Saturday, December 31, 2011

Persist with Poise

As 2011 draws to a close and a new year awaits with many more chances to chisel our speaking/presentation skills, we thought it would be worth it to end on a note of perseverance by Seth Godin.
Insulate yourself...
from anonymous angry people
Expose yourself to art you don't yet understand
Precisely measure the results that are important to you
Stay blind to the metrics that don't matter
Fail often
Lead, don't manage so much
Seek out uncomfortable situations
Make an impact on the people who matter to you
Be better at your baseline skills than anyone else
Copyedit less, invent more
Give more speeches
Ignore unsolicited advice
Making sabha better requires a delicate, piecemeal approach, so let's start with the right attitude in 2012.

After all, what better way to start it off with Sunday sabha?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Elevator speeches don't make you Brahmrup

Seth Godin shares this nugget of insight:
No one ever bought anything in an elevator 
The purpose of an elevator pitch isn't to close the sale. 
The goal isn't even to give a short, accurate, Wikipedia-standard description of you or your project. 
And the idea of using vacuous, vague words to craft a bland mission statement is dumb. 
No, the purpose of an elevator pitch is to describe a situation or solution so compelling that the person you're with wants to hear more even after the elevator ride is over.
Similarly, nobody takes away a sticky message by just listening to the shakeup (unexpected) part of a talk. The unexpected sets up the talk, piques attention, but if there are no stories without concrete and credible, everyone will just get off the elevator.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Case Study: Maharaj's Legacy

A fellow Sabhaologist shot this ensemble over to us as an example of utilizing Prezi as a presentation modality for a presentation in this week's kishore-kishori sabha entitled, "Maharaj's Legacy." As we mentioned before, Prezi serves as an interesting alternative to Powerpoint with its dizzying turns and intricate angles.

Note his shakeup as he started off with a reference to TIME's recently published issue in which they named the Person of the Year and then followed up by drawing comparisons to Shriji Maharaj's legacy in three areas: societal change, structure, and successorship.

Given the stories provided in the syllabus, this Sabhaologist concocted a winning combo. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Presenter Pointers #3: Punish Thy Prasangs

Every Sunday (or Saturday), Sabhaologists are on the field monitoring, observng, and analyzing presentations. This new series brings to light their observations and points of improvement in a bite-sized blog post.

As we bear witness to the Occupy Wall Street movement taking root across the nation, we can't help if history is repeating itself. After all, France in the late 1700s stood witness to a bloody new beginning in the wake of the French Revolution.

Enter the guillotine: a razor-sharp blade falling down in the blink of an eye to dish off the head of yet another.

Just the sight of one in action would make us cringe - a similar sensation we evoke with prasangs if they come straight from the paper. Think back to the last time you got excited about something be it a gift, a sports victory, or a pleasant surprise.

That's the feeling to imbue in the prasangs we narrate in our presentations. Just reading them off a sheet of paper kills the power vested in them, and with each faltering prasangs, we take one step back from the point we try to present to our audience.

Here's a rule of thumb: how well can we narrate the prasang without the syllabus? Try it out in front of a mirror, and prasang-varnan will reach a whole new level.

Prasangs are thus the life of our presentation. If not, it's to the guillotine and off with our het - to Maharaj and Swami that is. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Designing Slides

Corso Presentazioni EfficaciBullets, borders, boxes: the three B's of slide design. Throw in one more: boring!

A fellow Sabhaologist sent in this article by Zach Holman that highlights a few principles to accentuate our presentation. His slides wowed the audience so much that after his talk, his slides got voted #1 on Hacker News

Zach notes, "Working on your slide design pays off for the audience in front of you and for the audience online reading your slides later. I learned a lot designing this talk, and I think it can be helpful for you, too."
  • Color: "Color is the very first thing people will notice. It should also be the very first thing you think about." Use lighter shades to accentuate darker shades (e.g. light blue & dark blue).
  • Size: Zach's slide deck averages 150pt with 300pt or more on the high end or 90pt on the low end. Go big or go home.
  • Words: "Letters themselves can be part of the design." Thus, Zach's slides will shake up the size from slide to slide to emphasize different elements - an application of unexpectedness.
  • Repetition: "The best storytellers will repeat the same line throughout a story to build a sense of familiarity, of excitement...Steve Jobs did this often. Before moving onto the next product announcement, he’d spend thirty seconds and go over the same information he just presented. It’s a very simple way of keeping things memorable for your audience." Zach starts each section with colorful, bold text on bright, orange backgrounds.
With Powerpoint's assortment of templates, designing slides seems like such a waste of time, yet if the audience finds our slides a waste of their time, our message is lost.

Maximize their time by creating slides with craft and care.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Presenter Pointers #2: First Learn, Then Teach

Every Sunday (or Saturday), Sabhaologists are on the field monitoring, observng, and analyzing presentations. This new series brings to light their observations and points of improvement in a bite-sized blog post.

First seek to understand then to be understood: the age-old adage on how to communicate.

Since presenting is nothing more than communicating to the audience a memorable message, we must ask ourselves, "What have we gained from this presentation?" We've noted earlier how important it is to guide our audience towards a goal. Thus, we must understand that goal before we can even begin to present!

