Thursday, March 31, 2011

Power of Mom

This week's bal/balika-2 syllabus has an amazing topic on Amazing Lady Devotees during Shriji Maharaj's time, primarily focusing on Laduba, Jivuba, Zamkuba, and Kushalkunvarba. Let's look at the three question rule to see how this would work.

What is the simple message? This really can be geared for which mandal (bal or balika) and age group that we have in our mandal. Here are some ideas:
  • Moms are very important. They help us understand Satsang.
  • During Maharaj's time, lady devotees had the same bhakti and attachment to Maharaj as great men devotees.
  • Bhakti and devotion to Maharaj transcends gender (and race and creed).
  • Maharaj stressed respect for all.
  • We can have the same type bhakti towards Maharaj today as these devotees did during Maharaj's time.
The key here is to focus on our audience and choose the message accordingly. Once the message is chosen, we need to focus one ensuring that message goes through. Sometimes, we shy away from saying the message directly; however, in bal/balika mandal, it maybe a good idea to say the message you want to impart several times directly and link it back with stories since children retain better through repetition.

Unexpected - Funtivity
The challenge with Bal/Balika mandal is to find an age appropriate activity. If we miss this aspect, then the message or activity goes over their heads or they get really bored. It is tricky, but something new is always better than nothing new. We also need to tie in these examples with our simple message. Here are some ideas.
  • Write a letter to mom. After we say the prasang, a good way for repetition is to have the kids write a letter to their mom repeating what they learned and adding how their mom helps them. This will also really make the mom happy as well. And happy moms mean happy kids. This is generic enough that we can say our simple message and have the kids explain that simple message to their moms in a letter.
  • Read the following letter or put it on a screen. This can be tied to the fact that mom's do so much that we take for granted. A very nice tie in with the first simple statement. Really this can be transitioned into any of the simple statements - Maharaj understood how much mom's did, thus he stressed respect for all, etc. Son can easily be change to daughter in the following text. Again gauge how successful this will be with your kids, or try it and see.

  • A little boy came up to his mother in the kitchen one evening while she was fixing supper, and handed her a piece of paper that he had been writing on. After his Mom dried her hands on an apron, she read it, and this is what it said:
    For cutting the grass:$5.00
    For cleaning up my room this week:$1.00
    For going to the store for you:$.50
    Baby-sitting my kid brother while you went shopping:$.25
    Taking out the garbage:$1.00
    For getting a good report card:$5.00
    For cleaning up and raking the yard:$2.00
    Total owed:$14.75
    Well, his mother looked at him standing there, and the boy could see the memories flashing through her mind. She picked up the pen, turned over the paper he'd written on, and this is what she wrote:
    For the nine months I carried you while you were growing inside me: No Charge
    For all the nights that I've sat up with you, doctored and prayed for you: No Charge
    For all the trying times, and all the tears that you've caused through the years: No Charge
    For all the nights that were filled with dread, and for the worries I knew were ahead: No Charge
    For the toys, food, clothes, and even wiping your nose: No Charge
    Son, when you add it up, the cost of my love is: No Charge.
    When the boy finished reading what his mother had written, there were big tears in his eyes, and he looked straight at his mother and said, "Mom, I sure do love you." And then he took the pen and in great big letters he wrote: "PAID IN FULL".

  • If you have really little kids show them this video or even reading this book maybe a good way to start the conversation about mothers in general.

The prasangs themselves are great. The emphasis here should be two things: storytelling and tying back the story to simple idea.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Swami ni Vaat 7.6

A presentation based on a Swami ni Vaat - talk about a curveball! This type of presentations really excite us since Swami ni Vaat are very deep and very subtle. This means there are many ways to take this presentation. We may think that since the text itself is too short for a sabha presentation. However, let's dive into the depths of the enlightenment this Swami ni Vaat has to offer.

