Monday, December 31, 2012

Closing 2012

On June 12, 1984, Tom Brekenridge of the News Herald interviewed Pramukh Swami Maharaj in Cleveland, Ohio.

Tom: Everyday you do puja, sit with the devotees, writer letters and move around; when do you rest?

Swamishri: To spread God's message and to lead aspirants towards Him is rest enough.

As our blog marks three years of existence, we take solace in the collective effort that our readers have put into sending us feedback and ideas on sabha and presentations.

Let's pray that we continue to remain steadfast in our efforts as we turn the calendar to another fresh year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

5 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People

One common presenting tip is to “know your audience,” but what exactly should we know about them? While we may present to many different people (bal/kishore/yuvak/vadhil), here is an universal list of 5 things that every presenter should know about his or her audience.

Please be seated
People learn best in 20 minute chunks.
TED talks. That’s right, we’re referencing it again. If you take a look at TED talks, they are around 20 minutes long, and that’s part of the reason why they are so captivating. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that shorter is better since a shorter presentation forces the talk to be more concise and focused. However, don’t get stuck on the notion that every presentation must be 20 minutes to be good. For example, many times in sabha, presentations are planned to be more than 20 minutes long. The ideal presentation length is exactly the number of minutes it takes for you to get your simple statement across, not a second more. In order to incorporate this study, however, it would be idea to try to build in some kind of change every 20 minutes. Especially in bal/balika sabha, it’s important to give the kids a break from all the information they just received. This could be a great way to incorporate an activity/exercise that relates to the session. 

Multiple sensory channels compete.
When you are giving a speech, there are two sensory channels that are the most active: visual and auditory. According to Dr. Susan Weinschenk, our visual channel is stronger than our auditory channel. Therefore, if your presentation has complicated information for people to digest, then it will be hard to balance the auditory channel while trying to decipher what your visual aid says. A common tip is to put together a presentation without using any slides first and then decide if it can be enhanced with a visual medium. 

What you say is only part of your message.
Research in psychology over the last few decades has revealed that people process information unconsciously. People not only react to your message, but they also take into account your facial expression, voice, stand, and even hand movements. Think about how you are saying what you are saying. 

If you want people to act, you have to call them to action.
Be very specific about what you want audience to do. This is where the simple statement comes into play. It’s always a good habit to go over the main points of your presentation at the end as a call for action.

People imitate your emotions and feel your feelings.
When you are passionate about your topic, your audience will be passionate. People like to listen to someone who is animated, and passionate about a topic. Even if you are not so interested in a particular sabha topic, pretend like you are, and the message will go a long way. For example, in bal/balika sabha, it may require you to be more animated than usual in order to keep the balaks & balikas attention in a certain topic.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Art of Introduction

Many people who have focused on improving their speaking skills (what we euphemistically call becoming a sabha.ologist) have found that they become the go to person to introduce a dignitary or guest at the Mandir. This usually happens with a few minutes advance warning. Some people will feel that this is fine - what is the big deal in introducing someone. Just go up there and say the person's name. However to properly introduce someone means to make it sticky. It requires some thought and time.

Weather three minutes is enough time is a subject of another discussion. But given the three minutes (or  less) that you have, how can you make a sticky introduction.

Find out everything you can about the person you are introducing. If you have a smart phone go to their website, google them, find out their interests. You can also talk to the person before hand and ask them about their interests. You can also ask more details about what you found on the internet regarding them, thus confirming it is true (credible). Sometimes dignitaries will come with handlers or helpers, these people are a plethora of information. They go to events like this all the time and know a great deal about the person you are about to introduce and handler usually come much earlier and have more available time to speak with you. It is a great idea to talk with them.

For example one sabha.ologist was introducing a Mayor of the town that the Mandir is located. On her website he found out that the mayor had a buckwheat farm. He talked to her about the farm beforehand and found out it was a working farm that donated the proceed to charity. In his introduction he talked about how the town and the Mandir have roots in agriculture (pun intended) and that our sanshta also has agrarian roots. In fact the seniors at the Mandir were growing their own organic Mandir garden. Finally even the Mayor has her own farm.

Use SUS (Unexpected, Simple, Story)
This is really important because you only have a few minutes to get things done. So you have to focus on your simple message. For example, the mayor is a friend of the Mandir. Then tell one unexpected story that shows this. Say you simple, twice if you can work it in. 

Avoid Bad Catch Phrases
Avoid saying things that are forced. For example in the heat of the moment many people will say:
Let's give a round of applause to the mayor
Everyone will give they mayor a round of applause
There is phrase in Gujarati that translates to this, Talio thi vadavshu. However this does not translate well. 

Instead try saying something like:
Let's welcome Mayor xxx to our special assembly. 
And then start clapping yourself. Everyone will get it, and it sound much better.
One another oft used but awkward phrase is:
I humbly request Mayor xxxx to address the assembly.
If you have grown up in the Mandir you may have heard this so often that you don't think twice about it. However we have rarely heard this outside of the Mandir. It maybe that it is a loose translation of a Gujarati phrase that sounds natural in Gujarati but does not translate well.

Any other thoughts? Let us know. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Shubha Diwali / Nutan Varsh Abhinandan

Happy Diwali everyone!