Common sense, we think, but when we have a syllabus to guide our presentation, we often tune out our inquiry and curiosity. The syllabus is a great tool but like any tool it needs to be used correctly. Have you ever tried to drive in a nail with a screwdriver - we have it works but not well. The screwdriver is designed for screws. The syllabus in the same way is to help us understand. It is full of great information and ideas that we need to read with our curiosity filter open. We need to think about the different aspects of the topic and delve as deep as we can to understand the topic. For example, friendship, yesterday's topic in kishore/kishori sabha, may seem drab on the surface but can be analyzed in different ways:

  • What did Maharaj teach us through His friendships?
  • Are friendships always beneficial?
  • In our life, do we have different types of friendships?

When we fail to learn from a presentation, we let an opportunity go - an opportunity to bring our audience closer to Maharaj and Swami. Sure, it may require a bit preparation, but that's why we need two weeks to research and refine our idea.

Thus, let's seek to understand the topic then to expect the topic to be understood by our audience.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Presenter Pointers #1: All Points, No Proof

Every Sunday (or Saturday), Sabhaologists are on the field monitoring, observng, and analyzing presentations. This new series brings to light their observations and points of improvement in a bite-sized blog post.

In kishore sabha last week, we heard a presentation on desh/kaal. The syllabus listed the eight factors of influence as mentioned by Shriji Maharaj in the Vachanamrut: place, time, action, company, mantra, scriptures, initiation, and meditation. The presenter figured simply listing them would do the job.

Reality check: The audience tuned him out as quickly as they heard him say, "Here's factor #1..."

What did he miss? He lacked stories/examples to breathe life into each of these eight factors. Point after point reduces a topic to technicality and leaves the audience behind in boredom.

Part of preparing entails finding these stories/examples. For instance, seeing others sneeze can affect our thoughts. In describing company, we can certainly pique someone's interest.

So let's remember, prasangs propel the points into our audience. Without 'em, our points go nowhere.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Talker's Block

A guest post by fellow sabha.ologist  who says we should just get going already.

Imagine you’ve just been told by your sanchalaks that you’re doing a talk. Eager to start, you go on your laptop and pull up Microsoft Word. While thinking of the topic, you sit there, deep in thought (or so it seems), while your cursor blinks away on the blank Word Document.

Ten minutes pass...

You get a quick snack to recharge yourself...Nothing is coming....  Is it writer’s block? Is there such a thing?

Seth Godin doesn’t think so. He compared writer’s block with talker’s block.

He says, “No one suffers from talker’s block. No one wakes up in the morning, and discovers he or she has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.”  

Seth’s point is, we should write like we talk. The best way to speak in sabha is to start speaking and/or writing your thoughts down, then refine them. “Writer’s block” is due to the censor part in your brain. To start preparing, we must forget about judgement. Just start writing. Out of your nonsense and ramblings, believe something good will come.  Using the three step success model, you can get your presentation going in no time!
  1. Synthesize your personal statement
  2. Start with a shakeup (something unexpected)
  3. Support the simple statement with stories filled with concrete details and validity.
Additionally, each time we prepare for a presentation, Maharaj & Swami have given us a change to delve deeper into the topic, select related prasangs, and gather up appropriate research so that we can draw connections, insights, and simple statements that can benefit everyone in the sabha.

Lastly, it’s important to realize that we don’t have to give up hours each day just to make one effective presentation. It only takes about 10 minutes a day to make one, especially if we begin the week it is assigned!

One great schedule format that could be used to prepare for a presentation was presented in Karcons across the nation, and is shown below:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Understand before making it stick.

Last we weeks we were working with BST/KST kids on presentation skills. The discussion moved to and centered on how to make the concept of maya stick. We noticed first that we need to understand the concept ourselves. Many of the younger kids said all stuff was maya (somewhat true). We discussed if our phones were maya and they said yes. What if we lost our phones and it did not bother us at all - was the phone still maya? So the discussion went back and forth. The conclusion was that the attachment to stuff was really maya, stuff was just stuff. The key take away that everyone had was that we had to know our stuff before we made our stuff stick.

When we give presentations in sabha we are fortunate to have a syllabus. The most important thing that the syllabus does is give us concise knowledge. We need to read it and understand it so that we know our stuff on whatever the topic is.

Once we know our stuff, then we can try to make it stick (simple, unexpected, stories, emotions, credible and concrete). The syllabus might help with this part, but really it's on us to get that done. Once we have the knowledge and know our stuff, the syllabus has done its main job.

How can we make the concept of maya stick. Going back to the our phones, here is a great article that shows that the we love our phones. Literally love our phones. By imaging the brain (using fMRI) the researchers discovered that the same areas of the brain that signify love were lit up when people were shown pictures of their phone. Now that's maya.

Making Katha Stick - the metaphor

A few insights from a fellow Sabha.ologist. After listening to several talks from P. Mahant Swami he noticed they stuck with him. He started to look at why and found the following gem.

One way he [makes hist talk stick] is by giving simple analogies that everyone could understand. Here are just a few of them I picked up from his visit:

How can we become connected with Swamishri? By simply following his agna. Swamishri is like a kite and his agna is the string. When the string is cut you no longer have a connection with the kite. Similarly, if we disobey Swamishri's agna we will be disconnected from him. Let us always follow the commands of our beloved guru, and please him to the best of our ability.

Out of the 365 days of the year, these 5 days are considered the best. Out of these 5 days, Diwali is the "king". The same way, out of all the janams that we take, this manushya deh is the most important. 
We have to realize the importance of Bhagwan, Sant, and Haribhaktos (gun grahak drashti).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy Diwali

Shubh Diwali!
Nutan Varsh na Abhinandan!
Happy New Year!