Step 1: Synthesize the simple statement.
  • Shriji Maharaj's exists both above and within all entities in the universe.
  • We must earn the ability to understand Shriji Maharaj's form.
  • Understanding Shriji Maharaj requires understanding His mahima.
Step 2: Start with the shakeup.
  • What is Pizza? What seems to be a stupid question on the surface proves incredibly difficult if asked by an individual who has no familiarity with pizza, like an Indian villager. Ask an audience member to describe pizza to the audience but then repeat it now assuming that the audience is a group of Indian villagers who have never experience pizza before. The difficulty in this scenario reflects the difficulty Shriji Maharaj had in explaining His nature to other devotees at the time.
  • The Violin Player: Joshua Bell, a world-class violinist, played several pieces of music for 45 minutes in a metro station in Washington DC, yet hardly anybody paid him attention. An individual who sold out a theater in Boston only two days before received no recognition or praise from commuters. Just as they did not understand his greatness, we too pass each moment and day without fully understanding the mahima of Shriji Maharaj. Actual story can be found at the link above; mix it up by showing parts of the video as well.
  • Pup Ponders the Heat Death of the Universe: Yep, it's as eccentric as it sounds but illustrates this principle very well; when we take time to fathom just how small we are in scale to Shriji Maharaj Himself, we begin to understand His mahima. Pause at the black block before heading into the strip where he goes out and plays sports. However, while we can easily attain that understanding, we can easily lose it when we focus in on the present which for Pup are his sports.
Step 3: Support the simple statement with stories filled with details (concrete) and validity (credibility). For example, we linked three prasangs from the presentation to the second simple statement, "We must earn the ability to understand Shriji Maharaj's form."
  • Bhai Ramdas - Why was Bhai Ramdas a genuine devotee? We may think it is because of his ability to have Shriji Maharaj's darshan in all three states, but the real answer lay in his understanding. He thanked Shriji Maharaj for giving him the ability to see His form. We too must recognize that to attain God, we must first secure His permission.
  • God or Sadhu? - The assembly initially saw Shriji Maharaj's demonstration as funny, but what if the prasang had been different in that Bhai Ramdas had been present? While the others may have laughed, he would have felt touched that Shriji Maharaj Himself felt all those sitting in the assembly to even be eligible to hear of His true form.
  • Riding a Rolls-Royce - We keep seeing how important it is to earn the ability to understand Shriji Maharaj's form, but it seems that it is easier said than done. However, we have a living, breathing example in the form of the Satpurush to demonstrate to us the way to earn this understanding. In 1982, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, as the guest-of-honor, humbly sat on the gearbox. We cannot fathom such a scenario, yet it's the way of the Satpurush that will help us earn the ability to understand Shriji Maharaj's form.
We may find it difficult to imagine how to create a 20-minute presentation out of this paragraph-sized Swami ni Vaat, yet in these words lies the wisdom of a lifetime. Let's take some time this week to familiarize ourselves and earn the ability to win over our audience to God & His Sant.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Power of the Divine

In bal/balika-2 sabha this week, we explore Bhagatji Maharaj's divinity. As we narrate these prasangs, our young audience may only see the miracle. However, we must reiterate how there is more to the story than what we hear on the surface.

For example, in the case of these magicians, what's the secret behind their success? Check out the video below to see one of their famous tricks exposed on camera.

Similarly, when we hear of Bhagatji Maharaj's miracles, we may get caught up in whether he could have actually done the things he did, like giving Kanji Darji the ability have constant darshan of the murtis.

However, when are listening to a prasang that seems fictional, we are unintentionally distracted from what’s really going on. We focus too much on the “magic” part of it that we fail to understand the real core message the prasang is giving us.

Challenge the audience: Remind them that if they look at a prasang ready to discern fact from fiction, they’re missing the main message. As in the video above, they're paying attention to the "face."

So then what is the message behind these prasangs?

Bhagatji Maharaj's miracles helped devotees to focus on Shriji Maharaj, the true source of divinity.

In short, open sabha up with this wager and embrace their engagement in trying to find the hidden message.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Divine Form

Understanding God to be sakar is a cornerstone of our upasana, and to say it any other way would be a grave understatement. Shriji Maharaj has repeated countless time just how pertinent this idea is to us achieving moksha, so let's take some time to strategize how we plan to present this topic to our sabha.

