Saturday, January 29, 2011

Helping the Hero

Last week we examined the idea of creativity and unexpected. We saw that the emphasis was to create a "knowledge gap" in our audience so that they wanted to know more. How can we find the killer example that will get everyone in our audience engaged in the presentation? Answering that question seems like a daunting task that we have to fit in with all the seva we already have.

Let's take a step back and look at our guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj. He spends his day greeting satsangis, doing murti darshan, and performing puja - with a catch; he does it in the presence of others so that they may derive some connection or insight that ultimately draws them closer to a force that can influence their life for the better. There have been accounts of the struggling alcoholic who at one glance of Swamishri loses his desire to drink or the vegetarian-convert who vacillated away from carniverous consumption.

Similarly, presenting is an opportunity for us to guide others towards change. While our audience may not be all that knowledgeable of the topic at hand, we should never feel as though we are out to educate them or point out how their current mentality is flawed. Doing so actually denigrates our message. Our goal really is to illustrate how our simple message taken from the presentation can change each person life. We are showing that change in hopes of inspiring others.

Picture this: Shriji Maharaj knew his Kathi Darbars enjoyed racing horses, their zeal for fighting, and even their coarse mannerisms. What if He started off by telling them how their interests were all worthless in attaining moksha and pointed out just how rude and raucous they truly were? He may have had to continue that yatra back to where He started!

Instead, Maharaj become one of the them by taking interest in their horses and riding with them. After cultivating this bond, he slowly started to create change. Now that's creative. After all, Yogiji Maharaj has said, "Pehla het karva shikvu" (Learn to be a friend first).

Hence, the first step in being creative and having a sticky sabha is to like our audience. In her book, Resonate, Nancy Duarte compares the audience to the hero and the speaker to the mentor (think Luke and Yoda, Neo and Morpheus). In that light, we can see that speaking becomes an important seva - that is if we choose to hold it in humility and not hubris.

Below are an adapted version of some questions that she provides in her book to consider while analyzing our audience (p.65). Duarte notes that our goal is to figure out what our audience cares about and then link it back to our idea. Try using some of these the next time we're faced with crafting a presentation. They can help us decide on the creative story or the unexpected opening that will resonate the most with our audience.

What does the average member in our audience do on any particular day?
What do they at school, at home, online?

What is their opinion on the topic to be presented?
How close does it fit to what Swamishri would like?
Who/what provided them that insight?

Motivation & Desire
What gets them out of the bed every morning?
What is missing in their lives?

NOTE: "Swamishri" or "Satsang" could be answers to the first question but warrant deeper analysis. What about Swamishri or Satsang could they use in their lives? 

How do they spend their time and money?
What things do they seem to naturally enjoy or hate?

Who or what influences their behavior?
What experiences have influenced their thoughts?
How do they make decisions?

How do they give and receive respect?
What can you do to make them feel respected?

Example: Last week, we mentioned the "trust fall," an exercise often used in presentations on the topic of faith. Let's see how this could break down using this analytic scheme.

  • Audience: Kishores
  • Lifestyle: This is a K2 sabha, and they all go to college. They've grown up in Satsang for the most part and enjoy the independence provided to them by dorm life and meeting new people through intramural sports. 
  • Knowledge: Faith is a topic they feel overdone in sabha and get the idea that blind faith is something we engage in on a day-to-day basis. Still, they do not feel compelled by it enough to follow basic niyams on campus, like eating out.
  • Motivation & desire: Doing well in school and sports and getting along with others is what they seek. If they could link these goals to pleasing Swamishri, then they may increase their faith in him and open up increasing their samjan which in turn will strengthen their bond to him and all things Satsang.
  • Values: They enjoy spending their time in the company of their college peers, and know what's current in the way of pop culture (TV, movies, music). They draw the line if they feel too pressured to do anything contrary to their niyam dharma, like drugs. 
  • Influence: Their immediate social group respects their commitment to mandir, but the kishores do not actively promote it with others (i.e. invite them to mandir events). While they may not back out of coming to mandir on Sundays, they may be hesitant to give up hanging out with their friends on a Saturday night to come do seva at mandir. 
  • Respect: They would feel empowered if we linked faith to their unwavering commitment to sabha, their intramural participation, and even their steadfast nature in the face of negative peer pressure. Then, we could perhaps nudge them in the direction that niyams are yet another mark of faith to provide a room for improvement. 

