement a printed agenda ... and not replace it. Having a printed agenda is very critical to show members/guests that "Toastmasters is serious business". If your agenda doesn't change much, you are indirectly conveying to them that this club is super organized and sticks to the plan. 
  5. Display signs to the meeting venue - Clearly display sign-boards or posters that help the guests to find the meeting location / venue. At times, Toastmasters meetings happen in buildings that have multiple floors or buildings with multiple meeting rooms. Display a poster near the building entrance which guides the guests to the meeting venue
  6. Identify "temporary" club officers from "day one" - In most clubs, I see that either the club sponsors or the Area directors, who run from pillar to post to get the meeting going. I can understand them doing it for the first meeting. However, they should start identifying club officers soon enough. At times, you may have to just appoint temporary club officers for critical roles such as President, VP Public Relations (VP PR) and VP Education. These officers can in-turn wear multiple hats, by taking over other roles such as VP Membership, Secretary, Treasurer, and SAA. Club Sponsors / Club Mentors / Area Directors can train / coach these members to effectively do their roles. When you get closer to chartering the new club, you can finalize ALL of the club officer roles and make them permanent role players. 
  7. Kick start the PR engine, which works non-stop: VP PR plays a very crucial role in bringing members/guests to the new club. He/She should find creative ways to bring guests to the club. Some new clubs have the habit of inviting educational speakers for their club meetings. However, ensure that the VP PR adequately promotes the educational session / speaker to entice members/guests to attend the club meeting. If you are not promoting the educational session / speaker in advance, you will not be able to reap the benefit of bringing the educational speaker to the club. 
  8. Conduct a high-quality meeting, every week - VP Education should conduct a "high quality" meeting every week. Do not conduct half-baked meetings. Ensure that you give the guests a flavor of the prepared speeches, table topics and speech evaluations. Do not skip any segment of the meeting. It is OK to conduct a 1 hour meeting - instead of a 2 hours meeting. However, it is important to cover all of the segments and give speaking opportunities to all of the members/guests. VP Education . Read "How to identify role players for your club meeting".  Ensure that you are picking a set of new + experienced people for playing roles, to increase the quality of the meeting. 
  9. All role players have to be "coached" - Ensure that every role player is coached in advance, before the meeting. More importantly, you'll have to coach role players like the Table Topicsmaster - who plays a critical role in retaining the current members and persuading the guests to become members. Read "How a Table Topics master can hurt your club membership". 
  10. Stay in touch with the guests - Create a whatsapp group and add guests (with their consent) Share a crisp summary of the meeting to members/guests who attended (or not-attended) the meeting. In addition, you can also circulate the agenda for the next week's meeting when it is ready. It is important that one of the club officers reach out to every guest who attended the previous week's meetings. It increases your guest to members conversion rate. In today's digital world, you can also drop a quick Whatsapp note to them... thanking them for attending this week's meeting and requesting them to attend the next week's meeting. 
Zig Ziglar, a famous author and motivational speaker says "You can achieve everything that you want in life, if you can help others achieve what they want". Establishing a new club provides a lot of leadership and inter-personal skills development opportunities to all of the Toastmasters involved (Club Mentors / Sponsors / Members / Area Directors etc.,). If you follow all of these tips, you'll be able to charter your club in less than 25 weeks time. The club should be able to develop roots and start sustaining on its own, there afterwards. Along the way, you would've also gone through a tremendous transformation. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Speech Crafting Checklist for International Speech Contests