Step 1: Synthesize the simple statement.
  • God possesses a divine form.
  • God's divine form enhances our bhakti.
  • A limited God lacks form.
Step 2: Start off with a shakeup.
  • Play-Doh Time! - Refer to the syllabus for this activity. 
  • Shape-Shifting Mobile Phone - Fabian Hemmert has prototyped a phone that changes shape, weight, and even "breathes" to give a more organic feel of the phone. God too gives us an organic feel when He assumes a form appropriate to our sense of perception.
  • Bear Hunter - Just as the hunter is able to interact with the bear, God takes on a human form to enable us to interact with him. The possibilities are endless in this interactive Youtube video and so too are they for us when we are able to serve the divine form of God.
Step 3: Support the simple statement with stories filled with details (concrete) and backed with validity (credibility). We decided to go with the second simple statement, "God's divine form enhances our own bhakti."
  • NOTE: The syllabus is NOT stating that the Satpurush is God but rather the Satpurush's form is divine since God resides in him fully without any traces of maya. In Vachanamrut Sarangpur 5, Shriji Maharaj says, "As separate and beyond all of them, Akshar is said to contain as sharir only Lord Purushottam and does not sustain even a trace of the ignorance attached to Prakriti and Purush.” In other words, the Satpurush is the closest entity to Shriji Maharaj Himself, so his form too is divine. 
  • Opportunity to Serve - Yogiji Maharaj's illness enabled others to serve him and thereby offer seva to him. If God lacked a form, our seva would be severely limited in its scope. Let's think about it for a second. What seva has to happen whenever Pramukh Swami comes for vicharan? Reporting, A/V, parking, decorations, and the list proves infinite. All of that would eliminated if we did not believe in God having a divine form. Prefacing this prasang with this example could serve to illustrate it well.
  • Accepting Bhakti - Offering devotion in the form of puja, thaal, arti, etc. requires that we have faith; after all, our devotion becomes tainted when we expect to receive something in exchange for it. Hence, having a God with divine form enhances this bhakti because we have the opportunity of actually witnessing God's satisfaction firsthand. That sweet memory only supercharges our wish to serve and offer devotion!
  • Tied to Taste - Our bhakti is limited by how easily we get distracted by the panchvishays - sights, sounds, smells, etc. - that pervade our environment. The Nagar devotee felt this obstacle firsthand, yet only the divine form of God awakened his awareness: If he can dine so simply as the mahant of this mandir, why can I not as a mere devotee? Swamishri too awakens our awareness to our own bhakti. When we see him do puja, arti, thaal, we realize just how focused we need to be in offering bhakti to God. The divine form thus provides with a model by which we can enhance our own bhakti.
As we can see, such a simple concept can have such lasting implications on our spiritual progress. Let's make a point to formulate our presentation before walking into sabha; it would certainly be hypocritical to discuss the benefits of a God with form without actually providing one for our presentation (i.e. winging it on the spot). 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hindu Identity

This year, the Women's Conference has a talk on Hindu Identity. Let's try the three question method for this topic. We will focus on making this a presentation; however, the same ideas could be modified for a panel discussion.

Step 1: What is my simple message?

The material given with this talk outlines many points that could make up our simple message:
  • What does it mean to be a Hindu?
  • How do we practice being a Hindu?
  • What mindsets, values, or ways of thought are the foundations of Hindu life?
  • What does it mean to me to be a Hindu?
  • How does the world interact with Hinduism?
The key here is to understand that while all these questions are interesting and pertinent, it behooves us to choose just one of these questions to address. Many people falter here since they start their talk preparation by thinking of all things they want to address within the topic (they are excited, it is an interesting topic, they have a great deal to say). Combine this excitement with the fact that the matter supplied for the talk gives great guidance and outlines many salient points, things can get out of hand. In many cases, outlines snowball out of control, and we wind up with a talk that lacks focus. For the talk to be sticky, we need to really think about our one simple message.

If we were tackling this talk the simple statement that we would want to convey to the audience would be:

Hinduism is peace and bliss.

We identify ourselves as Hindus because it gives us peace and bliss.

We inculcate the rituals and beliefs of Hinduism to our children because we want them to experience the same peace and bliss.

Step 2: What stories will I use to drive this message home?

Again, the matter supplied with this topics outlines many insightful examples. They also give the sage advice to give personal anecdotes. They key to all this is to frame these supporting point as a story. Entertain me, then I will listen to your message - this is what every audience is thinking. A personal story of how practicing puja can lead to handling stress better goes a long way if it is told as a story. Hence, we need to paint a picture, give details, make it personal, and use emotion.

Step 3: How will I grab the audience's attention?

This talk screams Lessing Method, especially the version that Dick Hardt used so well in his OSCON talk. The video is embedded below; his topic was identity 2.0. It would be epic if someone could adapt this method for this talk.

Another idea of something unexpected could be to show how identity in language, food, and culture (bhasha, bhojan, bhoosha) is slowly eroding, and then contrast that with the fact that true identity is finding bliss. This video will get people thinking.

Whatever the case, stickiness rests in three questions, so take some time to ask these questions to avoid the beast known as boredom.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Jacket for the Soul

A fellow Sabhaologist has volunteered to contribute posts for bal/balika-2 mandal. We appreciate these contributions, and hope our readers do too!