We pray that everyone has a peaceful and prosperous New Year filled with great presentations both given and attended.

For those in a quandary of what to do for Kids Diwali here is some useful information.

sabha.ology team

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bal 1 - It Sorta Worked! Tic - Tac - Toe

A few of the kishores have been helping out with Bal 1 lately. It has been working out quite well. We made a conscious effort to give them latitude to try out different ideas even if they seemed misguided. One idea they had was to have the kids play checkers on the iPad as a reward for paying attention during a prasang. We held our breathes and decided to see what would happen.

Playing checkers on the iPad caused some commotion. Every kids wanted to see so they crowded around the iPad. It got loud and unruly. But the real downfall was that neither kid who was chosen really understood how to play checkers and the ones that did not really pay great attention during prasang varan really did know how to play checkers. We stepped in and said we would rethink this idea and did another quick activity (we had the kids try and jump up and reach the ceiling, to segue into never giving up).

During review we discussed some of the things that did not go so well with the kishores. To their credit they came this week with a similar but revamped idea - each kid would play tic tac toe on a custom made board. This worked out much better. The kids understood the game at least to the first degree. It was much faster so all the kids got a chance to play. They timed each game so it was speed tic tac toe.  The kids overall enjoyed the activity as you can make out in these pictures.

During review (which occurred while we put away the trash after dinner due to lack of time) we talked about how to take this activity to the next level. This time it was just a reward for listening. What if we use it as a tool for comprehension. We could have each child say one line of the story before making a move - if they don't know what happened they cannot place their piece. We are also focusing on the kids be very familiar (to the point of memorization) two dhoon, two prarthan, and two kirtan before leaving Bal 1. So another idea would be to have them sing one line before playing their piece. In the first round we can help the ones who don't know their lines, and in the second see how they do.  Any other ideas?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bal 1 - It Worked! Hari the Humble Ape

Using a prop seems to enchant Bal 1. This week a Yuvak used Hari the Humble Ape in a story he made up to make a point about how we should act. Watch the kids - they were enthralled. The ape was the first step - unexpected. The simple message was clear. Be humble. The last step was the story. SUS in a nutshell. Each child gave Hari a hug and promised to stay humble by saying please and thank you and also bowing down the their parents every morning. We are going to send an "what we did in sabha" email to the parents and hopefully a few with reinforce these ideas at home.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Desh Kaal - Unexpected

Priority Sabha this Sunday.
Topic: Desh Kaal

Our environment, our peers, when we are living, where we are living - all have an effect on us.

Unexpected: The Broken Window Theory
Surrounding have an effect on behavior.

A few videos below. Choose one or just summarize on your own.
This can be linked to Seven Story Haveli (Vachnamrut G I-18).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Bal 1 - It Worked

Glow Sticks.

We have our sabha in what is essentially a very large closet. One of the strengths of having our sabha in a large closet is that it is very easy to make it really dark. One of the kishores who was a guest speaker this week decided to use this to his advantage. He bought glow sticks. He gave each balak three of them, turned out the lights, and had them raise the glow sticks to answer questions. They all got to take the sticks home with them. The kids were happy. They paid attention. It Worked!

The challenge was handling their excitement and realizing before hand that they will swing those sticks around. So we needed to give them opportunities to do so during the story.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bal 2 - It Worked

From a fellow Sabha-ologist:

Keeping balaks well behaved is essential to having an effective sabha. While it may be difficult to control balaks, there are tricks to getting their attention.

Connect Before You Direct

"Tilak, I need your eyes" 
"Chandan will you please..."

This requires knowing all their names and also having a working relationship with them.

Have you guys tried any other ways?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bal 1 - It Worked!

Our bal 1 sabha sanchalak in training has been working very hard on using stuffed animals and a toy car to tell different stories as part of his MC. The kids have taken to the characters he has created. This week however he forgot to bring the stuffed animals. He had prepared the story already. What to do?

He decided to level with the kids and tell them he forgot the stuffed animals. These are balaks, they did not really mind that the animals were not there. Then he pivoted and said he was going to need helpers who would take the place of the stuffed animals. This Worked! The kids laughed out loud and at the antics the helpers went through. The helpers were not embarrassed but enjoyed moving about.

During review we commented on how well this worked. It seemed to me that if we started by picking people and having them act things out, it would not have worked so well. The fact that the last three weeks we had stuffed animal characters do stories, and now the kids were acting as stuffed animals who in turn were acting out a story made it easier and Worked! We decided to add more characters to this weekly on going story until all the kids have a role. We will see if this also Works!

Two volunteers who acted out characters, plus many show of hands to be then next character.

Kids reaction to the story.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bal 2 - It Worked!

Creating order in sabha is a challenge. We looked at several go to moves in the past that would stop the sabha from sliding down a perilous slope. One very salient point is that boredom is usually the precursor to bad behavior. Not all the balaks will pay attention but if we can win over a few bright spots then the tide may change.  From a fellow sabha-ologist.

I've come to recognize boredom to give way to bad behavior in sabha, but there will be the few pockets of kids who just don't want to pay attention. 