Everyone here at Sabha.ology prays that the New Year brings many opportunities to please Maharaj and Swami and earn their blessings - especially by making really great talks and presentation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

BST ppt not for Me?

In the past we have examined the pitfalls of powerpoint. (this applies to keynote and prezi as well). Putting these suggestions to practice is many times much easier than we might think. We are fortunate to have a starting point many times with the ideas already in the presentation. The ideas are the hard part. Sprucing up the presentation is usually much easier. The following is from a packet on presentation skills - something we have been thinking about for awhile. The first PPT was great, because the ideas were great. With a half hour of tweaks we wound up with this second version. Small things make perfection but perfection is no small thing.

Version 1

View more presentations from Sabhaology

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Go To Move #7: Balak Generated Sabha

The following Go To Move was from a fellow Sabhaologist. (If you have a Go To Move, let us know and we will post it).

Much like user generated content, I think of Balak Generated Sabhas as a way to capture the attention of balaks by having them express their thoughts/ideas/imagination through some medium about the topic being discussed (one of the reasons why I think why social sharing sites - YouTube/Facebook - are sticky).

Of course, this idea doesn't mean we tell a balak to explain to us why they think the 16 Hindu Samskaras are important or to tell us what happens when Bhaktimata was afraid of ghosts in the well at night time.

What this means is that we come up with ways in which topics stick to balaks because they get a sense of authorship while the topic is presented.

For example, during the Summer Challenge in bal 1 sabha, we went outdoors to an empty area of the parking lot.  As the balaks sat outside, we told them two stories. The first story was describing the atmosphere when Ghanshyam Maharaj was born, then all the balaks were given chalk to draw the story outside:

After they finished, the balaks were told the second story of the ghost well, Bhaktimata and Ghanshyam -- that too the balaks illustrated with chalk.  From both stories, the balaks learnt that Ghanshyam Maharaj is forever with us, and so we should never be scared of anything and always be brave.

Another example is what we did in bal 3 sabha this past weekend.  The balaks learned about the 16 Hindu Samskaras.  The analogy of a treasure hunt was used to describe the 16 Hindu rituals as described by the munis for purity and sanctity of the human life as spoken by Bhagwan.  There was a treasure map drawn on the white board with the signs and symbol representing the 16 Hindu Samskaras:

As a quick shakeup activity and to get the balaks thinking about the 16 Hindu Samskaras, balaks volunteered to come up with a story in groups and connected the various drawings representing the Samskaras.

Afterwards, we reviewed the Samskaras and what they represent in our lives and drew parallels with Ghanshyam Maharaj's prasangs.  In conclusion, we got to the 16th Samskara and realized that we're lucky to have found our treasure from the beginning in the form of Maharaj and Swami, and all that we need to do is please Pramukh Swami Maharaj to attain moksh.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Positive Life

This week we have a presentation on Positive Thinking. Depending on our Balika/Bal Mandal the little train that could maybe an example that will not resonate. They have heard it many times, they may feel like you are talking down to them, they may get restless with the repetitive nature of the story.

We can try and punch of the story through different storytelling techniques some examples:

  • Every time the engine feels like giving up, have all the kids shout words of encouragement.
  • Have the kids clap or stomp to the I-think-I-can beat
  • Change the story point of view from an omniscient narrator to maybe someone riding the train
Also parts of these seemed pertinent depending on the age of your kids

Friday, September 16, 2011

The video bane

You got your presentation two weeks ago, thought about it and synthesized a great simple message you want to share with your sabha. You listened to some katha and read some books and found some great prasangs you can tell as stories that provide concrete and credible evidence to highlight your simple message. You practiced saying these stories with feeling so it is engaging and emotional. Now it's the Friday before you have to present on Sunday you have everything you need from the Made to Stick model (SUCCES) except the dreaded U - nothing unexpected. If this Sunday you start kishori sabha by saying, "Today we will be talking about seva." or start bal 3 by saying, "The definition of punya is xxxx," then Houston we have a problem. Starting off without something unexpected will cause us to lose our audience, our sabha, before it even starts. They will start thinking about the Walkathon or what they are going to eat for dinner instead of seva and punya. So what do we do? We need an unexpected.

Unexpected Idea 
If you are in this boat, then all of us at Sabha.ology want to congratulate you and we would really want to sit in a sabha where a presenter went through all this. It is going to be great sabha. You just need the missing piece. The thing is the answer to what most people do now sometimes may not work. We found (in a very unscientific, but still pretty interesting survey of presenters) that most people in this situation will turn to the Internet to find a video. A video that is within maryada, but a video none the less. There is nothing wrong with this but a video (or sometimes erroneously called a bang presentation - a topic for another post) may not always be the answers.

If in every sabha everyone were to begin their presentation with a video, then after a few weeks this would not be very unexpected. Everyone knows that a video is coming.

Also it is idea that needs to be unexpected. Initially just the act of showing a video - since we usually do not show it - causes everyone to wake up and say, "Wow this is new." However after the novelty of the showing the video wears off, then we are just left with the idea that the is in the video. That idea has to stand on it's own legs to be unexpected.