Benjamin's shirt

With Holi on the horizon, we look at the life of Bhagatji Maharaj. He was a source of inspiration for many around him, like Mahapurush Swami, the focus of this week's presentation in bal/balika-2

Step 1: Synthesize the simple statement.
  • The spiritual shirt strengthened Mahapurush Swami.
  • Mahapurush Swami's faith always kept him close to the Satpurush. 
  • Mahapurush Swami's became great by following agna.
Step 2: Start off with a shakeup.
  • Ask balaks/balikas to draw their favorite t-shirt, and ask a few to share why it's their favorite t-shirt. 
  • Ask a few balaks/balikas to bring in their favorite t-shirts, and then give each shirt to another balak/balika. Let them try to guess the owner, and have them explain their rationale. Finally, let the owner explain why it's their favorite shirt.
Step 3: Support the simple statement with stories using detail and validity. While we have only one prasang, we should still make a point to link each detail to whichever simple statement we choose. Below, we chose to link the prasang with the first simple statement.
  • Pragji Bhakta's Shirt - Not only did he sew a shirt, but he also sewed a personalized shirt for Bechar Bhagat's atma. How great was this shirt? Let's look at how Bechar Bhagat's life unfolds.
  • Defeating Ego - This shirt gave Bechar Bhagat the ability to sincerely listen to the Satpurush, so when Bhagatji Maharaj told him to apologize for his anger to Kothari Gordhanbhai, he complied and humbled himself. Thus, this shirt gave Bechar Bhagat the power to conquer his ego. 
  • Enlightened Sadhu - With an attachment to his guru, Bechar Bhagat took diksha and became known as Mahapurush Swami. In fact, he became a scholar of the Vachanamrut! Once again, this shirt benefited him by providing gnan.
  • Spreading Upasana - His attachment to the Satpurush combined with his knowledge of the Vachanamrut helped Mahapurush Swami speak only of the Akshar Purushottam upasana without fear. He even got kicked out of Satsang for his beliefs, but his attachment to God & Sant did not waver. Hence, this shirt gave Bechar Bhagat the power to conquer his fear.
  • Close to the Satpurush - As we can see, this spiritual shirt really has a lot of powers, and we still have one more. This shirt made sure that Mahapurush Swami would forever remain with the Satpurush at all times. After all, his faith in Shastriji Maharaj enabled him to establish our sanstha today. 
  • The Catch - How can one shirt keep us with Pramukh Swami Maharaj, give us smarts, and make us fearless? It can't... if it's kept dirty. We all wear Pragji Bhakta's shirt, but its power can only be felt if we keep it clean. When we follow Swamishri's agna, like reading the Vachanamrut, eating within our niyams, staying sincere to our studies, we keep this shirt clean, and when we disregard agna, we dirty our shirt up. The more dirt it has, the less power we have; however, dirt can be washed off. Bechar Bhagat had that opportunity. Remember, getting angry at Kothari Gordhanbhai dirtied his shirt (because it went against what Pragji Bhakta liked), but when he apologized out of respecting Bhagatji Maharaj's wishes, he cleaned his shirt up. We too can reap the power of the shirt if we keep it clean; that's the catch with this superpower shirt.
Bal/balika presentations can seem as though no preparation is needed. After all, it's just one prasang; however, it's our job as presenters to create the message that the prasang embodies. Balaks/balikas represent the future, and crafting messages that stick can help them remember their spiritual shirt as they face the trials of adolescence. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An Ocean of Values

In each of our gurus lies an ocean of virtues and values, and a mere dive in their lives is enough to win over the heart of anyone who is brave enough to make that leap. This week in kishore/kishori sabha, we look at the charismatic personality of Bhagatji Maharaj, so let's take a look to see what lies beneath the surface.

Step 1: Synthesize the simple statement. Below are some examples taken from the syllabus.
  • Bhagatji Maharaj's sadhutaa attracted others.
  • Bhagatji Maharaj performed seva with samjan. 
  • Bhagatji Maharaj's enthusiasm energized others.

Step 2: Start with the shakeup.

The Fun Theory - Work sucks because it's boring. Now, a new Volkswagen-backed initative attempts to reverse that by making things that are otherwise boring into something fun. Bhagatji Maharaj applied this to his seva and made others desire it just as much. Below is one example, but more can be found at the site.