Cracking the World Championship of Public Speaking (WCPS) Contest requires lots and lots of preparation, planning, practice and performance. During the contest season, our speakers scramble to find the "winning formula" to ace the International Speech Contests. The truth is "There is no winning formula". I always feel that the winning formula continuously changes or evolves, with time. We've quite a diverse set of speakers, who have won the WCPS contests in the last decade. If you find it difficult to come up with a speech topic for WCPS, you can look at the International Speech Contest Topics Selection Ideas or look at the past WCPS winning speeches. In this blog post, I've captured some techniques used by most WCPS champions to ace the WCPS contests.
  1. Tell Stories - They say "Facts Tell, Stories Sell". Telling stories is the most powerful technique to keep your audience engaged. Almost ALL world championship speeches include stories or incidents from the speaker's life. It is easier for a speaker to include the story of Barack Obama or Mahatma Gandhi. However, those stories are heard by people 1000s of times and they wouldn't be as engaging as your personal stories. Also, do not pick any stories from the Internet. Thanks to social media - in today's connected world, people get to read most popular Internet stories via Whatsapp forwards. So, it is highly recommended to include a personal story. A personal story would be "fresh" - most people in the audience wouldn't have heard your personal story. So, they would be curious to listen to you. A story well told has 3Cs - Characters, Conflicts and Climax. So, spend adequate time in your speech to describe the characters, the settings, the conflict and the climax. If you don't have a story, you don't have a speech.  
  2. Create a "foundational phrase" - The first time I heard this term "foundational phrase" was during Ovation 2011. Craig Valentine was one of our educational speakers and he shared with us a number of speaking tips. He told us about the importance of having a "foundational phrase" in our speeches. Foundational phrase is a crisp one line summary of the speech. It has typically less than 10 words and can be written in large fonts behind a business card (i.e., visiting card). For example, Dananjaya Hettiarachchi's "I see something in you",  Ed Tate's "One of those days", Ramona Smith's "Still standing" are good "catchy" foundational phrases. These phrases get used again and again during the 5 - 7 minutes speech and helps in reiterating your "core message" to the audience. 
  3. Add rhetorical devices - Rhetorical devices add more color to the speech. They help audience to visualize your thoughts. Rhetorical devices are also powerful tools for increasing the memorability of your speech. There are different rhetorical devices such as similes, metaphors, alliterations and triads. Once you are done writing your speech, see how / where you can add rhetorical devices in the speech, to maximize the impact. Read "Rhetorical Devices (Ideas & Examples" to learn more about rhetorical devices. 
  4. Add Quotes - Brendan Behan, an Irish poet once said "A quotation in a speech, article or book is like a rifle in the hands of an infantryman. It speaks with authority". Quotes would spice up your speech, and it can explain what 1000 words cannot. Do not try to fill your speech with quotes. Add one or two quotes maximum for a 5 - 7 minutes speech. It is best to add them either at the Introduction or at the Conclusion of your speech. You can find quotes for any topic at
  5. Include "conversations" in the speech - Having conversations and dialogues in your speech add variety to the speech. Conversations and dialogues also help you to recreate the incident / story from your life, thereby enabling the audience to visualize the incident/story, better. Having conversations in the speech also would help you to demonstrate some vocal variety. It is easy to bring-in some natural voice modulation during conversations than during third person narrations. For example, during a regular narration of an incident you would say "I scolded my friend nicely for taking my bike keys without asking me". You can recreate the incident through conversations. For example, you can say ... When my friend entered the house, I looked at him and shouted "How dare you take my bike keys without asking me? My friend looked at me and said "Sorry pal ! I wouldn't do it again". Refer to Vocal Variety - 4Ps of Voice for additional information on voice modulation. 
  6. Add Humor - Most people think, WCPS speeches are serious speeches. However, if you watch the past WCPS speeches, almost ALL the world champions include humor generously in their speeches. Adding humor to the speech, is like the icing on the cake. It increases the engagement and connect with the audience. However, it is not an easy task to add humor in the speech. Don't worry! There are some techniques available to inject humor into the speech script. You can find them at Humorous Speech Writing Techniques. Ensure that you are making the audience laugh out loud at least 3 or 4 times in your 5 - 7 minutes speech. Be a little cautious when adding humor to your script - stay away from common pitfalls such as the ones captured in the blogpost 11 mistakes to avoid in a Humorous Speech Contest.