Now, if you see a video with an unexpected idea that you can put to great use in a presentation, then by all means use that idea. However, how you present the idea (a video or drawing on an iPad or saying a story) really depends on your situation and can help make an idea even more unexpected. It is still the idea that is important. In fact you can find these unexpected ideas everywhere - books, talking to people, etc. Starting with a bang or starting with something unexpected involves starting with an idea that nobody is expecting. So with the Kishori./Kishore presentation on seva for this week, starting with a prasang of Bapa cleaning the bathroom after the Gurujayanti samaiyo would not be very unexpected. The MC has introduced that you are going to talk about seva (maybe seva and Shastriji Maharaj), so everyone is expecting something about seva, related to the Mandir. The key is to find an idea, any idea that will support you simple message regarding seva (iK) or punya (B3).

Lies my Teacher Told Me
Lies my teacher told me.jpgHow did Newton discover gravity? (Apple fell on his head, and he had an epiphany.)

What did Washington do after chopping down the cherry tree? (Told his parents he could not lie)

What are the primary colors? (Red, Yellow, Blue)

Each of the three questions above are things that people believe since most people say they were taught this either in school or by parents. It turns out that all three of these things are not true.

Newton was never hit by an apple, nor did a falling apple lead to him "discovering" gravity.

Washington never chopped down a cherry tree. After his death his biographer made up this story to exemplify his honesty.

And finally the subtractive primary colors are red, blue, and green (look at a video projector) and the additive primary colors are magenta, cyan, and yellow.

The idea: each of these things are something we believe without question, but upon further analysis we realize that we may not know this exactly.

Applied to Kishori/Kishore Shastriji Maharaj's Seva Presentation
The topic starts out by defining seva and looking at why we do seva and how to do it perfectly. In the same way that we think we knew the "facts" above about Newton, Washington, and colors, we may feel we know the facts about seva. Start with an unexpected. Ask these questions and have audience members stand up if they think it is false. Or make up multiple choice questions and have audience stand up for each answer. Drop the shoe by saying that each of those were false and that we believe we know certain things that maybe we do not. In the same way we believe that cleaning bathrooms is seva and anybody can do it. (or even add that as one of the questions) it turns out that this is not the case. Cleaning the bathrooms is only seva if we do it for the right reasons. Also not everyone gets the opportunity to clean the Mandir bathrooms - look at how many people drive by our Mandirs and never even go in. Now you are on your way. The sabha is awake and listening to your talk on seva.

Applied to Balika/Bal -3 Punya Presentation
Same idea and same process as above. This time add the question what is Karma? Now we can explain that sometimes we are confident we know some facts, but we can always add to our knowledge. In fact Newton  was never hit with an apple, Washington never chopped down a cherry tree,  magenta, cyan, and yellow are the primary colors, and there are really three types of Karma.

Or you can show a video

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Seven Speaking Tips That Beat “Pretend Your Audience Is Naked"

While reading Psychology Today, one of our fellow Sabhaologists passed us this article, and just while we had said before that the three S's resurface again and again in all these articles, we also gain a better understanding of speaking mechanics.

This article notes seven principles that we've explored below.
People love stories. Children plea for them at night, and adults crave them, too. Stories make us wonder; we want to know what happens next, which keeps us engaged, even enthralled. 
fiveYep: simple/shakeup/stories, and from last week's post, we know this principle all too well.
People don't want to be impressed.  They want to be respected.  Rookie speakers feel tempted to impress an audience, assuming that this will make their ideas sound impressive, too. But if your words or actions suggest "I am better than you," people won't care what you say...
Don't try to impress them. Try to touch them.

Speaking is all about humbling ourselves to the audience.
People care if. If you truly want to help your listeners--by informing or motivating them, or improving their lives--they will care and listen. But they will care only if you do. 
This recalls a favorite tip: "If you really care, notify your face."
When we feel connected with our concepts, our sentiments show through. Thus, we need to take the time to design our stories/shakeup/stories.
Your eyes mean everything. We mistrust people who won't look us in the eyes--even if our eyes are among over 200 sets in a room. We regard peoples' eyes as windows to their souls, and it's from our eyes that people assess us. 
If you look each person in the eye for a few seconds, you make each person feel important--a feeling that every person craves.  It also makes each audience member feel involved; it makes your presentation feel like a conversation rather than a recitation. 
For this reason, minimize visual aids.  They break eye contact and make it appear that you are talking to the screen and not to your listeners.
Wow, minimizing visual aids strikes at the power of Powerpoint, but sometimes, a well delivered presentation doesn't need a Powerpoint. Think supercharged storytelling.
Preparation matters.  But not for the reason you suspect. Preparation does more than make a presentation appear polished--and a too-polished presentation actually can feel inauthentic, even souless. If you've spent hours learning about the people to whom you are speaking, you will communicate the most compelling message you can deliver to a person: You are important to me. 
This principle goes without saying - again be humble.
If it's worth saying, it bears repeating. The old rule--"Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them"--reflects the limitations of our memories. Plus researchers have shown repeatedly that people are more apt to believe something they hear more than once--even if they hear it from the same person, and even if they question that person's credibility.
We call this the simple statement, the core of our presentation that we hope to impart to our audience.
People love music. An outstanding speech is musical; it ebbs and flows, hits a variety of notes, and makes beautiful use of pauses and silence. Just as in humor, speaking's key ingredient is timing. 
Allow some gaps between your notes.
Going back to stories, remember to own the story. When we experienced the world for the first time as toddlers, we couldn't stop talking about how green the grass was or how fast the ants moved. Infuse that energy in your presentations to make an impact.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Balika/Bal Mandal Go To Move #6: The Lawn Mower

Sabha is about to start. The kids have quieted down. You are ready with the Jay Naad and Stuti. But wait! The kids are not sitting in rows. What do you do?