Step 3: Support with stories and examples rich in detail (concrete) and with validity (credible). Remember, take one simple statement, and link it to each story/example. In our case, we used the first simple statement below to link to a few prasangs from the syllabus.
  • Crossing the River - Sure, Bhagatji Maharaj had faith, and he could have crossed the river himself without issue. However, his faith provided the assurance to others to allow them to make that journey as well. When we develop this sadhutaa, we not only gain strength, but we strengthen others. It's for that reason they find that sadhutaa attractive. 
  • Girdharbhai - Bhagatji's Maharaj's sadhutaa had not gone unnoticed by Shriji Maharaj Himself, and He revealed it to Girdharbhai. When we cultivate this type of sadhutaa, we too win the attention of Shriji Maharaj Himself.
  • Pavitranand Swami - Bhagatji Maharaj's sadhutaa not only strengthened others but also provided solace to others. Pavitranand Swami turned to Bhagatji Maharaj for this very reason to ease his restless and disturbed mind. However, drugs, like alcohol, do more or less the same thing as they give us an artificial sense of well-being before draining us of our emotional energy; how was Bhagatji Maharaj any different? He was different because his sadhutaa gave everlasting solace. To cultivate such sadhutaa, one must change their character for the better, and in cultivating this character, we too will develop such attractive sadhutaa.
BONUS: The syllabus also provides a link to an article in Bliss. Below are some examples taken from that issue.
  • Shastri Rangacharya, a leader of a different sampraday altogether, recognized Bhagatji Maharaj's sadhutaa and openly offered dandvats to him. Someone with a different belief system altogether had that firm respect for Bhagatji Maharaj's sadhutaa. While we may feel the anxiety and angst of cultivating such sadhutaa in our life out of fear of what others may say, we should realize that everyone respects sadhutaa regardless of their beliefs.  
  • Sadguru Krishnaswarupdas recognized Bhagatji Maharaj's sadhutaa and had no problems with the young Shastri Yagnapurushdas composing Sanskrit verses highlighting Bhagatji Maharaj's virtues. As we know, Sanskrit itself is an ancient language, one that has persisted with the passage of time. When we cultivate Bhagatji Maharaj's sadhutaa, our virtues are forever remembered and continue to inspire and attract many following our departure from this world.
As we noted before, the lessons one can learn from the life of the Satpurush know no limit. Let us take their experiences to support just one of their many life lessons as we gear up to share them with our audiences this Sunday.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Storytelling and the Three Question Rule

Chocolate and peanut butter are a match made in heaven - although we also prefer tomato and basil. Presentations also have two elements that make them stand out - stories and a simple statement. Think about it. When the stories back up the simple statement (our main point), we leave our audience with a message to remember and retain. Any talk that leaves the audience wanting more will follow this basic tenet. Next time we have to do a talk for a convention, this simple rule can really elevate our talk.

Here are two examples, both of which are under 15 minutes! Next time, grab a meal, sit down, and start watching.

Lesson 1: Start strong. Within the first minute, Elizabeth Lindsey has set the mood that we're about to hear the extraordinary, and the talk only gets better and better. Notice how she does NOT start out by saying, "Today, I will discuss the wisdom of the elders." She starts off in an unexpected way.

Lesson 2: Interest is infectious. As the talk progresses, Ms. Lindsey engages us with vivid imagery and colorful descriptions. Perhaps our vocabulary may not be as rich or decorated as hers, but if we can convey our interest and enthusiasm through a prasang, we too can engage the audience. Your experience will become their experience.

Lesson 3: Repeat the message. Notice again how Ms. Lindsey weaves her message of preserving the wisdom of elders through multiple stories. She reiterates the same message over and over (boring) but with different stories (exciting). She guides the audience to her idea, and we too as presenters/speakers must guide our audience to our idea.

Lesson 1: Start strong. Within the first minute, Courtney Martin has involved us in her childhood and has set the stage for what's to come. Notice again how she does NOT start out by saying, "Today, I will discuss what I have learned." She starts off in an unexpected way.

Lesson 2: Interest is infectious. As the talk progresses, Ms. Martin uses humor and enthusiasm to keep us connected to her presentation. Again, maybe humor proves hard for us on stage, but if we can convey our interest and enthusiasm through a prasang, we too can engage the audience. Her experience became our experience.

Lesson 3: Repeat the message. Ok, curveball - she has three messages? Not quite. Her message is about understanding these paradoxes as a part of reinventing feminism, but it's not just paradox 1, paradox 2, paradox 3.

When creating a presentation, ask yourself these questions:

1. What is my simple message?
2. Which stories will I use to drive this message home?
3. How can I grab the attention of the audience?

We have spoken with many people who are working on talks, who say they are "pretty much done" with their talk, yet they cannot answer the three questions above. However, when they take a step back and answer these questions, their face changes when they practice their talk. They are more confident and focused - even more relaxed.

Giving a talk in sabha? In the Women's Convention? At your local shishu or bal/balika mandal?

Try the three question rule, and see how it can help.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ramayan Revisited

A fellow Sabhaologist just sent us this really interesting unexpected idea on how to start off the Ramayan talk for this weeks kishore/kishori mandal sabha. The following video (along with Part 2 and Part 3) tells of an ordinary adventure. The amazing thing is that this person is moved by this adventure to find the picture owner (i.e. it changes him for the better). In other words, he becomes a better person.

So let's break this down Made to Stick style:
  • The video is an unexpected opener.
  • The simple message is as follow, "Like the story in the video, the Ramayan is an adventure. Not for Ram Bhagwan or any of the figures from the epic, but for us. When we read the Ramayan, we go on an adventure that seems simple, but will change us for the better."
This can also be tied in to the previous Ramayan post, by defining change for the better as always being happy.