One interesting thing I've noticed is that the really engaged kids will actually try to silence the talkers, so if your presentation can interest these bright spots, they can work to maintain order among themselves. Of course, this point alludes to a sticky sabha, but try to see if you can't throw curve balls at your balaks. We call it unexpected, but narrating examples or prasangs in ways they aren't expecting gets them to pay attention.

Sunday, I had a talk on Gunatitanand Swami's greatness and how only a few truly understood his mahima. We started off by listening to the instrumental version of Gangnam Style. I told them that if they knew what song it was that they should stand up, so they all got perked. In a matter of ten seconds, the entire sabha stood up with some actually showing off the moves. I then went on to describe how record-breaking the video was, how many countries played it, etc.

Then, the kicker - how many of us know the meaning? The song itself parodies Gangnam for its willingness to imitate Western styles which is ironic in that the song has become a hit in the West. The link from here became simple, but I did the same technique with each of my prasangs as well.

 I feel the more order we impose, the more they will resist. If we can find a way to empower them to maintain order, it's win-win.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Bal 2 - It Worked

From a fellow sabhologist.

Lately we have been working together to figure out a way to change the balaks' attitude towards sabha. While our sticky prseentation definitely affects how balaks view sabha, so does the environment. 

So, we tried something new this week. We made a seating assignment for the kids. Compared to every other week, they were very well-behaved this week. While we were making the seating assignments, it was sort of like arranging a puzzle. We had to take multiple things into account: 

1)  make sure that the mischievous kids were sitting separately
2) the quiet kids sit near the front, 
3) Put a well-behaved kid in between two talkative kids, etc.

We are still experimenting to see what the best version of the seating assignment will be, however, from the results of this week, it seems like we may be doing this every week.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Bal 1 - It May Work!

This Sunday, Bal 1, guest speaker, topic: I Will Not!

I had no idea from the title what that was about, after reading the presentation it turns out it is about niyams with prasang from Gunatitanand Swami's haribhakto.

We have started requesting SUS from guest speakers and this is what we received for this talk.

Niyams help us

1. I will not game
Kids say I will not or I will based on what we say.
We say Do puja, They say I will
We say Eat eggs, they say I will not

If this gets too loud, then we will have them stand for will not and
sit and fold hand for will.

2. Story review
For review we are going to have each balak act out one line from the story.

3. Ask each Balak favorite niyam, one new niyam they will take.

Abhesinh Darbar (say this with emotion) for review act out.

I think this Will Work! It really depends on execution. The ideas are good. Interactive, well thought out games. Not using every single prasang in the syllabus. And lastly reviewing the entire story in a different way. The acting out was a creativity tip right from the presentation. We don't do much (read we NEVER) act things out. The change of pace should be good. May update with a picture or two on Monday.


As promised pictures below.

We added the make a gesture when I say this name to the story. Finger in the air for Abhesinh Darbar, two hand in on head in a crown for the king, thumb in mouth for drinking, and an X with both arms for no. We thought this would help the kids with acting.

Did it work? It Mostly Worked!

They kids loved it. Maybe too much. There was so much interaction that the kids enjoyed but seem to only focus on that. In review when asked about the story one response was - "Did he do a story?"

Basically too much unexpected AND not enough story and repetition on the simple made it less sticky - but fun none the less.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bal 1 - It Worked!

As a group we have been experimenting with an ending song for sabha before going to Shri Harim. Coming from Shishu Mandal, many of these kids were used to having some kind of song to signal different parts of the sabha. They are now getting attuned to dhoon and prarthna signifying the beginning of sabha, but the ending seems to take them by surprise. It is a good surprise since they get snack and get to play afterwards.

We have mentioned Kirtan For Kids before. I bought a copy and at home the kids have taken to it. I really think that this is a very good way to mix the different sensibilities that our kids are growing up with - a blend of both East and West. So we took a page from the CD, a track called Namaste and changed the words to Bolo Jai and have used this as our ending song. It Worked! Actually this is a work in progress. The kids like it, it helps them get refocused before Shri Harim and snack and play time. Results below.

If you like this whole east meets west sensibility check out the Darohar Project by Laura Marling and Mumford and Son.

If you think we could make our own version of Kirtan for Kids with an east meets west sensibility, email the site we want to help.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bal 1 - It Worked!

We have kishores who help out in Bal sabha. This is a blessing since to do a bal mandal talk requires a great deal of energy. If it does not then you are probably doing it wrong. Look around how many kids are not looking at you, picking lint off the carpet, doing summersaults - if the answer is greater than 10%, you probably need to increase your energy level.

One kishore in particular has been working really hard to use objects in telling a story. He has settled on two characters represented by stuffed animals that he has been bringing back every week. While he is finding his voice, this unexpected idea of using the toys to represent characters, well It Worked! The kids got a bit rowdy, but he had a tough slot - just a little after the half way point. Also our room is now super cramped, we cannot really do activities like coloring since there is not enough room for each kid to put down a piece of paper and color. The AC was also spotty so it got stuffy in our small room. All this led to a some restlessness. However you will notice that the rowdiness was concomitant with the kids being engaged. Trust us - It Worked! Better yet see for yourself.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bal 1 - It Worked!

This week in Bal 1 there were a few prasangs about Gunatitanand Swami. One was when he drank milk before his mom, Sakarba, offered it to Thakorji and then Thakorji had milk on his lips.