Think back and ask yourself what you have done in the past. When we did this we remembered that many times this is the where we started to go down hill in sabha. In the sense that an over reaction (yell or harangue the kids to sit in a straight line, "I have been telling you guys for the last 3 weeks and you still cannot sit in a straight line") can lead to sabha starting off on a bad footing and we then have to work extra hard to get it back to being a calm and positive experience. If we under react (ignore it) then this can lead to a gradual degradation over time as kids jostle each other. Our default position was to just sit there quietly until the kids figured it out themselves. This took some time and the kids were the ones snapping at each other - to us it really seemed like more of a push than a score. So we are introducing a "Go To" move to get the kids in rows (and columns) or whatever pattern you want. The Lawn Mower.

The simple idea is that you tell the kids that you are a lawn mower and they have to make sure they do not get clipped by the lawn mower. So they have to move while you walk up and down and left and right in rows. They have to keep their hands folded (otherwise it might get clipped by the lawn mower).

This can be extended to almost anything. One day lawn mower, the next week train, if you live up north you could be the zamboni (ask a Canadian if you don't know), or maybe a float in a parade. You can use props - take a broom with you and sweep a path or take a nerf ball and roll it down the columns and across the rows.

This can even extend into sabha. Try to tie what you are using to clear the path with a prasang or idea in sabha. For example an easy one from the list above would be to take the broom and sweeping a row and tie it to Sagram Vagri and his wife cleaning a path for Maharaj. Take this week in Bal/Balika 1 we have the story of Eklavya - you can either pretend to be a dog barking up and down the rows, or have one of the kids be a dog that barks up and down the rows, or grab a toy dog and move him up and down the rows - then relate this back to the story of how Eklavya also encountered a dog who he made stop barking without harming him. A perfect teaser to get everyone ready for the sabha ahead.

This idea comes from a clever Sabha.ologist and former Bal mandal karyakar who will in six years be PhinisheD. Thanks. We have not tried this before, but we will try it this week. If you try it as always let us kow how it turned out.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Animation Fun

We are not really sure how to categorize this, some ideas are here. It will put a smile on your face.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Circle of Life

This week in Bal/Balika Group 2  Sabha the presentation is based on the ten avatars of Vishnu and introduces the idea of the circle of life (creation, sustenance, and destruction). We are thinking of using geometry to shake things up - yes geometry. We thought that a good way to grab attention and talk about the circle of life would be to introduce some calculus for kids - the very simple notion that a circle is made up of an infinite number of sides. It may seem like this is really complex for Bal/Balika 2, but we have found kids do not really know what is and is not too complex for them and really get into neat ideas when presented in a form of a great story.

Here we go.

The simple idea is that if you start with a triangle (the most basic polygon) and keep adding sides you get different shapes. Now if you add lots and lots of sides you get something that looks really close to a circle. However only when you add an infinite number of sides, you get a circle.

This can be a game or interactive. Use the picture above, start with the triangle and ask what shape it is and what happens if you add just one more side. When you get to the decagon, ask what happens if we keep doing this?
Use the pictures above to drive home the point that you have to keep adding sides forever to get a circle. Now it is easy to link this to Brahm, Vishnu, and Mahesh. Three corners of a triangle that keep on creating, sustaining, and destroying - forever - to create the circle of life. This can lead to the idea that Maharaj actually is above the circle of life overseeing the whole process. 

Let us know what you think and if you wind up using this let us know how the kids take to it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What is Quality?

This blog started with the idea that sabha (at least the ones we sat through) could be drastically improved in terms of quality.  We phrased it differently at the time. A great deal of that could be attributed to emotion - we were annoyed and frustrated. Then we listened to some katha, chilled out, and focused on Sabha.ology -  improving sabha quality. We realized a few days ago that we never really defined quality.

Make a SMART goal
We asked ourselves: How would we make it a SMART goal? Maybe something like this:

Within the next quarter the core sabha team will present one topic every week and improve quality to a mean of 7, measured by taking an anonymous opinion survey of the core team to rate each talk (1-10).

This is definitely a great SMART goal, but it felt like passing the buck. We could not define it so we hand it off to the local core team to average it out (by wisdom of crowds). While wisdom of crowd works if you have the right people (or so many people that the outliers or "wrong" people get drowned out) it may not work with such a small team. Again how do we define quality?

What would a Judge say
Another way to measure sabha quality could be taken from Justice Potter Stewart, in his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 U.S. 184 (1964), regarding defining obscenity. He stated, "I know it when I see it." Again we all know and feel when we sit in a great sabha but how do we charactize a sabha that is somewhere between great and not so good?

Just Do It
We can read all the posts in this blog or simply read Made to Stick and Resonate! and think about how to apply it to sabha and our quality will improve. But we still did not define quality so we still cannot measure it.

What would Seth Godin say
Here is an excerpt from Seth Godin's blog in this topic:
"Given how much we talk about [sabha] quality, it's surprising that there's a lot of confusion about what quality is.What's a higher quality car: a one-year old Honda Civic or a brand new top of the line Bentley? It turns out that there are at least two useful ways to describe quality, and the conflict between them leads to the confusion.

Quality of design: Thoughtfulness and processes that lead to user delight, that make it likely that someone will seek out a product, pay extra for it or tell a friend.

Quality of manufacture: Removing any variation in tolerances that a user will notice or care about. 

In the case of the Civic, the quality of manufacture is clearly higher by any measure. The manufacturing is more exact, he likelihood that the car will perform (or not perform) in a way you don't expect is tiny. On the other hand, we can probably agree that the design of the Bentley is more bespoke, luxurious and worthy of comment. 

