Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Master Of Ceremony @ Toastmasters

Couple of weeks back, I had to shoulder the responsibility of being an MC( before you jump the gun, let me clarify at least for the sake of those dirty minds, its Master Of Ceremony and not M****C***) during one of Toast Master special sessions, featuring a table-topic-contest, consisting of 9 participants. I was the first one to speak and it was probably the first time, I was doing anything of this sort. Here is a short-story (cooked up of-course) which I used for my introduction about our Club and ToastMaster as a whole.

Good afternoon everybody. After having a not-so-satisfying lunch@ our cafeteria, you might be wondering where you have landed up. Another post-lunch session, oh my god, I just hate post-lunch meetings. Don’t worry; it’s a meeting for sure, but with a difference.  Let me tell you a small story to lighten up your mood(or belly, up to you whichever you want to pick).

Couple of months back, I happened to come across a gentleman, while shopping in Forum. He looked very impressive on first sight, well dressed up in a suit and a matching tie. I couldn’t resist myself and said hello to him and asked, hey what is your name? The gentleman responded “Murali”. He asked the same from me and we had a formal handshake. After the ice-breaking, He asked me “what do you do??’. I answered, with a touch of guilt and remorse, as if I am in the worst profession one can be, “I am a software engineer working for a Fortune 500 company”. I asked him “what do you do??’ Murali responded “By profession, I am a builder, by choice a body-builder, by passion a people–builder and by default a good human being”. I was like “Wow … What a nice introduction!!” I was awestruck, I had heard many introductions in my life, but nothing came close to what I just heard. For a moment, I thought I had just seen a monster. I knew, this gentleman was special, he was different.  I gathered my senses and had the gumption to ask him “Murali, Would you mind having a cup of coffee with me??” He said, Yes sure. Where shall we go?? We finalized on CafĂ© Coffee Day (commonly referred as CCD amongst CCD lovers/ frequenters). For me this was going to be the first time, I was heading to a CCD. I had heard from my friends that a coffee in CCD, as people love to call it, may very well cost upwards of three figures. So as we are making our way towards a nearby CCD, I secretly checked my wallet, how much money I have. You know these broke software professionals, who carry nothing but peanuts, barely enough for survival, but a plethora of virtual money (read credit cards). I also belong to the same class. When I was sure, I had enough money, I heaved a sigh of relief.

So we went into a nearby CCD, ordered coffee and started with our conversation. I asked him, what do you do apart from my work? He said, I am part of Toastmaster, a non-profit organization. For a moment I thought Toast Master,it must have something to do with bread and toast and that too as an organization name, he must be joking. Ever since Steve Jobs named Apple Computers, this was the funniest name that I had heard. So I got curious, as to what this Toast Master is all about. He talked about toastmasters for about half an hour and said plenty of things. I didn’t catch many, just like we do when we are forced to attend a technical presentation. But I caught the work Public-Speaking!! I asked him, can you tell me “How to be part of Toast Master”. The gentleman asked me “what company you work for??” Remember, I had not revealed my ORG name. I said “Oracle”. The gentleman got terribly excited and said “You have a ToastMaster club right in your office, go and talk to this fellow..He started searching his wallet for something, not sure what. He is a very good friend of mine, he will be able to guide you. In case it doesn’t, please give me a call @ my mobile and he handed me over his business card.

But I still hadn’t got my answers. I wanted to know, from where he picked up such a catchy one-liner. He said, in TM sessions, we also have an impromptu-speaking section, where you will be given a topic and you have to come to the podium and speak about it for 2 minutes. And believe it or not, he claimed to have discovered this catchy introduction during one of the table-topic speeches. I got my answer. I quickly finished my coffee and said bye to him. 