What really worked was getting very animated and saying: he was hungry he said Mama Mama I am soooo hungry I want some .....

Rub your tummy while you say this and you will not even have to ask the kids to fill in the blank. When we did this we had a ton of hands fly in the air as each kid said what their favorite food was.

It worked!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bal 1 - It Worked!

Last month we had session on building Mandirs. It emphasized the reasons to build, how to build, prasangs of kids sacrificing (can collection in London). We had a regional shibir so we knew attendance was going to be light. My wife the Balika 1 Sanchalika suggested we use the Mandir coffee table book as source. This worked to an extent. The pictures were amazing, but the kids complained of not being able to see. If we had a full house this would not have worked.

Since our head count was low (about 30%) we decided on an activity. Again my wife the balika 1 Sanchalika suggested using plastic cups to build the Mandir or play a stacking game. This sounded like a great idea, but she took all the plastic cups in the pantry for her sabha. So we went with plan B, having the kids use index cards to build a Mandir. It Worked! Maybe a bit too well. The kids got so involved that we were running out of time for snacks. So we fed them while they kept building. Nobody went out for play time. We built Mandirs and cleaned up right until Aarti. Evidence below.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Retention Remixed: Wheel of Fortune

For last month's sabha, a fellow sabhaologist shared with us a unique way to present the monthly retention game by adapting Wheel of Fortune.

  • Create 2-3 teams depending on number of present. 
  • Each spins the wheel:
    • The wheel has six sections labeled with numbers 1-6.
    • #1-5 represented satsang-related questions with #6 being trivia.
    • Points were awarded based on the level of difficulty.
  • If a question is missed, the next team gets a chance to answer.
    • Missing the question results in the next team getting the turn to spin - not the one who got a chance to steal.
    • If all teams pass the steal, answer is announced and turn passes. 
  • Answers must be started within 15 seconds of the question ending. 
The game worked well until the issue of stealing questions came up when teams found it unfair that they forfeit their turn to spin if they miss the question which was not theirs initially, so we decided that next time, teams should not be penalized for trying to answer a question that was not theirs initially.

A little ingenuity can go a long way to make this monthly game memorable, so feel free to share with us your remixes.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Presentation #FAIL

Nancy Duarte shares with us this reenactment of a talk doomed to fail. Though the points numbered many, the following caught our attention.

"Mediocre icebreak joke"
"Poignant quote from unknown philosopher to kick off presentation in dramatic fashion"
"Juvenile slide transitions to spice things up"
"Unexpected technical difficulty"
"Going through a long list of facts one by one by one"

To see it from the audience's perspective gives us the empathic connection needed together to put together a presentation worthy of honor. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Seize the Shibir

Green Day Concert Crowd - Put Your Hands Up For Green Day

Bill Clinton, Lady Gaga, and Chris Rock all have one thing in common - they know how to work a crowd, and we can too at a shibir or a convention! 

Sure, it’s a larger audience, but to be an effective shibir speaker, we will have to do a few things different from what we already do on a Sunday-to-Sunday basis. Aside from a larger audience, we have a new setting, a new microphone, and new faces in the crowd.

As always, we will need to do our SUS in order to to give our talk meaning, but an article at Lifehacker gave us a few more pointers:

Know Your Environment: Presentations always start with knowing the environment. How many people will be there? Am I presenting to K1, K2, Kindergarteners, or 8th graders? Will I have a screen? Remember, you, the presenter, are responsible for getting the message across to the audience. Therefore, don’t be afraid to make a simple request in order to make your presentation flow smoothly.

Body Language: Every Sunday, we have the chance to have one-to-one eye contact with every single person in the room. When talking to a bigger crowd, eye contact is still important though much harder. Therefore, we have to be strategic. Break down the audience into different blocks, and work with each of the blocks one at a time. Imagining the audience as a huge mass will make it harder for you to develop a connection with your crowd.

Keep it Simple: Try to avoid using a large amount of special effects in the presentation. Don’t sacrifice clarity for animations, sounds, and/or background images. Even if we’re using PowerPoint, it’s best to keep the slides straightforward and clean.

Interactivity: Without being a afternoon talk-show host, there are certainly ways that we can connect with our audience at shibirs. Because there is a large audience, things might get tricky when we’re trying to get interactive, but we can always create exercises to make it happen by asking the audience to do any of the following.
  • "Turn to the person on your left and talk about..."
  • "Write 3 things on your sticky note that..."
  • "Raise your hand if..."
  • "Rub your tummy, stomp your feet, etc." (for bal mandal of course)
Getting out from behind the podium is also another way to connect with the audience as well as getting a wireless mic to ask the audience questions to get interaction. Of course, we would be wise to avoid frivolous inquiry like, "Who is the President?" "What is agna?" "Who can define raajipo?" 

All in all, a shibir talk just requires a modified approach that would not be possible without the basic understanding of a Sunday talk, for only after captivating a sabha audience can we hope to hold a shibir audience. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Know your Audience - But first get feedback

Many centers had graduation sabha this weekend. We had one. We were asked to give a small 10 minute keynote talk. Awesome. We fired up the SUS engine and also were sent a link to a great commencement talk that has been making its way across the internet. The entire video is embedded below. In it English teacher David McCullough makes the audacious statement to the audience that they are not special. He was looking at the entitlement attitude that pervades high school

His best quote two quotes:

You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.  If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.