Let's think about manufacturing variation for a second: Fedex promises overnight delivery. 10:20 vs 10:15 is not something the recipient cares about. Tomorrow vs. Thursday, they care about a lot. The goal of the manufacturing process isn't to reach the perfection of infinity. It's to drive tolerances so hard that the consumer doesn't care about the variation. Spending an extra million dollars to get five minutes faster isn't as important to the Fedex brand as spending a million dollars to make the website delightful.

Dropbox is a company that got both right. The design of the service is so useful it now seems obvious. At the same time, though, and most critically, the manufacture of the service is to a very high tolerance. Great design in a backup service would be useless if one in a thousand files were corrupted.

Microsoft struggles (when they struggle) because sometimes they get both wrong. Software that has a user interface that's a pain to use rarely leads to delight, and bugs represent significant manufacturing defects, because sometimes (usually just before a presentation), the software doesn't work as expected--a noticedvariation."

Quality is Balance
The balance of these two types of quality is what we want to achieve. If we cancel sabha one week to do some other activity, we reduce our quality of manufacture. When we start 20 minutes late, or (more likely finish 40 minutes early) we reduce our quality of manufacture. These things can be tackled within karyakar meetings and even in sabha review.

When the presenter starts on time and reads right off the paper we reduce our quality of design. Again this blog is meant to tackle this issue, quality of design, but both are important.

Consider what Philip Crosby realized a generation ago: Quality is free. (free essays are here). It's easier to design outreach quality into sabha and the Mandir than it is to do outreach about the Mandir and sabha. It's cheaper to design manufacturing quality into sabha and the Mandir than it is to inspect it after sabha is over.

They are both important, so we should avoid a boring sabha that starts and ends on time and uses every part of the syllabus. Also we don't want a really fun sabha that happens every "every once in a while" and where we "just do goshti or talk about satsang in our lives" while ignoring the syllabus.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Attention to Detail

The following is a blog post from Vic Gundotra:
One Sunday morning, January 6th, 2008 I was attending religious services when my cell phone vibrated. As discreetly as possible, I checked the phone and noticed that my phone said "Caller ID unknown". I choose to ignore.
After services, as I was walking to my car with my family, I checked my cell phone messages. The message left was from Steve Jobs. "Vic, can you call me at home? I have something urgent to discuss" it said. 
Before I even reached my car, I called Steve Jobs back. I was responsible for all mobile applications at Google, and in that role, had regular dealings with Steve. It was one of the perks of the job.  
"Hey Steve - this is Vic", I said. "I'm sorry I didn't answer your call earlier. I was in religious services, and the caller ID said unknown, so I didn't pick up".  
Steve laughed. He said, "Vic, unless the Caller ID said 'GOD', you should never pick up during services". 
I laughed nervously. After all, while it was customary for Steve to call during the week upset about something, it was unusual for him to call me on Sunday and ask me to call his home. I wondered what was so important?
"So Vic, we have an urgent issue, one that I need addressed right away. I've already assigned someone from my team to help you, and I hope you can fix this tomorrow" said Steve.  
"I've been looking at the Google logo on the iPhone and I'm not happy with the icon. The second O in Google doesn't have the right yellow gradient. It's just wrong and I'm going to have Greg fix it tomorrow. Is that okay with you?"
Of course this was okay with me. A few minutes later on that Sunday I received an email from Steve with the subject "Icon Ambulance". The email directed me to work with Greg Christie to fix the icon. 
Since I was 11 years old and fell in love with an Apple II, I have dozens of stories to tell about Apple products. They have been a part of my life for decades. Even when I worked for 15 years for Bill Gates at Microsoft, I had a huge admiration for Steve and what Apple had produced.  
But in the end, when I think about leadership, passion and attention to detail, I think back to the call I received from Steve Jobs on a Sunday morning in January. It was a lesson I'll never forget. CEOs should care about details. Even shades of yellow. On a Sunday.
I am sure we will be inundated with many of these types of stories in the coming weeks. Yet one of the things Jobs was able to do was convey a sticky message but more than that really believe in what he was doing. Sunday sabha is something worth believing in. And one way to make our sabha into something everyone wants or falls in love with  (like an iPhone 5) is to pay attention to the details. They really do matter.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Simple Shortcut #2: Combination

Simple Shortcuts is a new series of posts geared towards synthesizing that not-so-simple yet crucial simple statement (i.e. main point of our presentations).

Our next shortcut may not seem as straightforward as substitution, but it's not impossible.

Shortcut #2 entails asking, "How can I combine <insert Satsang item here> with <insert non-Satsang item here>?"

In our last post, we looked at the following video and how it might apply to the age-old concept of agna.