Dear president, fellow toastmasters and guests,

A week after this incident happened, I joined this organization called Toast Master Internation(TMI) and here I am in front of you to talk about Toast Master and what a table-topic is all about:-)

PS: Although it was a cooked up story and no such person Murali exists in reality, it was liked by most, if not all, of members and guests present at the contest. Some of them even called me up afterwards asking about Murali and his identity and whereabouts :-)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Humourous Speech @ Toastmasters

Somebody famously said "Perception is Subjective". Yes, I agree, but only to a certain extent. After all, an idiot will remain an idiot, irrespective of our perception. A red rose will remain a red rose, irrespective of what we think. But on the contrary, without this subjectivity, the same half-filled glass of water would not be called half-empty by others.

Dear Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and guests, let me share with you a small story. There was a religious gathering happening in Supaul, a remote place in north Bihar, in a jam-packed playground. It was a highly awaited gathering, so people flocked, flocked in big numbers. There were people sitting, standing, hanging by walls, clinging onto rooftops, literally everywhere. It looked like a typical Kumbh-Ka-Mela, that we frequently get to see in our Bollywood movies. The only difference was, here we had real characters while in movies they are there just for the money. I myself happened to witness this Mela. But I noticed that people were doing all sorts of unproductive things, one can imagine. Here are the samples

Some of them were yawning, yawning with their mouth wide-open, proudly showing off all of their 32 teeth, as if rest of us have none. Some of them were busy releasing green-house-gases to the atmosphere, forcing nearby people to run for cover. But some of them had thought this out in advance and were well-prepared for such adverse situations. Immediately, they took out their towels and handkerchiefs in open, made a mask of sorts and wrapped them around their nose. How thoughtful, thinking on your feet !!

There were few climate-change evangelists also ,who were furiously taking notes, notes on what ?? They were planning to publish a white-paper on how these type of religious gatherings result into global-warming by virtue of increased emissions of green-house gases !!

In some corner, some of these so-called devotees were busy discussing a daily saas-bahu soap. “Hey, do you think Abha will be rescued by her ex-boyfriend Mihir in “Uska Pati Sirf Mera Hai” ?? Hope, Swamiji does something for her. I just love the jwellery she wore on her husband's death-anniversary. I wish, I could have all those jewelleries. I would die any day for those jewelleries, not for my husband !!”. Somebody whispered slowly into his neighbour's ears “You know what, even Swamiji is very fond of daily soaps. I have heard him talking to few of his disciples about this upcoming ZeeTV serial “Mujhe Es Swami Se Bachao“. But please don't tell this to Swamiji.

Seemingly oblivious to all these happenings surrounding her, there was this old lady sitting in a corner. She looked pretty relaxed, trying to grasp all things on offer. She religiously came to attend this Satsang every single day and used to listen to Swamiji's teachings very carefully. But for some reason, every time Swamiji uttered some verses or Sanskrit-Shloka, she cried, she cried bitterly. Everybody around thought, perhaps she is a bit overwhelmed with emotions, very typical of a senior-citizen. No wonder, she is unable to control her tears.

On the day, when this satsang was coming to an end, Swamiji walked to this old lady and asked her “You have been a true devotee in all aspects. and have been a patient listener all through. I have never seen anything like this before. I can understand your emotions, but I was wondering as to what made you cry like a baby during all my sessions". This lady replied back with an empty stare, as if Swamiji had asked her to donate both her kidneys. Unfazed by her first reaction, Swamiji repeated his question. But even on second attempt, there was no answer, except for a wry smile on her face,no emotions at all. Swamiji tried again. Despite repeated attempts, this lady remained unmoved, very much like a cow standing in middle of a busy road in Bangalore, despite being honked around from all different corners. Swamiji was growing increasingly frustrated with her attitude, but she remained as cool as a cucumber.