Given that these kishores feel faith to be an overdone topic, the "trust fall" may not be a great exercise; chances are that they've seen it before. However, we could add a touch of basketball: have a blindfolded kishore practice passing to another kishore while relying only on the other kishore's verbal cues. Then, if we linked this idea back to the Sant guiding us in our "blindfolded" time of life, we could open the way for a provocative presentation.

From this little exercise, we can see just how important it is to know our audience, to care about them. Ideally, the best presenters are the ones that care about the audience which is why the pravachans given by P. Santo deliver a greater impact.

Here is a simple experiment: Next time we've prepared a presentation and are up to speak, commence with the Jay Naad, take a small moment to thank Maharaj and Swami for this seva, ask for their help in making a sticky talk, and then look out at the audience and care that each one of them will take home the message to be delivered. It will work wonders.

We are fortunate that caring for our fellow Satsangis is already part of our time and seva at mandir, so let's infuse this sentiment in our speaking. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Practice Makes Perfect

This week, we thought we would share the beginning of our thought process as we geared up for the topic of courage in kishori sabha.

We start with simple. Here are some of the initial simple messages that we thought we could convey.
  1. Courage requires us to battle our minds, so we do not give up.
  2. Fear and courage are two sides of the same coin.
  3. Fear is a constraint we place on ourselves; courage is when we remove this constraint.
  4. Satsang gives us the tools to overcome our mind, one of these tools is courage.
  5. Courage is not taking the mental shortcut - shifting from "Courage is hard" to "Courage is habit."
We then started thinking about which message would resonate best with our mandal. In our mandal, we have many younger kishoris so we thought that the fourth one would work best. Honestly, this was a pretty arbitrary choice, since any one of the above would have worked. However, another reason we wanted to lean towards this choice was to focus more on the practical scenarios given in the presentation.

Given our simple message we started to think of what the unexpected could be to shake everyone up. Here are a few ideas we came up with.
  • "Tug of War" - At first, this activity seemed insane, but we have enough room in our sabha room, and it would get everyone up and moving. As an added bonus, this activity can easily be tied into Vachnamrut Sarangpur-1 and the battle that takes place in the mind. We figured that after every story, we would reference this activity to keep it aligned with the idea that there is a tug of war in the mind and that courage lies in the triumph of the "good" side.
  • The following video from a very old Candid Camera show really brings out how hard it is for us to think independently and thus be courageous. It ties in well with the Asch experiment. Again, the key would be to take this example and tie it in with the idea that courage is overcoming the mind's natural tendency to conform and take the shortcut out.
  • We also thought of showing The Girl Effect and then trying to draw this back to the idea that those girls who are in need and thrive must have a great deal of courage, and this courage comes from the mental control.
  • Getting into college takes a great deal of work; however, for one girl, her ticket to college was a goat. This is an unexpected sentence. We thought of telling the story of this girl who went to college and became successful because of the gift of a goat. However, she faced many hardships - leaving her home, studying away from her family, knowing that failure meant letting everyone down. To overcome these obstacles she required courage.
We went with the last story since we could tie it in with our simple message. We have Satsang as our tool, and she had her work ethic. Her shot to change came when a charity gave her family a goat, and our chance to change came when we met the Satpurush.

Let's recap: We have a simple message and an unexpected opening. Now, the final part of the presentation puzzle is stories. It might be confusing though that our unexpected factor - the story of the goat and girl - is a story, but it still works with its infused emotion and credibility (from the citations).

We even made it relevant (concrete) by relating it back to our original simple message, "Satsang gives us the tools to overcome our mind, one of these tools is courage." We just need to do that with a few more stories.
  • The Candid Camera example in the presentation could be made into a very compelling story. Just as courage is not our natural tendency and requires work to make it so, Satsang/niyams are not our natural tendencey and too require work.
  • We liked the Himraj Sheth example and wanted to take it a step further to make it relate back to our audience. Our idea right now is to give the idea of being excommunicated from your society some context (i.e. everyone on Facebook defriends you). It would take a great deal of control over our minds not to feel disheartened or hurt. Satsang thus gives us this tool to remain happy in all situations, the essence of true courage. This understanding is what Himraj Sheth's sons attained.
So those are our preliminary thoughts on how to approach this presentation. Ultimately, we must craft our presentations with our sabha and our audience in mind. What are your thoughts? Let us know.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Happiness Amidst Hardships

This week in kishore/kishori sabha, we are tasked with presenting the hardships of Shriji Maharaj's paramhanso. We know off the bat that many of them pushed the limits for how much we could actually tolerate. Can we come close to replicating their situation?