International Speech Contests - What's your message?

“If you want to be a World Champion of Public Speaking, every speech of yours should be a world champion speech” said Dhananjay, District 82 winner of International Speech Contest. Isn't that true? You are not in the World Championship race, with a one trick pony approach. You are participating in the contest because you want to master the art of perfecting your speech. World Championship journey helps you to learn the art of perfecting your speech so that - your ordinary speech becomes an extraordinary speech, your simple speech becomes a star speech, your club class speech becomes a world class speech. The core of any World Championship speech is the "Message". This blogpost provides some tips about coming up with a message for your International Speech.

A few years back, I attended a workshop conducted by a fellow Toastmaster on "How to come up with topics for International Speech Contests". During the workshop the Toastmaster said, “If you are going to die tomorrow, what is that ONE message that you want to tell the world?” I thought it is an interesting tip. So, I noted it down immediately and used it in my next workshop. After the workshop, a 18 year old young Toastmaster came to me and said “Saro! Why are you talking so negatively? I’m still young and I don’t want to think about dying tomorrow… and I also don’t have any message to tell the world. What should I do?” That young Toastmaster added “I have not lost crores in business... I don’t have a mother or sister in wheel chair... and most of all, I haven’t gone through any alcohol rehabilitation". Now tell me, what should I talk about?

The moment you ask somebody to come up with a speech idea which has a message, they pick serious topics... like "Stop drinking alcohol", "Economic divide between the rich and poor", or "Why you should attend your club meetings regularly". Well, the last one was introduced to bring humor. Don't take it seriously.

You don't have to talk about serious subjects and make audience look for a kerchief when you finish your speech. I believe that if you can make the audience laugh and cry in the same speech, you've made the sale. The incidents need not be "larger than life" incidents. The incidents in your speech can be simple ones. However, the message that comes out of those examples should be powerful.

  1. Presiyan Vasilev, WCPS 2013 delivered a speech on “Reach out”. He told us how he wasted a lot of time pretending that he knew everything to fix a punctured tire. Finally, he was able to fix the tyre only by reaching out to a man in the nearby gas station. His message to the audience was to "Reach out" to people around them for help. 
  2. Dananjaya Hettiarachchi, WCPS 2014  gave a speech on the topic "I see something". He shared examples from his life where great mentors discovered his true potential and transformed his life. His message to the audience was "Discover your true potential".
  3. Ramona Smith, WCPS 2018 gave a speech on the topic “Still Standing”. She told us how she faced setbacks in life and how she got up, bounced back into action and achieved success. Her message to the audience was to bounce back and stand up, when something knocks you down in life. 
The good thing about International Speech Contests is, they don't give you a topic and force you to speak on that. They allow the participants to come up with their own speech topics. This provides a lot of flexibility to speakers, to pick any speech topic of their choice. Read: International Speech Contests - Topic Selection Ideas

When you are preparing for International Speech Contests, try to identify an interesting story or incident from your life, first. When you have the story ready, ask yourself... what message does the story bring out. Great speakers can do the opposite - you give them a topic or a message, and they can easily come up with a story or example to convey that message. However, for novice speakers, it is easier to come up with a story first and then look for the message.

A story without a message is like a car without wheels. It will not take you anywhere. If you are doubtful, deliver the story as a speech in front of your club members and ask them "What message do you infer from this story?" You would be surprised to hear their feedback. The same story can at times, convey more than one message. So, you'll have the option of picking the best message to share with the audience. Preferably, pick a message which most people in the audience can connect with or relate to. As a general practice, it is good to revise your script as you move from club to area to division to district to International - as the audience demographics change.

Mehmet Murat ildan, a famous author once said "There is no message valid for all times! Each message has a life span, sometimes a hundred years sometimes five thousand years, but ultimately the mission of each message ends! When you give people a message, you should know that even if your message is as bright as a sun, one day, like the sun, it will fade away!”. So, don't squeeze your brain and push yourself too hard to share a message that lasts forever. Look for a message which is relevant to share, today!.

