Saturday, April 23, 2011

How to say it

My fourth project from toastmasters competent communicator manual is 'How to say it'. I was thinking about what speech should I give for this project and that's when I realized that it is not about what I say but is about 'how I say'. So as part of today's speech, I have this story, which was told by my uncle when I was young. Title of today's speech, well, let me share it at the end. This way I can at least ensure that my fellow toastmasters & honored guests stay absorbed.
Story revolves around a fictitious character, places and events. Let us call the character John. John is a very hard working person who has a lovely wife and 2 kids. He is the sole breadwinner of his family and works very hard to keep his job. A job, which is not easy, especially because John has an eccentric boss who always does some weird things and has the knack of giving some very odd tasks to John. One time, the boss decides to learn Silvaneese, language spoken in a fictitious country, Silvan. So during that period, one day boss barges out of his cabin and hands over a piece of paper to John and tells him to go to Silvan and have the sentence written in Silvaneese, to be translated in English. Now this was pre internet era where we did not have the luxury of using a google or any other online translator. The Boss orders John to fly to Silvan that very evening and come back within a week. If John fails in his mission that he can look for another job. Now John needs to keep his job and reluctantly agrees to fly to Silvan.
John reaches Silvan and takes a cab to a very economical hotel since his boss had given just enough money. After finishing his check-in formalities, John decides to ask the receptionist to help translate the sentence. This way he can finish the task early and spend rest of the time going around tourist spots, as not very often he will get an opportunity like this to visit a foreign country. So he hands over the paper to the receptionist, requesting him to translate the sentence for him. Receptionist looks at the paper and then hands it back to John with an angry look and says very sternly, not to show this to anyone. John feels embarrassed and decides to stay in his room that evening. He gets up next day, showers and has breakfast in his room itself and then heads out. On his way out, he asks the hotel doorman if there is any good tourist place, which is at a walkable distance. Doorman guides him to a nearby park. In the park, John comes across an elderly person who is walking his dog. John thinks that the elderly person might have more empathy and would surely help him out. So John approaches the person and greets him. Old man greets back with a smile and this encourages John to open up. He asks the man if he could help him in translating a sentence in Silvaneese. Old man responds positively and John hands him the paper. Old man stares at the paper for a long time and then glares back at John angrily. He hands back the paper to John and orders his dog to go after John. John runs for his life and somehow climbs a tree to avoid the dog taking a pound of his flesh. Once the old man leaves with his dog, John musters the courage to climb down the tree and head back to the hotel. He does not come out of his room the whole day. John feels very depressed and is sure that he will most certainly lose the job. Thats when a housekeeper comes to clean up his room. Seeing her, John thinks about befriending her with the hope that she might help him. Next couple of days John is successful in making friendship with the lady but is still not comfortable in asking her help. So he decides to take the risk of extending his stay for couple of days more. Since he got short of money, instead of buying an air ticket, decides to go by ship unreserved. Day before he is supposed to leave, John musters the courage and confides in the lady that he needs a big favor from him. John shares all about his assignment and how important it is for him to keep his job. Lady feels very sorry for him and readily agrees to help him. John hands over the paper. Lady looks at it for some time and without saying a word, she lefts the room with tears in her eyes. John is heart broken and decides that its better he go back and search for another job. Next day he checks out and is waiting for the cab. That's when the housekeeper meets him at the door and passes the paper cautiously and tells John softly that she has translated the sentence and written it on the other side. She asks him not to read this in Silvan and wait to cross the border before reading. John thanks her profusely and gives a hug, saying that she did a big favor to him and takes the cab to catch the ship. Once in the ship, John is in an unreserved compartment full of people, so he does not get an opportunity to read the paper. Once the ship crosses Silvan border, John decides to head out to the deck and read the paper. He reaches the deck and makes sure that nobody is there before taking the paper out of his pocket to read it. John is full of anticipation and curiosity about what the sentence could possibly mean. He takes out the paper and is about to read it when a gush of wind blows the paper away. So the translated answer is in the air and into the dark and chilly sea water.
Fellow toastmasters & honored guests, Title of my speech is ' How to Say A Poor Joke'

Friday, March 25, 2011

Get to the point - Work & Personal Life Balance

Get to the point was my third speech at PSU toastmasters club. This was after my first Ice-breaker and second Organizing your speech speeches. Theme of my speech was 'Work & Personal Life Balance'

I started by explaining that in today's mechanical world, it is becoming more and more difficult to have a robust balance between work and personal life. Having priorities in life is important but more important is to manage them. I learned this even before I started my career. I have always been a firm believer in learning from other people's experiences in life. We need not step on a banana skin to understand the pain of slipping and falling.