What if we were minding our business one day while crossing the street at the appropriate signal and got hit by a drunk driver. A few hours later, we awake in the hospital to learn that we could no longer use any of our limbs - hands or feet - then what? Certainly, we would despair.

Let's take another step back. What if we never had four limbs? We would never know what it feels like to throw a football in a perfect spiral, what it would feel like to squish mud between our feet before getting yelled at by our parents, or even what it would be like to drive a car.

Think no more, for there is an individual in our world today who never had four limbs from birth. How miserable must his life be for him.

Clearly, he's not that miserable. His name is Nick Vujicic, and he was born without limbs. Today, he travels around the world as a motivational speaker. In this video, Nick has clearly everything going against him, but we can see that if he prefers to be thankful for what he has and not bitter (4:30-4:59).

In Satsang, that's a sentiment we may stumble upon every now and then, "Why was I born into it? My non-satsangi friends have so much more to enjoy than me because I'm constrained by this curse."

"Curse" is a strong word along with "constrained," but our conditions can not match that which Nick faces or the paramhanso faced in their time. They prevail from their understanding: Nick and the paramhanso perceived their hardships to be energizing not exhausting.

For the paramhanso, the hardships were opportunities to fulfill their faith to Shriji Maharaj and His cause. From the likes of Anandanand Swami, Atmanand Swami, and even Muktanand Swami, we see repeatedly that they perceived their conditions to be not a curse but a blessing.

Ultimately, we must decide whether Satsang is a curse or a blessing to us all. Curses exhaust us while blessings energize us. Deep down, we know which one will prove the most beneficial to us in the end making this choice all the more easy.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Creativity = The Unexpected

We hope that everyone had a great sabha last week as we start this year with an emphasis on making them great.

Speaking of which, we may have found ourselves in a great debate last week on all things creative. It all boiled down to one question: what is unexpected?
  • One line of thought entailed embracing new approaches, like dazzling visuals courtesy of Powerpoint or hands-on activities or even interactive games. 
  • On the other hand, we felt that we've sat through stellar pravachans given by P. Santo and haribhakto who hardly used any of these items.
So what gives?

After much popcorn and dark chocolate consumption (to get the brain juices flowing), we arrived at one simple but important principle: Creativity is about creating curiosity about the subject at hand.

It can entail a game or activity.
It can entail a vivid image.
It can entail simple analysis.

It does not matter how we do it, but if we can accomplish that goal, then it is creative, it is unexpected. Let's take an example. If we had a presentation on faith, maybe we want to set up a "trust fall" where individuals fall onto the arms of several others to demonstrate the type of faith we should exhibit with God. If this has not been done in sabha before, then this is unexpected (i.e. creative).

Now, let's take a step back and ask ourselves: Did this create curiosity in our audience? It might have, but it all depends on the audience. Have they ever done the trust fall before? Does every sabha have an activity? Usually something like the "trust fall," by itself, does not create curiosity about the topic of faith. This is a common misconception we have had when we were trying to make our sabha sticky. We would throw in an activity (or video, or picture, etc.) just to mix things up. This led to more popcorn consumption and another epiphany: Mixing things up usually does not create curiosity; we need to stimulate attention.

At this point we ran out of popcorn so we bought some Shayona chevado (spicy mix!) and asked ourselves, "How do we do this? How can we create curiosity about the idea of faith?"

We believe that the solution lies in taking this unexpected event and looking at it in a different light. After we "mix it up" with the fall activity, what we say about is what will really create curiosity about the topic(s) at hand. Everyone implicitly knows the moral, "We have faith that the people will catch us."