The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you're a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer.  

So we read all this and we felt we were set.

Simple: Graduation is the start of trying to become special, even though we are not right now.
Unexpected: Telling all the graduate that they are not special.
Stories: We had a few prasangs that fit the bill.

We gave the talk.

A few people told us - That was a great talk.

Then we asked our board of people who we trust to give feedback. And one person gave us a gem.
"You started off great, but then you went to the you are not special part. I see where you were going with that. It definitely engaged the older kids. There were many shishu and small bal/balikas. When you tell them they are not special, they can really take it the wrong the way."

Think about your audience. We have mentioned it so many times before. But this time we simply forgot about it. A very good learning point. We hope we don't forget it again.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Spelling Out Kusang

As always, we love to share examples that communicate our timeless topics of Satsang in a contemporary if not relevant way, and a fellow sabhaologist sent us this example to explain the idea of kusang.

More than often on the topic of kusang we find ourselves hearing about immoral folks who threaten to take us off the path to moksh, but kusang is much more subtle than we often think it is - just like the words we input into a search query on Google.
Grammar predicts a query as much as the people we choose to include in our circle. We all have our flaws, but some flaws carry more danger (e.g. pressure to break our niyams) than others (e.g. crave chocolate incessantly). Our awareness of these defects can do much to safeguard our satsang like a simple spell check can do to guiding a more meaningful search.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Keep it Unexpected - Teamwork

This week there is a Balika/Bal topic on teamwork. This can and should be a great topic for the kids. Lots of interaction and really good values to learn. We thought of some ways to introduce teamwork and realized we need to keep UNEXPECTED in mind.

Initially we thought it would be good to act out the bhodh katha where a king request a strong man to break a quiver of arrows and then requested a weak person to break just one arrow. The kids would love breaking sticks, it would be fun, they will be taken by surprise and really pay attention. Then we did some investigation. We surreptitiously talked to several balikas and balaks about what they are going to do for the summer (just to break the ice) and then very benignly mentioned the starting of this story. Nearly all of them knew the story, and most finished it off for us before we could get to the end.

Now this is a great lesson. We felt that the story would be unexpected, but found that this was not really the case as most already knew it. That is good to know. We may still do the exercise of breaking sticks, but will not start the talk with this example. Also instead of dictating the activity we will request some of the kids who are well versed to lead in the activity and spend more time driving home the point of teamwork making us stronger.

What should we do for unexpected? That is still an open question. If you have any ideas (before Sunday) let us know!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Retention Remixed


As always, we love to see what ideas others have to share, so here's one sent to us a few days ago on the timeless topic of how to keep sabha topics fresh. For those that try this idea out, please shoot us a photo - we'd love to feature it to our fellow sabhaologists.
I take care of K2 sabhas in my region, and one of the most frustrating things in sabha has been properly doing the monthly retention game.  
The K2s are old enough to not really care about the games that can be somewhat silly, and the session really lacks the stickiness punch needed to make an impact. 
So, much like with the vicharan shake-up which has been going amazingly well (even the kishores who never want to put their cell phones away in sabha now can't help putting them away during these sessions), I tried something different. 
In our K2 sabha room, we have a huge pin board. Usually we put up issues of Bliss or Nilkanth on it, but nobody reads them. I decided to put up a huge empty board, and put out a bunch of markers near the beginning and at the end of each sabha. Kishores then write memorable quotes, draw some quick picture, or maybe write a phrase about a story that we heard in sabha. 
What makes this effective is that the "retention" part of it is ongoing. And because they themselves write on it, it makes it a lot more interesting and memorable when they look back on it every time they come to sabha.  
It's a collage of different colors, different hand writings, a mix of English and Gujarati. It adds a lot more color to our sabha room also. 
Try putting something like this up in your sabha room. June is about to start. It may just change how memorable a month's worth of sabhas can be. 
Give something like this a shot. If these kinds of experiments can be done at a shiksharbandh mandir center, maybe others can try it also.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

One minute SUS Example

If you have a minute (literally) you should watch this talk. We talked about Wadsworth Constant. You can remove a great deal of our matter and still make our point stick. The talk below is a great example. Simple message, unexpected using the rocks, and a great story. Also Rosling's is passionate about the subject - that always helps. Could you do this same thing with your Sunday talk? It would make for a very quick - yet sticky - sabha.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Wadsworth Constant: Ignore 30% of Everything

Lone Gunman reveals to us an interesting strategy for speech writing:

Last year Steve Yegge wrote about life at and what it’s like work­ing under Jeff Bezos. On the topic of pre­sent­ing to Bezos, Yegge gave this tip: delete every third para­graph.  Why?
Bezos is so god­damned smart that you have to turn it into a game for him or he’ll be bored and annoyed with you. That was my first real­iza­tion about him. […]
So you have to start tear­ing out whole para­graphs, or even pages, to make it inter­est­ing for him. He will fill in the gaps him­self with­out miss­ing a beat. And his brain will have less time to get annoyed with the slow pace of your brain.