[Also read: Speech Crafting Checklist for International Speech Contests]

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

World Championship Winning Speeches - Speech Title, Videos and Message

This blog post will serve as a quick index of various World Championship speeches. This compilation will help you to watch, observe and learn from the experts. I've captured the winning speech's Speech Title, Link to the Speech Video and the Message from the speaker.

(Also read: Tips for Contestants)

SpeakerSpeech Title (with link to Youtube Video)
Ed Tate
Never worry about bad times – eventually something good will happen

Darren LaCroix
Bounce back. When you fall, fall forward and you would’ve made some progress

Jim Key
It is never too late to pursue your dreams

Randy Harvey
Love people – not the material things. Love lasts for a life time.

Lance Miller
Do you validate (appreciate) others? When you appreciate others, you become important to them.

Presiyan Vasilev
Reach out to others when you need help – don’t pretend that you can solve it yourself
Dananjaya Hettiarachchi
There is something special in each one of us and great mentors help in finding that “special in you”
Mohammed Qahtani
How you can use words to make people believe, feel and to impact
Darren Tey
Handle inner bullies by acknowledging, standing up and  fighting against it. 
Manoj Vasudevan
Give more and take less in relationships for it to last longer
Ramona J Smith
When life knocks you down, stay in the ring, look for the lifeline and stand back up. 
Aaron Beverly
Acceptance of people, despite differences is not an unbelievable story 
Mike Carr
The victory is not in the results, victory is in the TRY (allow people to experiment and fail) 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Pathways - Understanding your Leadership Style - Confessions from the Coach

Pathways - Understanding your Leadership Style - Confessions from the Coach (Dynamic Leadership Path / Level 2 / Project 1)

Yesterday night, I told my wife, “Honey! I have to attend an early morning Toastmasters meeting tomorrow. Can you pls get my breakfast ready by 7 am? You can probably make some uppma or kichadi quickly in the morning”. My wife looked at me and said “These days you are very bureaucratic and authoritative. Let me decide what I should do for breakfast”.

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and guests,

Setting the stage

All along, I thought I was a “Servant Leaders” … but, when I took the “Understand your leadership style” questionnaire for this project, I realized… each one of us have multiple types of leadership styles burnt into our nerves, buried under our nerves and soaked in our blood.

At times, you are bureaucratic, at times you are democratic
At times, you are altruistic, at times you are authoritative
At times, you are affiliative, at times you are innovative
At times, you are a pace setter, at times you are a coach

We are all like the 8 legged spiders that walk on the 8 different leadership styles. However, unlike the spider, each one of us have a dominant leadership style… and to me, it is “Coaching”. I’m going to tell you a secret, today! Would you just keep it with you …

Club Mentoring Experience 

The year was 2010. I was appointed as a mentor for a brand new club. This was my first ever experience in mentoring a club. I thought I should make this club, one of the best clubs in District 82. So, I started visiting the club regularly week on week.

The SAA would say “Sir ! I forgot to bring the Gavel this week”. I told him “No worries. Let us use the white board duster instead of the gavel to start the meeting”. Next week came… but the SAA didn’t come. The following week, SAA said “Sir! The Gavel is lost. But, I’ve the whiteboard duster to open the meeting”. And the whiteboard duster became the perpetual gavel for the club.  I just accommodated them.

When they don’t start the meeting on time… I accommodated them.
When they don’t have a printed agenda …I accommodated them.
When they don’t prepare for their roles… I accommodated them.

I became a very accommodative mentor, and in-turn lowered the standards.

They asked “Saro! Can you please help with evaluations?”. I said “Oh! Sure”.

They asked “Saro! Can you please help with TT evaluation too?”. I said “Why not?”.

Eventually, they asked “Saro! GE is NOT IN today. Can you please play the GE role too?” I said “No problem”.