Then, after each prasang in the presentation, we can see how reading each prasang changes us ever so slowly for the better.

Kudos to our reader - this was a great find!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sticky Thank You Talk

With winter over, there will be a wave of conference and conventions that we all will be attending. Many of us maybe speaking at one of these conventions. The Women's Conference will be happening this month in many centers. We received a few queries about how to make a sticky "Thank You" talk, so everyone at Sabha.ology got together and opened up a packet of Shayano Methi Khakhra and did a little brainstorming.

The Problem
"Thank You" talks can really be boring at worse or something to write off at best. They can be a staid denouement to an otherwise nice event. This is because everyone knows what is going to happen. They have heard this talk many many times before.You will thank Maharaj and Swami. You will thank the speakers. You will thank the volunteers. You will thank the audience. People will clap. You will sit down. They also know what variation you may use. If things take awhile they know there is a haar vidhi coming. They also just heard the speakers speak, so they know who you are going to thank. Really, this talk only gets exciting if you mess up. Forget a speaker, now people perk up. Forget to thank Maharaj and Swami - ohh that's exciting. Really, the problems boils down to creating something unexpected.
The Solution (at least our version)
Our solution to the problem of creating something unexpected was to rely on visuals. They can really cause information gaps. Also we introduce emotion, we build suspense - will my picture be up there? Specifically for this year's Women's Conference, we thought the theme of bridging cultures could be best articulated by starting with one sentence that shows how we bridge culture by connecting the past with the present and building a brighter future. Then show a baby picture of yourself. Now, thank Maharaj and Swami, but show a picture out of Ghanshyam Charitra and the Satsang exam books of baby or child Maharaj and Swami. Now thank the speaker, but show baby pictures of each speaker. Here, take the time to add one sentence where you say something like, "Today, they showed us how to bridge two cultures together through their perceptive talks. We can see that they have been living this ideal for a long time." Next, thank the volunteers, but showing - you guessed it - a collage of all the volunteers baby pictures. Trust us, at this point people will be paying attention trying to figure who is who.

Visualize yourself sitting through the thank you talk described above. That would be something you would remember for a long time. Unexpected would wake you up, emotion (touching, funny) would tie in the memory, the story of each person would be tied in with the theme. A very nice way to end a conference.

Honorable Mentions
A few that fell on the brainstorming room floor. After the initial idea collection, these seemed lacking. Maybe even too difficult to implement, or maybe did not go with the idea. However, if you can make them work, let us know.
  • Show pictures of each person in a bridge of culture setting, like wearing Indian clothes at the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Tell a story for each person or individual you thank that is personal and draws emotions related to the theme.
  • Show pictures from the conference itself that are funny. Something like that takes from a show for each speaker.
  • Tell a fictional story of how "a friend" went through the entire conference. Weave in the story humorous observations (e.g. if it was cool in the main hall, say how the friend drove all the way back to another state to grab a sweater), and within this story, weave your thanks you's.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Graphical Ramayan

This week we will try to combine the principles of Made to Stick and Resonate in creating a sticky talks that resonates with our sabha audience. It maybe beneficial to re-read the follow posts here an here to review the main points from those two books. The topic from the syllabus is the Ramayan, and we will look at one option. See if it works for you, or better yet, take these ideas (and the ideas in the blog) to make something even better - and share that with us.

Everyday Ecstasy
Everyone has sorrow in life, even Ram Bhagwan. However, he was always happy. Those who focused on him, had sorrow in their lives, but they too were always happy. We have the same relationship with Bapa.

The supplemental material has some very good unexpected graphs which we reproduce here. The ideas is that in every story, every hero has what is called the "Hero's Journey." S/he has obstacles that they have to overcome. We attach emotion to their journey, and then we relate to that journey. It may look like this graph.

Let's look at an example that everyone knows (bonus for those that watched yesterday post video - notice how this mirrors the structure of a great talk).

Now to Ram Bhagwan, what did the first part of his life (at least the part in this presentation) look like. If the audience could benefit, make this an activity: map Ram Bhagwan's life from misery to ecstasy up until he reaches the jungle. It may look something like this.

This is the first part of our introduction, where we paint a picture of what is. What is life like right now for all of us? It is this up and down of happiness and sorrow. Even Ram Bhagwan was not immune to this. In fact, his happiness was greater than ours (first prince, destined for the throne, marries Sita), but his sadness is even worse than ours (leaves home and parents at a young age, attacked by monsters that want to kill him, exiled to the forest).