This incident happened with me while I was doing my masters in Hyderabad, India. During that time, my parents were getting their house constructed and I used to visit the site to oversee the progress every now and then. During one such visit, I happened to meet this gentleman, who was working as an accountant for the construction company responsible for building the house. While there, we struck a conversation and started talking about different topics. That is when I came to know that earlier he was working for a reputed multinational company, with a fat package and in a good position. I expressed my surprise and curiosity to know how he ended up here and taking up a role, less glamorous and evidently paying less. That's when he shared his story, which struck with me since then. He was working in Mumbai, west of India for this large multinational company

He used to work for long hours, seven days a week. His day used to start at 4 AM, catching local train at 5 in the morning, spending time till 10 in the night at work and coming home at 11 PM. This was his routine for day in and day out, seven days a week.He had a wife, who was a home maker and a 3 year old son. His hectic work schedules were hardly giving him any time to spend with his wife or son. When he used to start for work in the morning, his son used to be still in bed and when he returned in the evening at 11 PM, son would have gone to bed. This was continuing for some time. One Sunday, he decided to stay home to spend time with his wife and son. He was excited and got up early, waiting in anticipation for his son to get up. He sat in living room, reading Sunday newspaper while waiting. After sometime he saw his son get up and come to where he was sitting. His son looked at him, gave a puzzled look and went into the kitchen where his wife was preparing breakfast. The man got up and followed his son into the kitchen. What happened after that completely changed his outlook towards life. He entered the kitchen and overheard his son asking his wife, 'Mum, who is this uncle?'. Next day he quit his high profile job and moved to Hyderabad, taking less demanding one with more 9 AM - 5 PM schedule.
That day I learned a very valuable lesson, which struck with me till date. Its very important to set priorities in life. Keeping work - personal life balance is crucial, especially in this mechanical time.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Organizing your speech - Meaning lost in translation

My second speech at toastmasters club was about Organizing your speech. It was a hot seat speech. Hot seat speech is the one in which a speaker gives a speech without a prior intimation when some scheduled speaker does not show up. I was asked whether I am willing to give a speech and i took up the challenge. In the competent communication manual, the second speech is about Organizing your speech. This was going to be my second speech after the ice breaker speech. I selected the topic 'Meaning lost in translation'.
I started my speech by explaining how in day-day life there are many instances when we tend to lose the true meaning in translation gaps. I elaborated this by sharing two incidents. First one I heard while I was learning Japanese language in Ramakrishna Math and the second one was one, which I experienced.

First incident was about this German scholar who came to give a session in one of the Indian universities. Since the scholar had very limited grasp over English, he was provided with a translator to translate his speech while he was delivering. During the speech, scholar thought of lightening things up and said that he would like to narrate a joke. And then went ahead and told the joke in German for couple of minutes. After finishing, the scholar looked at the translator for him to do his bit. Translator said something for few seconds and entire audience started laughing. Scholar was obviously impressed and asked the translator, how he was able to translate a couple of minutes long German joke into few seconds long in English language? Translator looked embarrassed and sheepishly admitted to the scholar that he actually did not get the joke. So he told the audience that since the scholar took so much effort in sharing a joke, please make sure that you all laugh

Second incident happened with me while I was working in Japan. I learned Japanese language till level III and was comfortable enough to have small conversations. But I understood my true limitations when I reached Japan and actually stated listening to native Japanese speak. One evening, I and 3 of my colleagues decided to have dinner at KFC. We went after work around 6:15 PM to KFC. Once there, lady at the counter said something in Japanese, even gesturing at the clock. I interpreted it as that the lady was indicating that if we come after 7, its like happy hours or something. I shared this with my colleagues and we all thought that if we can save few bucks, it makes sense to just wait. So we headed out and decided to kill the time by roaming around in the streets of Kawasaki near Musashi-Shinjō Station. One of my colleague was finding it little uncomfortable since he wanted to use a rest room but decided to wait till 7 and use the one in KFC. We roamed in the streets for 45 minutes during a chilly evening and once it was 7 PM, went back to KFC. Once we were in, lady in the counter greeted us and gave us a menu to choose from. I tried asking her about 'happy hours after seven' and she looked surprised. She said she was earlier indicating that if we are interested to wait, then after 7 PM there would be more menu items to choose from. Well, rest I leave it to your imagination when I shared it with my colleagues, especially the reaction from the guy, who wanted to use the rest room desperately.