Around the same time as Yegge’s post­ing, a Red­dit user known as Wadsworth pointed out that the first 30% of “nearly every video in the uni­verse” can safely be skipped. As such things go, this soon became a YouTube URL para­me­ter: just add &wadsworth=1 to skip the first third of the video.
This ‘law’ soon became known as the Wadsworth Con­stant. It works.

What does this imply for the sabha.ologist? It seems as if we could safely sleep through 30% of presentations, so the deeper meaning is that when giving a talk don't be stingy with the editors knife.

Get rid of 30% of your matter and refine the rest to make it stick.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

1 and 1 equals 3

Ken Burns talk about stories.

Great stories are everywhere.
My interest is always in complicating things.
All story is manipulation.
Truth we hope is a by product of the best of our stories and yet there are many many different types of truths.
We coalesce around stories that seem transcendent.

Stop what your doing and watch this.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Speaker's Samjan

2-Way Traffic

We've noted the benefits of speaking before, and a recent PsyBlog article adds another.
Janis and King (1954) tested this by having some participants give a talk while two others listened. Then they swapped around and one of the passive listeners gave a talk to the other two on a different topic. 
What emerged was that, on average, people were more convinced by the talk when they gave it themselves than when they merely heard it passively. This suggests that we really are persuaded more strongly when we make the argument ourselves, even if it isn't in line with our own viewpoint. 
The same trick works with attitudes to smoking. People are more put off smoking when they deliver an anti-smoking message than when they passively receive it (research described in Brinol et al., 2012). 
We see the same effect for self-confidence. When people are told to present themselves in a self-confident way to others, they actually feel more self-confident themselves.
Not only does an effective presentation empower an audience, it exerts an equally powerful effect on us as the speaker. We must call forth our faith in order to deliver to others a case for our faith, so in the moment preceding our time to open our talk in sabha, let's appreciate how we've taken one step closer to goal we wish to communicate passionately.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Do Gangster go to Akshardham?

A fellow bal sabha-ologist came up with this idea while pondering how to present the prasang of Joban Pagi to a group of Bal 2 balaks. His idea was to look at the prasang from a different point of view.

Attached is a different way that I will talk about Joban Pagi in the upcoming sabha. I did some research on gangsters in America and put together this presentation. Key is for kids to see that people can change, even flawed people, (like our flaws), and if we try and have the proper conviction, we too can change and go to Akshardham. Joban Pagi represents a way that a gangster could end up in Akshardham.

This is a powerful tool. Changing the point of view from which a prasang is told gives us a fresh perspective on that prasang, and even though we know the prasang by heart, and know what the take away point is, this change of perspective can really drive home the simple point.  We brainstormed some other points of view on this same prasang each can give some credence to slightly different simple statements. 

  • Joban Pagi from point of view of a relative of a person that Joban Pagi murdered - can hit on forgiveness and the fact that in Akshardham we are all atmaroop, so that our bodies and their relation would be meaningless. Accomplishing that mindset on earth can only happen with the grace of the Guru.
  • Joban Pagi from point of view of someone Joban Pagi killed. They may not have wound up in Akshardham, this could illustrate purva karma, maya, and reincarnation.
  • Joban Pagi from the viewpoint of Maharaj. He knew all about him, his past, his future - therefore everything Maharaj did was for Joban's own good and to serve as an example to others.
  • Joban Pagi from Joban Pagi's viewpoint. This is the version we usually get. Emphasizing transformation of character. 
It would be a very interesting sabha indeed (could we say a very Sticky Sabha) that told this same tried and true prasang from each of these angles to drive home a simple point. Let us know if you try that and how it went.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Presenter Pointers #5: Assist (not Assault) II

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

Last time, we looked at how to present prachar, from pounding it into our audience mercilessly to using it as a beacon to bolster our audience, and last week's presentation in kishore/kishori sabha on katha provided us with another opportunity to revisit this lesson.

In one sabha, the presenter remarked why we don't listen to katha: laziness, lack of understanding Gujarati, lack of time, etc. Such negativity serves nobody, but in review, we learned that this presenter was merely following the syllabus's speaking points.

Every audience in every mandal is different and has different levels of understanding present. Katha might be an addiction to some, a distraction to others, and a waste of time to the rest, so we have to tailor our message to hit home with these segments. Perhaps pointing out flaws may work to move those already seeking to improve themselves, but we know that many of our audience members have yet to reach that stage.

Next time we have a syllabus in our hands, lets take a step back and think of our audience before mindlessly regurgitating the syllabus. It's also not enough to reword the syllabus and present it. The Vachanamrut is replete with examples where Shriji Maharaj details one concept to a sabha filled with just sadhus very differently to one mixed with householders.

A little thinking can thus move mountains.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

That's So Cliché

Detach from the world. Eliminate worldly desires. No [insert niyams here]...

Week in and week out, we grow accustomed to hearing statements like these. It's not that their message is valid, it's just that they are heavy doses for our heroes. They don't invigorate the audience at-large and fall under the category of cliché, phrases that we think carry appeal but rather fall flat on their feet to carry change forward.

The folks over at show us just how blind-sided we can be passing them off as cool. Of course, it's difficult to know if we abuse this habit, so record yourself next time to find out. Even if you do, it's not the end of the world.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Samaiyo Recipe

This past Sunday marked Swaminarayan Jayanti, the first of five days where we defy our body with a waterless fast.