I started wearing multiple hats and drove the club myself at 100 mph, knowing that the wheels are punctured, gas is running out and windshield is cluttered with dust.

Weeks moved on, months moved on… slowly members also moved on…! At first, the guests started vanishing, then a few members started vanishing and eventually, the club officers also started vanishing. By the time I finished my term as a club mentor, I successfully converted a 20 members club into a 2 members club. I felt very ashamed.

Kartik’s Coaching Skills 

Then came Kartik Srinivasan, who took over the club as a Club Coach, the following year.

He called those 2 members for a meeting and told them “Look! I want this club to achieve the President’s Distinguished Club status, this year. My job is to help you and support you in that mission. Do I have your commitment?". They gave the commitment to the mission.

The first thing he did was… He made them to buy a Gavel and banner for the club.

The second thing he did was.. He made one of those 2 members as the Club President.

The third thing he did was … He jump started the club by guiding the Club President to conduct a demo meeting again in the organization and by recruiting new members

He set a very high bar for the club and its members.

  • When the meeting didn't start on time… He told them “You better start the meeting on time, otherwise, don’t expect me to attend this meeting next week”. 
  • When they didn't have a printed agenda… He told them “You better have a printed agenda next week, otherwise the meeting doesn’t start”.
  • Instead of doing the various roles himself, he trained the club members to do the roles effectively and made them to do the roles.

Kartik’s coaching helped the members to improve the quality of the meeting. Slowly the guests inflow increased. From 2 members they grew to 10 members. From 10 members, they grew to 17 members. Eventually, the club had 21 members in the roster, achieving 9 / 10 DCP points, becoming the President’s Distinguished Club during that year.


Dear Toastmasters and Guests, I learned 3 critical coaching skills from Kartik:

  1. Don’t be like a wheel that drives them, be like a GPS that guides them.
  2. Don’t give them the fish, just teach them how to fish
  3. Don’t lower the standards, for members to catch up. Increase the standards, to make them rise up.

Dear friends… don’t forget that this is a confession… Will you keep this as a secret? People in our community think that I'm a great coach and I don't want to spoil that reputation.

In Tamil, they say "You've to kill 1000 patients for you to become a half-doctor". I will tell you that you have to kill a few clubs for you to be become a half-DTM.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Rhetorical devices from "The Art of War" book

Rhetorical devices always add color to the speech. However, it is very hard to come up with the apt rhetorical devices (simile, metaphor etc.,) for conveying a thought. Recently, I read the book "The Art of War" and it had some interesting rhetorics. I've listed a few of them below:

  1. If you looked at the stars from inside a well, no more than a few stars would be visible to you. If you look from a hilltop, then you can see when they first appear and when they fade away. It's not that they're any brighter - but your setting changes what you see. Subjectivity is the inside of the well, impartiality is the top of the hill. When intelligence rides on subjectivity, it knows little; when it rides on impartiality, it knows a lot. 
  2. A rigid building may be solid, but under the stress of an earthquake, it may cause it to crumble. Whereas, a tree standing next to it can bend and flex to absorb the shock and therefore remains intact. 
  3. Those skilled in warfare move the enemy and are not moved by the enemy. 
  4. A victorious army is like a ton against an ounce. A defeated army is like an ounce against a ton. 
  5. A victorious army is like pent up waters released bursting through deep gorge.
  6. Those skilled in warfare manoeuvres are as endless as the heavens and earth, as inexhaustible as the rivers and the seas. Like the sun and the moon, they set and rise again. 
  7. An army that acts with full force is like a stone thrown at an egg
  8. An army's formation should be like water - adapts to the ground when flowing.
  9. An army advances like the wind, marches like the forest and invades like fire.
  10. During conflicts, balance can be a hinderance; Inequality is what helps put a quick end to the disorder. This is analogous to a sick person relying on medicine to get well. If the medicine and pathogens are of equal strength, what good would taking the medicine be?
(Also read: 10 Servant Leadership lessons from "The Art of War" Book)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Pathways - Project 4 - Tick Tick to Kick

I was 10 years old then. We were all watching a magic show, as a family. The magician pulled a lot of plastic straws one after the other from his mouth… I clapped my hands in excitement, jumped up and down. We were wowed by his trick.