I shared these two incidents to explain the topic of my speech 'Meaning lost in translation'. I concluded it by sharing how most of the Indians face a cultural gap when new in US of A. Most Indians have this tendency to nod their heads more diagonally side to side,

confusing Americans, who are never sure whether we are responding with a 'yes' or a 'no' to their question. That's when they specifically ask us to nod head straight sideways if its a 'no'

or vertically up and down if its a 'yes'

This was my hot seat and second speech at PSU toastmsters club 'Organizing your speech - Meaning lost in translation'

Friday, January 28, 2011

My 'Ice-breaker' speech at toastmasters club

I finally took the plunge of joining a toastmasters club. After being encouraged by couple of friend cum colleagues, David Johnson and Jayesh Mittal, I joined Portland State University's PSU toastmaster club. Intent of joining the club was multi-fold. Meet people from different walks of life, hone my communication, presentation & soft skills and improve the ability to think and speak on your feet (Table Topics).
So this week I gave my ice breaker speech. Theme of my speech was 'Stories that influenced my life". There are three stories that have a profound influence on me. Let me take this opportunity to share them with you. First story was told to me by my best & greatest teacher, my mum.

Story#1 (Old man, son & donkey)

Once upon a time there was an old man, his son and their donkey. One day they all were traveling from one place to another. While embarking on their journey, they came across few passer-bys, who passed comments that how cruel the father is to make his young son walk in this hot son. Hearing the comments, the old man made his young son sit on the back of their donkey and continued with their journey. After some distance, they came across some other passer-bys, who passed comments that how cruel the son is to make his old man walk in this hot son. Hearing the comments, the young boy got down and made his old man sit on the back of their donkey. They continued with their journey and across some more passer-bys, who passed comments
that how cruel the father is to make his young son walk in this hot son. Hearing the comments, old man asked his young son to join him on the back of the donkey and they moved on. After covering some distance, they came across another set of passer-bys, who passed comments that how cruel the father-son are to make their donkey work so hard carrying them both in this hot son. Hearing the comments, father & son got down and tied the donkey's legs to a pole and started carrying the donkey on their shoulders. After covering some distance, they came across a river. While crossing the river, father's feet slipped and donkey fell into the river and drowned. So the moral of the story is "You cannot satisfy everybody. So live your life the way you would like to."

Story#2 (Adi Shankaracharya)

The second story is about the evil called 'caste system' prevalent in our society. With the changing times, its hopefully getting eliminated with every new generation. So this story dates back to the time when society was more caste based, in which upper caste people never used to allow lower caste people into their homes or place of worship. They did not even used to tolerate the lower caste people crossing their paths or even their shadows to fall on them.
Adi Shankaracharya,
famous philosopher who restored the Vedic Dharma and did the
reinterpretations of Hindu scriptures, especially on Upanishads or Vedanta and who had a profound influence on the growth of Hinduism, was born in an upper caste family. One day he embarked on the journey to seek God. While traveling he came across a shepherd, belonging to a lower caste. Seeing him, Adi Shankaracharya said 'move aside, move aside'. Thats when the shepherd said, "My noble lord, whom are you asking to move aside? Are you asking my body to move aside or you are asking the God within me to move aside?".Thats when Adi Shankaracharya realized that there is a God within all of us and fell down on the feet of the shepherd. The shepherd was none other than Lord Shiva, God of destroyer who had taken the form of shepherd to help enlighten Adi Shankaracharya that there is God within all of us. One should treat all human beings equally and nothing can be more divine than this.

Story#3 (Swami Vivekananda)

Swami Vivekananda was an inspiring spiritual man, who wooed the world and especially Americans when he
gave an inspiring speech beginning by addressing the audience as "Sisters and Brothers of America"
. One day he was walking in the streets of London. From the opposite direction there was this person coming, who was formally dressed in a suite and hat. Looking at Swami Vivekananda's attire with saffron robe and turban, the person started laughing. Swami Vivekananda asked him, "My dear friend what makes you laugh?". Hearing this, the man was taken aback and said, "You know how to speak english? But you do not look like a gentleman". Thats when Swami Vivekananda said "My dear friend, in your country a tailor makes a gentleman but in my country, character makes one"
I appreciate all the feedback I got after the speech from my speech evaluator and fellow toastmasters. Feedback was very helpful for me to know where I am doing well and where not so well. Before joining
toastmasters club, I was asking myself whether I need to improve my skills especially since I get to hone them in the profile I have. I anyway get to talk in public, meetings, with different groups, across time zones and with people in person or virtually. But after attending toastmasters club, I realized this is one of the best decisions I have taken and its time well invested. I am getting an opportunity to talk in front of audience with whom I do not have any business or personal strings attached and who in all their wisdom and experience, are going to give me the best feedback to improve.