Sitting in on some post-samaiyo feedback really got us thinking - at least on something other than food.

What makes a great samaiyo?

Many point to dances, dramas, and kirtans.

Dramas engage us with comedy and suspense.
Dances enamor us with vivid costumes and fast music.
Kirtans involve us with melody and lyric.

Few point to the speeches; they only have words.

Conclusion: Great samaiyos have more singing, acting, and dancing.

And that's where our formula falls apart, for what empowers a program is a message. Shriji Maharaj's purpose behind encouraging samaiyos stemmed from their ability to inspire countless individuals to a life for the better only because they walked away with that message.

Dances, dramas, and kirtans may entertain us, so let's enhance their effect by combining them with a central message. If the elements of a program cannot connect back to a core theme, what we have is a lifeless list on a cue sheet.

Just as a speeches without SUS will inevitably lose the audience, let's craft a program with a punch the next time it's samaiyo season.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Presenter Pointers #4: Assist (not Assault)

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

In presenting passionately, it's easy to get carried away with feisty rhetoric, but we must remember that we're here to help our audience. They are the true heroes waiting to realize their potential, and as presenters, we need to edge them along the way. 

For example, kishore/kishori mandal had the topic of prachar in their sabhas this past weekend, and it can easily be misconstrued into the extreme - far from what Pramukh Swami Maharaj has shown in his life:

In 1982, Pramukh Swami Maharaj was in Leceister and noticed a Christian man present before him with a reserved countenance. Upon meeting with him, the man disclosed how he needed to find peace after his son committed suicide since people blamed him and his wife for it.  
Swamishri asked, "Were there any difficulties with the boy?"  
The man replied, "Yes, he was mentally handicapped." 
"Did you fully love him?"  
The man explained that the boy had been hospitalized for the severity of his condition. He tried to escape from the window but killed himself in the process. Swamishri then explained that since the parents loved the boy fully, they were not at fault. 
The man became so ecstatic upon hearing these words and offered a donation, but Swamishri told him that if he wanted to give money, then to donate at his church. The man felt surprised at meeting the first spiritual leader who did not so readily accept money. 
Next Sunday, the man spoke to the audience about his experience with Swamishri.
We see from this example that Swamishri showed prachar to reflect from his actions and not from preaching, manipulation, or even deception. 

Perhaps our audience may sport mandir t-shirts or cite BAPS on their resumes when they may shy away from talking to strangers at mandir, but if we can recognize their efforts and nudge them along, their superpowers will shine sure enough.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Clues to a Great Story

Andrew Stanton wrote the first film produced entirely on a computer, Toy Story. But what made that film a classic wasn't the history-making graphic technology -- it's the story, the heart, the characters that children around the world instantly accepted into their own lives. In the video below he shares some of his insights into the art and science of story telling. Many of these are applicable to crafting a sticky sabha presentation.

Note between 1:08 and 1:011 in the video some colorful language is used.

  • Story telling is joke telling
  • [Story telling] is knowing everything you are saying from beginning to the last is leading to a singular goal.
  • [Story telling] is confirming some truth that deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings.
  • "Frankly there isn't anyone you couldn't learn to love once you've heard their story."
  • Story commandment: Make me care. [this one really resonates with us, this is the goal of sabha]
  • Great stories start by making a promise that this talk or story will lead somewhere that is worth your time. [again this is the promise we need to make in sabha, and fulfill it]
  • The audience actually wants to work for their meal [they want to be engaged and made to think]. They just don't want to know that they are doing that. [again in any sabha, the audience wants to think, but they do not want to know before hand that they have to think - entertain me.]
  • Stories are inevitable if they are good, but they are not predictable.
  • Stories infuse wonder.
  • Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Presenting Vicharan

Several Sabhaologists have inquired about tips for giving a Vicharan presentation in sabha.

"Most times, there is little to no material in the syllabus for this. As a presenter and even as a sabha sanchalak I find myself showing a video from of Swami's vicharan. Of course there's no story there, no context (except when it's an utsav and there is some topical tableau setup for Swamishri), and no words."

So this week, let's break down Vicharan. The beauty of this method is that no syllabus is required.

Think of the last time you saw some late-breaking news update and that sense of excitement and interest it generates. We want to drum up the same type of sentiment here and may as well be your shakeup start.

  • We have late breaking news about Swamishri. 
  • What is Swamishri doing right now?
  • What happened last week with Swamishri?
  • If you were traveling with Swamishri, what would you be experiencing?

Indeed, it's a tough one as everyone knows what is about to happen, but there are still some things we can do.

  • Pictures from website
  • Videos from website
  • Use a story

For example, two monks were returning to the monastery in the evening. It had rained and there were puddles of water on either sides of the road. At one plac,e a beautiful young woman was standing unable to walk across because of a puddle of water. The elder monk approached her, lifted her into his arms, carrier her to the other side of the road, and continued on his way to the monastery.

Later in the evening, the younger monk inquired, "Sir, as monks, we cannot touch a woman ?"

The elder monk answered "yes, brother".

"But then Sir, how is that you lifted that woman on the roadside?"