(Also read: Pathways Ice Breaker - Who am I?)

Last week, I saw a video in Youtube. I saw a guy pulling out plastic straws from the mouth… but, this time I was not wowed… I was not excited… I was not jumping up and down. In fact, I was shocked … because the straw was pulled out from the mouth of a turtle… and it was profusely bleeding from the mouth… and moaning in pain.

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and Guests,

Plastic production has increased 20 fold since 1964. Despite the growing demand, only 5% of plastics are recycled effectively, while 40% end up in landfill and oceans. Much of the remainder is burned to generate energy.

According to a new Ellen MacArthur Foundation report, there will be more plastic in the ocean by 2050, than fish. The world's oceans are clogged with plastic debris - plastic spoons, plastic plates, plastic covers and fishing nets.

Every year, nearly 8 million metric tones of plastic pollution enter the oceans from the coastal countries. Thats equivalent of dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050.

In 2014, researchers from Gujarat did a post-mortem on the 1-ton carcass of a whale, which got washed away to the shore. They found four large plastic bags in the whale’s stomach. It appeared that the plastic had blocked the whale’s digestive system, which caused its death.

Why should you worry about it?  

You may think “Oh! Who cares if these species become extinct”. Wait a second… There are multiple ways in which plastics can creep from the oceans to the human food chain: The plastics in the ocean get disintegrated into smaller pieces over the times and they become what is called “micro-plastics”. Fishes mistake them for food and consume them,. Eventually, plastics fill their digestive system and they die. Or, a carelessly discarded plastic bag can break down in the sea, especially in warmer waters, and the process releases toxic chemicals that may be digested by fish. When these fishes end up in the human food chain, we get impacted too.

Whats the story in India? 

In 2017, Indians generated about 72 million tonnes of municipal solid waste per day, according to an ICRIER estimate. Out of this, about 10% was plastic. The problem was that India was mismanaging over 80% of its waste, while in the U.S. it was only 2%. We just throw plastics into regular trash bins or on the road.

What can we do about it? 

Tamilnadu Government has imposed a ban on using plastic items such as carry bags, plates, cups, flags, small sachets used in packaging water. Clock is already ticking and the ban will be imposed from the 1st of Jan 2019, to kick plastic out. However, the ban excludes using disposable plastic for packaging milk, curd, oil and medical utilities. So, there will be still some plastic around us… in our everyday life. How can we help the government and save our environment from plastics? I would like to share a 3 step segregation process that we follow at my home, to handle plastic:

Consolidate - We have a separate trash bin at home to put all the plastic waste - right from chocolate wrappers to empty oil cans to faulty mobile chargers, go in there.

Separate: Once every month, we identify plastic trash items that can be sold in the local waste paper mart and convert items such as water bottles, milk cover, broken mobile chargers into cash. We keep the rest of the plastic items such as thin plastic bags, chocolate wrappers, tooth brushes etc., at home. The moment someone buys your plastic waste, you can be rest-assured that it will be recycled. 

Facilitate safe disposal: We handover the plastic trash which cannot be sold - to the municipality conservation worker. He/she ensures that it is handled separately and sent for recycling. Most of the times, government uses such plastic waste for manufacturing cement or for laying roads.

(Also read: Pathways - Project 2 - E = M3R2)


All of us have a role to play in plastic waste management. Roz Savage, a famous ocean rower says “It is not right to manufacture billions of objects that are used for a matter of minutes and are then with us for centuries”. My request to all of you is to do CSF - Consolidate / Separate / Facilitate Safe Disposal of plastics, in addition to coming to CSF (Chennai Speakers Forum). We can’t wait… time is running out… to kick plastic out.