Now, we introduce our idea of what could be and introduce the gap between the status quo and the simple idea of our talk - Ram Bhagwan was always happy, so really, the map of his life should look like this graph.
Concrete, Credible Story Examples
With our simple idea introduced take the prasangs from Ram Bhagwan's life and show how even though he experience a great deal of joy and a great deal of sorrow - it did not disturb him because he was one with Bhagwan. For our local sabha, the kishores would benefit by giving the concrete example of Swamishri. He has had health problems - heart attack, cataracts, etc. - yet he is not affected by this. He has also had a great deal of success - Delhi Akshardham - yet he he is not affected by this either. Why? He is always in a state of bliss, he is always focused on Maharaj.

How would this look on Duarte's graph of a great talk as described in Resonate? Here is our attempt.
Emotion and Details
Each of the prasangs from the presentation are perfect for storytelling. We had a great guest post that really identified how to make our prasangs resonate - it maybe worth reviewing. The key idea with emotion is that it does not have to pull on our heartstrings, it does not have to make us sad or hopeful. Any emotion will do - disgust, anger, laughter. When Ram Bhagwan is exiled, if we dig, we can find details (that may not be in the syllabus) that clearly show how outrageous this was - it should make us angry that this happened - it was not fair. Once we have everyone riled up, we can deftly point out that Ram Bhagwan did not get angry. Why? He was always in a state of bliss - our simple message.

Call for Action
Duarte mentions that we need to end with a call to action - to point out what the world would be like if everyone was happy. We can paint that world, there would be no war, no disagreements. We get a glimpse of that world when we are near Bapa, when Bapa visits our center, when we go to a National Convention where Bapa is present - everyone is excited, energized.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Stop what you're doing and watch this.

Really. It is that good. Want to make your presentation amazing for priority sabha? Stop, look and listen - to Ms. Nancy Duarte in this video.

Everything we really need to know on making a presentation can be understood by reading two books: Made to Stick and Resonate! After that, it is all just practice and getting feedback. Ideas can change the world; ideas can change your sabha.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Humility & Your Audience

March marks a new month and another chance to take a stab at executing another priority sabha. As a warm-up, let's see what's cooking for our upcoming presentation on humility in kishore-kishori sabha.

Step 1: Start with the simple statement. Think of who will be sitting in sabha before developing this. Here are a few examples.
  • Humility is the absence of ego.
  • Insulting others is an insult to Shriji Maharaj Himself.
  • Humility opens the path to Akshardham.
  • Humility means not being affected by praises and insults.
  • Swamishri defines humility; trying to understand him means we can understand humility.
Step 2: Shake up your presentation start. Again think of who will be in sabha, then choose how to grab those people's attention.
  • Beethoven - While he may be revered as a genius of classical music, it may not be noted that he he lost his ability to hear. In fact, after he composed the Ninth Symphony, he could hear not the thunderous applause of the audience in the hall. He wept thinking he had failed but was shocked after a friend turned him around to see the audience's reaction. Being deaf to praise makes us sad; being deaf to praise and insult makes us steadfast.
  • No. 1: Then & Now - An article in a recent issue of ESPN Insider featured profiles of football players who ranked No. 1 (as noted by Superprep Magazine) over the past 25 years. Note that a significant number of them are giving back to the community; amidst the fanfare and glory, they realized that it wasn't so genuine after all.
  • Humble Leadership - The book, Good to Great, lists several characteristics of companies that broke out of being good and became great. The first quality was a leader that was humble. Similarly in book Tribal Leadership, the authors state that the highest level of a tribe is one in which humility is central.
NOTE: These first two steps are critical. We have had some questions from readers that are similar regarding how to choose these two. They mention that their sabha audience is varied and it is difficult to complete these two steps that will click with everyone one. Here are some thoughts.
  1. Aim small (and don't sweat it). Choose a subset of people - those with whom you want to connect and who will get the most out of the message - and tailor to them; here's a post on this topic. In Satsang, our topics are such that they are applicable to everyone. The message is important to everyone. Also, a sticky talk will leave others with a message. However, the subgroup to whom we wish to connect will really resonate with this message; this may engender personal change. In short, don't sweat it.
  2. But aim big (and don't sweat it). Go with broad appeal, and use story telling techniques to engage people with whom the message may not resonate completely. A good story will grab everyone's attention, and Sabha.ology has had many post on the art of storytelling like this one. Pick a story and practice it so that you can say it at your dinner table and everyone is interested. In short - don't sweat it.
  3. Remember what works for you (and don't sweat it). Let's visualize listening to our own talk. What example would really get us engaged? Use that one. Excitement is viral; if we are excited about the examples and the message, it will show and everyone else will be as well. A great example is Hans Roslin at TED. He talks about population statistics, yet he is so excited about it that we cannot help but get excited about it AND remember the message he is trying to convey.
Step 3: Connect with concrete and credible examples. The syllabus itself contains several prasangs, so let's see how they connect with the fourth simple statement, "Humility means not being affected by praises and insults."
  • Shaquille O'Neal - Though an accomplished athlete, Shaq stepped out of the spotlight to attend Syracuse University. At some point or another he acknowledged that while he may be well versed in basketball, he had to humble himself to another to seek the knowledge of broadcast journalism. Of course, there probably were those who encouraged him and others who mocked him. Listening to the former may have elevated his energy, but the latter would have crushed him and his ability to pursue his dreams. He had to focus on his ambition, and humility helped him by insulating him from the view of others.
  • Mutual Blessings - As we mentioned earlier, Swamishri is the hallmark of humility. If he let himself be carried away by the praises of others, would he be able to offer the genuine support he does to satisfy haribhakto and P. Santo? He can only offer this guarantee because he chooses to insulate himself from the praises and insults of others. His humility thus shines true and enables him to focus on pleasing us consistently.
  • Closing the Distance with Humility - God & Sant are waiting for us to approach them, and we can only approach them if we maintain composure in praise and insult. What would happen if we do not? Our ego would cause us to oscillate away from our goal: to approach God & Sant. Hence, humility offers us this steadfastness to attain the proximity of God & Sant - the inner wisdom in Swamishri's comments.
In summary, let's remember that while the presentation itself is on humility, we can put it in action with how we go about presenting it. Let's take heed of the target audience's interests, plan accordingly, and execute with the humble intentions of bringing them closer to Maharaj & Swami. With the opportunity to present, we could not ask for anymore. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How to Capture Your Audience's Attention