But what if they don't? Would we do it again? What if we fall 50 times, and 50 times the people who are meant to catch us simply don't? Would we fall for the same trick on the 51 time? Having faith means taking the plunge every time. Dada Khacher demonstrated exactly this principle with his court case.

Trying to find the unorthodox questions, connection, or viewpoint will lead us to the idea that will create curiosity. The trust fall may mix things up enough for people to wake up, but the thought above will create curiosity, make the person go, "Hmmmm," and open them up to our concrete and credible stories to back up our sticky message. And that's what keeps people glued to powerful pravachans; the speakers are providing ideas that provoke our thoughts. They're breaking the expectation of the topic at hand.

When we fail to create curiosity, we run the risk of creating cheesiness which, in turn, results in the skepticism and mockery of the message at hand.

In the past we have relied (often to heavily) on asking questions to "shake things up." So we may ask,"Who is the President?" or "Who likes lasagna?" These were almost rhetorical questions. Nobody was becoming curious or having their expectations broken, so they did not really work for us. It's not to say that someone could not pull it off, but it is just that we could not find that idea or follow-up story that put these pedestrian questions in a new light.

Just as we emptied out the last of the chevdo and read over the bhod katha that Yogiji Maharaj told of the honest thief who became the diwan, it hit us - this story could create curiosity if we looked at it from the point of view of the thief. He was always telling the truth, a real life Jim Carey. He was gangsta in that he had courage infused in him by the Sant he had just met. This led to the idea that honesty is all about having courage, and for us, the source of that courage is Bapa on our post last week.

In short, let's remember that while there many ways to be creative, it's the curiosity that counts; think unexpectedly.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Honestly Speaking of Honesty

With 2011 underway, here's some material to help pack a punch in our upcoming presentations.

What's my main message?

Answering this may be the most complicated task in making a presentation but warrants our attention. In Made to Stick, we call this concept, "Simple." What is the one point that we want our audience to retain from our presentation?  

This week, there is a presentation on honesty in kishore/kishori sabha. It seems simple enough to honestly come up with a simple message for a presentation on honesy; however we would be lying if we said it really was not complicated. Here are some ideas to help us start off on the right foot.
  • Honesty takes courage, and being honest with oneself takes the most courage. Swamishri gives us the courage to be honest to ourselves and others.
  • Honesty is about being in the shining light in the world of darkness, and we can look to Swamishri for illumination.
  • Dishonesty is the path of the drama queen - not the path endorsed by Swamishri. 

So how do I start?

Starting off a talk with something unexpected is all about creating curiosity. When we get the audience wondering, "Why did you say that? What are you going to say next?" we get their permission to have their attention.

So in this case, if we want to show the positives of honesty, we can start off with something that seemingly demonstrates the negatives of honesty (though upon further examination it may not) or something that seems totally irrelevant to honesty.

One example is to start off with Chattooga County, Georgia, from an episode of This American Life where a local newspaper column caused a lot of controversy when it allowed people to share their honest opinion. (Listen to 22:30-30:00).

Honesty... causing drama? That's the opposite of what I'd expect to hear in sabha! 

And thus you've set the bait for the presentation.

NOTE: Of course, we'll need to come around sometime and explain that while the people were honest, they were not courageous given their anonymity.

And then what?

Following up with some stories hammers that point home, namely ones that have juicy details (concrete) and are authentic in nature (credible). This is Made to Stick 101.

So this week we have a presentation on honesty. How can we pique our audience's curiosity? Here are some suggestions to get started though we'd love to hear any other original ideas.

Facebook drama. It happens every day. Someone says something on your wall, another peson say something else, you have to clarify what is true and what is not true. In fact, some people have taken to deactivating their account when they are not on-line, and then reactivating their account when they pop back on-line. What would it be like if there was no drama, you never had to worry about what someone was putting on your wall while you were not paying attention.

Someone had this idea and created the Honesty Box app (or plug-in or some such - as you can tell I don't have a FB account). This honesty box lets other people anonymously say the truth on your wall. Do you think this type of honesty increased or decreased the drama?

Marketers are liars. That is their job and they are very good at it; how else do they sell their stuff? Watch a small clip from this video about the new version of Shreddies cereal. [The following clip is worth watching, however the three minutes from 11:40 to 14:40 really hits the mark].

As always, please let us know how this material helped. Honestly, we mean it.