He looks around and notices one gentleman making his way to the scene, offering his helping hand. Swamiji asks "What is wrong with this lady ? She is not responding to my questions ?” Gentleman replies “What ?? Whom are you talking to ? This poor lady is stone deaf. She can't hear even a single word !!”. Swamiji was aghast, he just got the shock of his lifetime. He felt as if he had just accidentally got in tough with a naked electric wire, left loose by BBMP authorities. He didn't believe what he heard. He pinched himself to make sure, all his senses were at the right places, especially his ears. She can't hear a thing and yet she sat through all my teachings for full seven days and in fact cried on many occassions without understanding even a single word. Oh My God.

Swamiji recollected his senses and thought to himself. There is a another angle to the same, a different perception. Probably, my speech delivery was so amazing and mesmerizing that it suited even to deaf persons. Swamiji took out the mike and announced it in front of all his devotees "My teachings are out of the world, I just made a deaf lead listen to all my teachings for past 7 days and understand all of it. That's a super-natural power that I possess. This is nothing sort of a miracle". Swamiji boasted this in front of every body. Everybody thought "Wow, what a great Swami ??" and they started clapping in appreciation.

But Swamiji's joy was not to last long. The moment Swamiji finished, Gentleman took the mike from  his hand  and made an announcement “She used to have a female goat, which was always ready with her bleating and generous in her milk yield. She was very happy with her life. But few months ago, the goat died. Unfortunately, you happened to sport a French beard, which looks very similar to the one hanging from goat's jaw. So every time you spoke something, your jaw went up and down and that reminded her of that goat sitting in front of her. That was the reason, she cried so badly.

I was amazed at their perceptions.Swamiji perceived the poor old-lady to be her most dedicated devotee, while the old-lady perceived Swamiji as being reminiscent of her dead goat.

Later on, I happened to invite Swamiji on a Pooja at my home. During our conversation, he exclaimed “If while eating rice, a piece-of-rice happens to land on your moustache, it means you are going to die very soon”. Ok, fine, point taken. After performing the Pooja, it was time for dinner. Swamiji started eating as it there is no tomorrow. When we realized that we are going to run short of food, we became anxious. We said “Swamiji, please have some water also”. Swamiji replied “I always follow a rule of taking water, only when I am half done. But suddenly we spotted something which made all of us forget this food-shortage and in fact feel gloomy. I noticed that a piece of rice was sitting pretty on Swamiji's moustache. I felt sad about the fact that Swamiji will be no longer with us for long. Swamiji was ignorant of this and fully focussed on matar-paneer and sweets on offer. But then I broke this sad news to Swamiji. He thought for a moment and then said...

  It depends on you. If you remove this soon enough, nothing bad is going to happen. See... and he wiped out the piece of rice from his moustache.
(Due to time-constraint, I had to remove this section, when I delivered my speech for the second time at a different club. Hope to fit it in as part of some other speech)

I was left amused. I had seen both faces of the coin. We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are. How true. I had my answers. I was left with no choice but to believe that “Perception is indeed Subjective”.

Over to you ToastMasters.

Update : I have now uploaded the video for this speech on YouTube. Here are the URLs
 Part I
 Part II
My cameraman fumbled for a moment during the speech, due to which ~ 1 minute recording is missing. Nevertheless Thanks a ton to Venkat for doing the camera-man job :-) and having successfully recorded it. Thanks a lot to Abhishek, who provided valuable tips on improving the content.

PS: Although its delivery was less than perfect,I still managed to grab the Best-Prepared-Speaker Award in today's toastmaster session :-) Please feel free to put your comments w,r,t my speech-delivery.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Power Of Free Will

About a month back, I delivered my Project 3 speech in my ToastMaster Club and here is what I spoke

Paul the Octopus had the entire world in his tentacles for over a month. I am pretty sure, there are people in this room, who cannot name 10 international footballers but know all things about Paul.

Paul's seemingly spooky psychic abilities made me think - Are our destinies predetermined ? Is the universe heading towards a foregone conclusion. Are we really wasting our precious time thinking qualities like hard work,honesty and sincerity will help  us?