Another great guest post from a sabha.ology reader. If you have some ideas you would like to share, let us know and we can post. Also we are looking for anyone who would like to write on a regular basis for sabha.ology. The focus could be giving helpful ideas on any syllabus topics (any mandal, any language) and/or insights both original and reposts on speaking skills.

Getting attention is arguably the most important part of doing a speech. No matter how brilliant your ideas are, you can’t even convey them to your audience unless you’ve made them look in your direction first.

You have to get your audience’s attention before you can turn them into a "believer."

Your reader can’t pay attention to everything.

The brain is funny like that — in order to understand, the brain has to focus on specific information.

Attention helps us screen out the irrelevant and choose which information will enter, and stay, in our awareness. Our attention decides what to “pay attention to,” because human focus is limited, and we just can’t give our attention to everything.

Your audience’s minds are very selective. So we have to give them a reason to pay attention to our content instead of everything else out there they could be listening to.

There are many obstacles in the path to gaining your audience’s attention.

Even if you have the best content or information on the planet, it’s still difficult to get people to give you the time of day. Here are some common obstacles to getting your audience’s attention:
  • The relentless proliferation of other distractions - i.e., smartphones
  • Information overload
  • The desire for instant gratification
These are all roadblocks you face in the attention-getting game, so you’ve really got to be good at showing your audience why their limited attention should be directed to you.

Try these attention-grabbing strategies.

1. Help them see what you see.
You might be focusing on yourself when creating your speech, thinking that everyone sees things the way you do. But they don’t. People won’t “hear” you, or pay attention, until they perceive what you perceive. So you’ve got to make your position crystal clear — help them to see what you see, using storytelling, description, personal experiences, prasangs, and anything that will put the audience in the right position to understand your message.

2. Make it personal.
When you make your talk personal, you make it important. Personally interesting or perceptually meaningful information can grab attention, bring clarity, and help it slip right into your audience’s awareness. You don’t have to do a lot of explaining to tell someone his house (or his hair) is on fire — because it’s so personal to him. You immediately get attention.

3. Use emotion.
Emotion is a great way to bring clarity to your messages while making them personal. Emotion also comes with the triple bonus of adding clarity, giving the audience a reason to talk about your topic, and triggering the circuits in the brain that activate behavior and decisions — emotion is much better at that than logic is. Emotional messages get attention.

Don’t take chances with attention.
You only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention, so don’t take chances with clever, cute, or insider
language or visuals, which are often lost on people. These tactics only tend to confuse audiences, if only for a few seconds, which is all it takes to lose them — and a confused mind does not pay attention.

Follow up with a strong second.
Once you’ve managed to capture your audience’s attention, don’t waste it. Getting your audience’s attention is like the first strike of a One-Two punch — if you don’t land the second part, you’re not going to "knock them out." Make sure your second punch, the actual information or message for which you grabbed their attention in the first place, is worthwhile.

If it’s valuable, you’ve paved the way for easy entry into their attention. If it isn’t, it’ll be that much more difficult to capture their attention the next time, as their brain has already filed your information under “not worth our attention.”