The elder monk smiled at him, "I left her on the other side of the road, but you are still carrying her. "

This story is unexpected, now use this to relate to Swamishri. He exemplifies this vairagya. As the pictures are rolling on screen, we can emphasize this. Here is Swamishri in Mumbai Mandir, but he is detached from all the things around him.

Gather prasangs from the website, including Bliss.We can even relate older prasangs that fit into what is happening now.

Look at this picture

We can clearly see that Bapa has just had his mundan done (shaving of hair and beard).

Now we may not know any prasangs that happened during this mundan, but we do know older prasangs
pertaining to his mundan, like the one featured on today's daily prasang:

"In Sarangpur on July 3rd, 1998, it was the night before mundan (monthly shave). To enable everyone to have darshan of Swamishri's mundan, a barber's chair, which was of adjustable height, had been brought. Swamishri was shown the chair.

Meanwhile, Gnaneshwar Swami asked Swamishri, "When you were young, did the barber come to your house to give you a hair cut?"

"Yes," replied Swamishri, "the barber had been contracted. In return for his services, he would get some grains. He would know when to come, so he came regularly ."

Then, Shvetvaikunth Swami asked, "How did you part your hair - on the side or in the middle?"

"On the side," Swamishri replied!

Everyone smiled with joy on hearing Swamishri's innocent and honest reply."

So while showing these pictures, we can say that in Mumbai, Swamishri just had his mundan done. In 1998, Swamishri had his mundan done in Sarangpur and something interesting happened; he revealed bits of childhood.

Vicharan comes around once a month, so don't let this opportunity go to hone in on a unique style of presenting. It's not rocket science, and approaching it with the science of Sabhaology can help the audience samjan of Swamishri soar to new heights.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Simple - I know it when I see it.

We have been working with some balaks on speaking skills with a focus on simple, unexpected, and stories. It was interesting that the balaks seem to get tripped up on simple (the other two the get right away). What do you mean by simple? It turns out that this is a really deep questions. In Made To Stick there was a large section  of the book that explored this idea. I keep coming back to the notion that you know simple when you see it. For example:

The iPhone interface is simple (but not simplistic).

Today (2/3/2012) is a good day to check out the following simple (but not simplistic) website.

In both these examples the purpose is clearly defined and the interface reflects exactly that. In giving our talks we must first really understand the material and then synthesize what message we want to convey. This takes time and most people skip this step. However it is time well spent since it is really understanding what you want to say that enable you to say things elegantly. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Unconventional Advice

Every so often, we stumble upon some unorthodoxy that has the potential to shake up our speaking for the better, like this recent LifeHacker article.

    All I want for Christmas is a 2 dimensional reduction
  • Dribble Twice, Spin Once: Basketball fans will recognize the pre-shot patterns of basketball players to better focus themselves. Preceding our presentation, a similar routine can help shake some nerves and build confidence.
  • Death to Powerpoint: Slides often stymie our natural ability to express ourselves, so use Powerpoint with discretion.
  • Speak to Two People: Eye contact can rattle the new speaker, but focusing on two people in the room keeps things in perspective.
  • Embace Your Ums: Focus on your natural storytelling ability, and the audience will seemingly gloss over those pesky words.
  • Don't Memorize: Rehearsing can help us develop our flow, but memorization just renders us mechanical and inorganic.
  • Practice with Live Ammunition: Set yourself to speak publicly to capture a true simulation. With practice, we can feel accustomed to this arena and excel.
Twist things up with these tidbits of advice, and let us know how they end up working out!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Shyness is I-ness

What causes us to be shy in speaking? What causes us to be nervous before we give a talk? 

Mark Harrison shares the following idea:

Shyness is pride
Someone I respect a great deal once told me that ‘shyness is pride.’ What he meant was that shy people spend too much time worrying about themselves and how they look in the eyes of other people, when they should be focusing on what’s outside, trying to do a good job, trying to add value to the situation. This is brilliant advice – start thinking about others and less about yourself. In fact, everyone else is actually thinking about themselves, too. Nobody really cares about you. So stop being so self absorbed.

The idea is that we all have pride. The more we put ourselves outside our comfort zone, make mistakes in front of others, learn to take constructive feedback - the less ego we have. This resonates with a great deal that we have seen. Many times at the Mandir we will give constructive feedback to all age groups. We find the younger the age group the more apt they are to really receive this feedback and improve on it. When we talk with shishu aged kids, it is quite easy to work with them to be better presenters. Although they are getting feedback (or rules) all the time, it is amazing to see how readily they can internalize this feedback as long as it is explained to them so that they can digest it. The older we get and the older the speaker we talk to, feedback needs to become subtle as egos tend to get bruised more readily. Yogi Bapa showed a way around this by becoming a friend first (het karva shikvu), so giving this feedback takes time - maybe many years. 

Speaking is also a double edge sword. Shyness in speaking is due to pride, but a very good speaker can easily develop ego in their speaking skills. So as we all become better speakers it is a good idea to take a moment and realize that we are doing this for Maharaj and Swami, and it is really their krupa that enables us to become better. That grounding thought should overcome our shyness/pride in trying to speak and deter our arrogance/ego when we become a good speaker and enable life long feedback to become as easy as a shishu