Dear Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and Guests, I am here today to share with you why I think the answers to all of the these questions is an unequivocal "no", and share with you whatever little knowledge I have about the power of free will.

If you look up the dictionary, free will is defined as the power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine intervention. Let me tell you a story. Jessica Cox was born without arms as a result of a rare congenital disease. She did not understand why she had no arms like other children. She frequently felt oppressed, downtrodden and on the verge of breakdown resulting from anger and frustration. For Jessica, the main challenge was the constant perception of outside world more than the physical adversity itself. But one day she said to herself "enough is enough" and decided she would be everything that others presume she cannot be!

Today she is a holder of a degree in Psychology, holds an unrestricted driving license, fills gas for her car on her own. She is able to write 25 words per minute, dry her hair, put on her make-up, and wear her contact lenses with the same ease as anyone else. All of these not with artificial hands, but with her legs!! Jessica is the first lady in history to have piloted a plane without arms. She said in one of her interviews - “Most of the times, fear starts from the lack of knowledge of the unknown. There is a universal fear, that of lack of self-confidence. If you don't believe in yourself, who else is going to ??" Surely Jessica could not have been destined to live normally in our society, let alone pilot a plane and have the lives of many people in her hands (or should I say legs)! This is a true example of the power of free will.

"Free will" also refers to the type of decision which is uniquely humane: a moral choice. But let's not mistakenly think that morality is the choice between "good and evil." What is good for you could be evil for others. Everyone chooses to be "good" - even the most evil, immoral people. Hitler rationalized that the Jews were the enemies of the world, so in his mind he justified whatever he did as doing "good." Osama Bin Laden opined that America is a threat to Islam and should be destroyed. His conscience propels him to think that this is not evil. But these actions can't be called as exercising one's free will , can they ??

So what exactly is free will? Friedrich Wilhelm defines will as "any internally motivated action", but more of a "creative spark," a certain independence and stubbornness. It helps us believe "If you want it, you will get it". But it requires focus, it requires channelizing  all your energies towards thought motivated actions , so that you can achieve what you aspire to. The vedas say "yad bhavam tad bhavati" meaning whatever you think so will it be. If you think positively, you have created a sphere of positive energy around you and you are guaranteed to succeed. On the other hand, if you constantly let yourself taken over by negative thoughts, you are destined to fail.

We, as human beings, have a power - the power to judge ourselves, the power to analyze our actions and do what we think is good for us, good for society, good for humanity. But to exercise such free will, one needs discipline, the discipline to resist the evil forces that try to distract us from our path.

If you ask me, life is nothing but a simple mathematical equation. Its just like swimming against the tide. If your force is greater than that of the stream, the next movement is in your hands, else otherwise. Your force here is symbolic to your free will, and the speed of the stream is symbolic to what we blame on circumstances that life puts us in and the restrictions that life inflicts upon us.

Mahatma Gandhi one said - "Strength does not come from physical capacity it comes from indomitable will". Shimon Peres, a noble laureate referred to Gandhi in one of his interviews as - A man without an army, without a head quarter, without a state, without a party, a single person equipped with a moral strength, there is no other person in recent history who possessed such a strong will, and we all know,how he shocked the entire world with his actions !!

Unlike other creations, only the human beings are blessed with free will, within which lies our potential to shape and change our lives and make a difference. So I urge all of you to exercise your free will. If you are low on confidence, just because you happen to be an overweight fella, stop eating those not-so-healthy potato-chips and onion-pakodas by the road-side. Try to find time for some jogging. If possible, join a gym, do some workouts and try your level best to reduce your weight.If you are scared of public-speaking or sort on communication-skills, come and join Toast Masters. Remember, proper usage of free will beautifies and perfects, misuse of free will plunders and destroys. So use it judiciously, go out, be what you want and stun the world !!

Over to you Toastmaster !!

Some of the content has been copied from Pavithra's Blog and most of the content about Jessica Cox has come from SlideShare