However, through combining this video with other topics, we may in fact find more intricacies that span the breadth of our Satsang presentations.
  • Related to agna is the topic of faith vs. logic, and while the birds may have perched in a logical musical pattern, it required a leap of faith to see if that pattern did exist or not. 
  • Perhaps these birds are a breath of fresh air into our otherwise boring, mundane lives; it's something we need to apply to our Satsang (i.e. nitya navin rakhvu). In Vachanamrut Kariyani-3, Shriji Maharaj explains, "This Shuk Muni is a very great sadhu. From the day he began staying with Me, his enthusiasm has been ever increasing; in fact, it has never diminished." If we seize the right moments, we too can experience the flourishing of our Satsang. 
  • However, do all people find birds perched in a pattern entertaining? Eccentric musicians aside, maybe not. Thus, we need to engage in a modality that suits our preferences, like one of nine types of bhakti.
  • For a musician, birds sitting in such a coordinated pattern is a rare opportunity - slim odds - yet it's in these encounters we can remember God as sarva-karta (all-doer), one of the four aspects of our upasana and feel empowered by the one we've met.
Rather than continue along with this free-for-all, let's see what simple statements we may have generated.
  • Faith freshens up our Satsang.
  • The nine types of bhakti are there to keep our Satsang fresh.
  • Understanding God as the all-doer keeps our Satsang fresh.
Here, we've combined topics in ways we may not have otherwise thought of before, and the more we do it, the better we get at it. Think about that the next time we encounter something extraordinary.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Simple Shortcut #1: Substitution

The three-point recipe for a coherent presentation - simple/shakeup/stories - has been introduced in our posts and applied in past presentations, but we realized it was no fun. Why should we be the only ones enjoying ourselves when we should be sharing the wealth? Now we're taking one step backwards in helping fellow Sabhaologists create these elements from scratch on demand beginning with the first element: the simple statement. 

The importance of a simple statement cannot be underemphasized. Ever. Without a simple statement, our presentations are nothing more than a lifeless mass of words passing in one ear of the listener to the other. Thus, we need to unite this mass with a message or main point. It's what we call simple though the process by which we synthesize it is not so easy.

Hence, Simple Shortcuts, a new series of posts, will help us with developing that core of our presentation through a host of different perspectives that help us synthesize that not-so-simple yet crucial simple statement.

Shortcut #1 entails asking, "What can be substituted in <insert non-Satsang item here> with <insert Satsang item here>?

For example, let's watch this clip.

Ok, let's break down what we saw - straightforward of course:
  • Birds sitting on wire in no observable pattern.
  • Observer sees how the birds fit together in a musical pattern.
Now, let's see how substitution takes effect.
  • We may perceive the Satpurush's agna to be random and gloss over them without much thought.
  • However, the Satpurush sees how they fit together in a spiritual pattern.
Um, spiritual pattern - how does that benefit us? Does that mean we are all supposed to become atma-realized? Or is how we can inspire others if we ourselves become inspired? Or is it how we can establish Satyug in Kaliyug? 

And that's how we unleash the torrent of thought which we otherwise find difficult to awaken when we're given a presentation. Sometimes, we just need the starting spot to brainstorm ideas, and using Shortcut #1 on what we perceive as non-Satsang suddenly breathes life into concepts we have otherwise grown to consider stale. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Wrong Body Language

A fellow Sabhaologist sent us this nifty article that summarizes the no-no's when it comes to our posture and position amidst speaking and presenting. Though in each of our mandals we have a slightly different setup for sabha, it may not hurt to remember these annoying habits to stay on the good side of audience perhaps even in a non-mandir setting.

Tapping a Pencil

After all, it's great to captivate the audience but not at the cost of composure. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Balika/Bal Mandal Go To Move #5: Active Learning

Atlas, it's time for your bathAs our balaks continue along their Summer Challenge, we thought we'd throw another bone in the way of another tactic to get them on their toes.

In the Sabha Challenge section, many “projects” that kids do in school are all provided within the packet:
  • Posterboard Projects
  • Shoebox Diorama
  • Jeopardy Review
  • Live Skits
  • Debates

Also, the Home Challenge is something for the kids to do on their own. Although much of this month may be review, it’s important that the balaks understand the correct message.

The key to many of these activities is how we present them. For example, the syllabus lists three prasangs about Bhagatji Maharaj for this week’s topic: Shram Yagna.

An interesting/creative way to do this is by taking the balaks to a place that will bring this prasang to life. For example, in the first prasang, Bhagatji Maharaj was near a little water tank washing dishes. You can take them in the kitchen, and tell them the prasang there. (Of course, you’d have to talk with the Kitchen Coordinator and ask them if they’re not busy at that time.)

Additionally, you can make them do vasaan seva for a little bit before telling the prasang, so they can experience the prasang. This tactic is called active learning and helps the balaks experience the prasang firsthand while giving them a reason to NOT sit still (i.e. move around).

Overall, the strength of this month’s ‘Summer Challenge’ packet definitely lies in the “learn-by-doing” experience, so let's capitaze on this strategy to make the most of their Summer Challenge.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Effective Communication

Everyone seems to have a take on what it takes to make a great speaker, so we try to take the shining lessons of all and see what patterns seem to stand out. In a recent article over at Productivity501, we saw the following.
  1. Be visual.
  2. Tell stories.
  3. What people hear vs. what you say.
While #2 is no different from what we've been stating in our posts, #1 & #3 caught our attention because they were different.

The article used this story to illustrate #1,
wealth of pennies
I once ran an IT department for a non-profit with about 200 employees.  In the work room we had a large color and a large b&w printer.  The cost on the color printer was about $0.15 per page.  The cost of the b&w was $0.015 per page.  I kept trying to ask people to use the b&w unless they had a compelling reason to print color.  When you are printing 50,000 toe 100,000 pages per month the $0.015 vs $0.15 made a big difference on the budget.  A few casual visits to the work room made it clear that no one was listening. A good percentage of the paper being printed on the color printer was b&w or had unnecessary color. 
I had my assistant get me 165 pennies to prepare for a meeting where I was going to try once again.  I took 10 sheets of paper, put them on the table and said, “Here is how much this costs to print on the b&w printer.”  Then I dropped 15 pennies on the table.  ”Here is how much it costs to print these same 10 sheets on the color printer.”  I then dropped 150 pennies on the table, making as much noise as possible and letting them roll all over the place and onto the floor. 
After that, people started being more careful.  Behavior didn’t change overnight, but there was a noticeable drop in the usage on the color printer.  Dropping the pennies on the table made an impression–something I hadn’t been able to do before using just my words. Showing is nearly always more effective than saying.
Made to Stick calls this concrete - taking something abstract and translating it to the tangible. 

As for #3, another story was used to illustrate the point:
After Obama won the election, the news crews were talking to people who were very excited about his success.  One person interviewed was a woman who made the statement that now she wouldn’t have to worry about putting gas in her car. Now she wouldn’t have to worry about her mortgage. I didn’t watch everything Obama said, but I don’t think he made any promises to pay mortgages or give away free gas. I do know he did a pretty good job of conveying a message of hope, but what that lady heard and what Obama said were not at all the same thing.
While this may be a bit of an extreme example, it is vitally important to remember that what you say isn’t the important thing.  What matters is what people hear.  In many cases those to things can be miles apart. All of us hear things through our own set of biases, assumptions and personalities. When you are communicating it is easy to be so focused on what you say, that you overlook what people will hear
It's important to take into account what our audience thinks lest we risk losing our message.

In any case, effective speaking is mainly about utilizing a set of core concepts - no matter however it's described or organized.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Getting a Ghosti Going

Warhol's Light BulbsWith the summer series on ghosti, we may have struggled to deal with a format that seems completely different from a traditional presentation.

Whereas in a presentation we have control, here we outsource it to our fellow audience in a ghosti. Hence, if we've put our audience to sleep, we'll know with the lack of responses garnered from them - maybe a reason why we fear a ghosti.

One tool though can put this fear to rest: curiosity. Curiosity is what gets a ghosti going naturally. People will speak up if they are genuinely interested in the topic at hand. In a ghosti, thus we need to compare each prasang to something our audience can relate. 

For example, let's say we want to depict the difference between paroksh gnan and aparoksh gnan to an audience full of gamers. Simply asking our audience about the difference will not make an impact especially since many of them won't know. Wet their appetites by contrasting a specific game, like Resident Evil, with perhaps reading a strategy guide (i.e. cheat manual). Just because we may know the full parameters of the game means nothing in the way of how our heart stopped at the sight of a bloody zombie.

To a crowd full of b-ballers, describe the crossover in the form of a step-by-step recipe. Compare that to what actual players feel when they pull off the move. Suddenly, the concept of paroksh & aparoksh becomes that much more concrete.

We can extend this idea to all of our prasangs as well, but it requires that we read over them and think about how our audience might relate to them. To butcher the prasang, read it out and ask, "What do you think?" To breathe life into the prasang, link it up to a concrete scenario, like we did with Resident Evil and the crossover.

Success or failure - let us know of other tricks of the trade to get a ghosti going.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Presenting Tips From Warren Buffet

Prov­ing that good writ­ing and presentation can be found any­where, writer Nancy Fried­man points to Berk­shire Hath­away CEO War­ren Buffett’s annual reports as exam­ples of excel­lent copy­writ­ing. These points are very much in lock step with Made to Stick and Resonate - this gives another point of view.

Fried­man sub­mits that we can learn to write bet­ter copy by study­ing War­ren Buffett’s annual reports, offer­ing these six tips, high­lighted after study­ing his annuals:
  • Tell sto­ries. Read­ing a Berk­shire annual report is like sit­ting across a booth in a diner with a great con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist pos­sessed of both intel­li­gence and insa­tiable curiosity. The second S in the Made to Stick SUCCES model.
  • Use vivid language. This makes thing both concrete and credible.
  • Talk about peo­ple. It’s one thing to say, as almost every­one does, that busi­ness is about peo­ple. It’s another thing entirely to por­tray those peo­ple fully fleshed and full of foibles.
  • Be gen­er­ous with humour. Every Berk­shire annual brims with jokes (includ­ing some groan­ers), drollery, and wit - this makes things unexpected.
  • Get to the point. “Be fear­ful when oth­ers are greedy and greedy when oth­ers are fear­ful,” Buf­fett writes. That’s an entire busi­ness phi­los­o­phy in twelve words. Simple statement.
  • Let your enthu­si­asm show. Emotion
Buf­fett wrote the won­der­ful pref­ace to the SEC’s A Plain Eng­lish Hand­book: How to cre­ate clear SEC dis­clo­sure doc­u­ments (pdf). He offers this “uno­rig­i­nal but use­ful tip”:
Write with a spe­cific per­son in mind. When writ­ing Berk­shire Hathaway’s annual report, I pre­tend that I’m talk­ing to my sis­ters. I have no trou­ble pic­tur­ing them: Though highly intel­li­gent, they are not experts in account­ing or finance. They will under­stand plain Eng­lish, but jar­gon may puz­zle them. My goal is sim­ply to give them the infor­ma­tion I would wish them to sup­ply me if our posi­tions were reversed. To suc­ceed, I don’t need to be Shake­speare; I must, though, have a sin­cere desire to inform.
That’s the key; pic­tur­ing your audi­ence as intel­li­gent non-experts. I think this is the same key idea when dealing with our kishores and kishoris - they are also intelligent non-experts. Thoughts?