Friday, May 15, 2015

Gearing Up as Group Lead: Ghosti 101

With another shibir soon approaching, perhaps one of the most rewarding yet challenging opportunities is the group lead seva. Pit with a group of sometimes complete strangers and tasked with making the interaction friendly in a matter of days, it's not a job for the faint of heart.

Thus, let's deconstruct one of the most basic responsibilities of a group lead: moderating a ghosti. Below are some tips coupled with examples in italics to better illustrate the point.

#1: Know your audience. Simply calling your group members before meeting them at the shibir can help ignite the interaction. Not only will it help in learning names, but it can help get a feel for where they stand in their samjan thus allowing for a ghosti guided more to something relevant.

"What do you like to do for fun?"
"What do you find most enjoyable about mandir?"
"What are you hoping to get out of the shibir?" 

#2: Priming the participants. This strategy requires the ghosti has been planned out in advance, but giving a heads up to the ghosti participants, especially if sensitive topics like niyam-dharma are to be discussed.

"We're going to be talking about our struggles with other haribhakto, so think of a situation where you had a conflict with another haribhakt and how you maneuvered it."

#3: Crafting the question. Open-ended questions are easy to generate, especially on the spot.

"What is agna?"

Unfortunately, they are the often met with an awkward silence. With so many possibilities, nobody wants to be wrong, especially in front of strangers.

Instead, try binary questions where the answer is either a yes or no. While the questions appear straightforward, they can generate ample discussion when wielded well.

"Can you follow agna without realizing it?"

Alternatively, try using questions with more than two choices, but tread carefully. More choices can create more confusion and the greater chance someone abstains from voting altogether. Allow for time to think out the choices.

#4: Respond to the response. Sometimes, moderators ask questions, but don't use the responses to build a point. Open-ended questions are frequent offenders for this problem, and doing so implies a failure to acknowledge someone's input.

Moderator: "What is agna?"

Group: "Things we follow. What Swamishri tells us to do. Something that will help us get moksh."

Moderator: "Great. Today we are going to talk about agna."

With a binary question, take turns asking each side of their opinion.

Moderator: "Can you follow agna without realizing it?" 

(2 voted yes; 3 voted no.)

Moderator: "Hasmukhbhai, why did you say yes?"

Hasmukhbhai: "Let's say someone becomes vegetarian. That's also Swamishri's agna, but they don't realize it."

Moderator: "Does anyone disagree?"

Lalubhai: "But how can you call it agna if you don't do it with understanding? You can randomly do something that happens to be in line with the Satpurush's wishes, but it's the understanding that defines agna."

#5: Acknowledge responses right/wrong. Not everyone will get the right answer nor should they. Ghosti is a shared learning experience, so don't forget to recognize contributors. Their input pushed the discussion further then where it was before.

Moderator: "Shivambhai, that's an interesting distinction and a very important point to note. Aksharbhai, thanks for sharing your insight as it's important to identify this common misconception when considering agna."

#6: Anonymize sensitive topics. Topics like niyam-dharma are newer easy to talk about let alone in the presence of those unfamiliar to us. Try using a method to remove names, like index cards.

"Think of a time where you did something you regretted later. Describe the situation on the index card in the few lines. When you are done, pass them up, and we'll review them together."

#7: Apply understanding. Simply having participants restate a point may not indicate complete understanding, so test with application.

"For Chaturmas, assume a kishore decides not to watch movies. Under what circumstances, would he NOT be following agna?"

#8: Schedule silence. When nobody responds, awkwardness joins the interaction, and it becomes irresistible for moderators to go into pravachan mode. Fight the urge by offering up periods of silence so that participants can ruminate freely without being pressured to offer up an answer.

"Let's take some time to think, and when you have an answer look up so we know you are ready to discuss."

Friday, April 24, 2015

Adhiveshan: Studying that Sticks

Many kishores/kishoris around the nation this past weekend took their Prathmik Mukhpaath to qualify for the upcoming Adhiveshan. With five categories and many lines to memorize, certainly the challenge appears daunting.

Here are a few activities worth trying to shake things up to make the studying fun. If you think of more, feel free to share!

Game 1: Mukhpaath Madness
Sit everyone in a circle, and pick a shlok. Have the first person say the first word. The next person should say the first word plus the subsequent word.

Person 1: Gururbrahma

Person 2: Gururbrahma, gururvishnu

Continue until someone says an incorrect word. Start over and repeat. Time the group to see how long it takes to finish the entire shlok. Compete with other groups in the mandal to see who is the fastest.

NOTE: This game forces everyone to know the words AND pay attention to their team members as repeating the same mistakes only wastes time. Thus, it encourages teamwork.

Variation #1*: Mix it up by introducing a ball. Players can throw to another person in the circle instead of having the person next to them go next.

Variation #2: Each time someone misses a word, s/he sits down. Last person standing wins provided they can recite the entire verse. 

Variation #3: For balaks/balikas, pass a box around with a treat inside (e.g. candy, sticker). Whoever is holding the box upon completing the verse keeps the treat. 

Game 2: Relay to Raajipo*
Line up teams, and grab a whiteboard. The first person goes up, writes the first word, and returns to the back of the line. The next person goes up and writes the next word. Continue until the entire verse is written. If a team writes a verse incorrectly, they have to start over. First team to correctly write the entire verse wins.

Variation #1: For balaks/balikas, have them hop/skip to the board instead of just running.

Game 3: Basketball Mukhpaath
Line up two teams on the basketball court. Ask each person to recite a verse. If correct, s/he earns 4 points and can earn an additional point for shooting a basket - a grand total of 5 points. Play as many rounds as you like.

*Adapted from Ken Moser's Creative Christian Ideas

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Review: TED Talks

With many upcoming Local Shibirs and Conventions we maybe called upon to recreate some of talks we have heard in past National Conventions for our local audience. These talks are akin to giving a TED talk. We have mentioned emulating TED in the past since it captivates the audience and gets a concise message across. It may be worth going over those points to tune up for our speaking in the upcoming months.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Simple Shortcut #3 To Make The Best Lecture You Have ever Given, the key is Simple.

From the Harvard Business Review blog, Greg McKeown writes about the best lecture he's ever heard. It is germane since every week we either try to give the best lecture anyone has ever heard or get the opportunity to hear the best lecture anyone is ever heard. In sabha we have some advantages. We have a syllabus topic that gives us much of our research and we have a plethora of resources at our disposal. However unless we do this seva sincerely we may wind up with NOT the best lecture ever, worse yet we may wind up with someone reading off the syllabus topic. Even worse is when the presenter says "hey lets split into groups and discuss this topic" as they walk away to get a drink of water only to return when sabha is over. 

So what makes the best lecture someone has ever heard. To be sure many of these aspects overlap with the ideas in Made To Stick. McKeown notes that: You can't communicate what you haven't defined. This really is essentially the first step to making a message stick - figure your simple.
I was once asked to work with an executive team who wanted to find a sticky message for a new initiative they wanted to run. But after interviewing a series of executives involved, all on video, I realized the problem was really a strategy problem dressed up as a communications problem. They couldn't communicate the message with greater effectiveness until they defined their message with greater clarity. And that meant making decisions about what their initiative was and what it was not. I have found that designing a message around the following helps: “I am teaching [this narrow subject] to [this specific audience] in order that they [clear learning objective/call to action].”
Another aspect to creating a great talk is to make sure the rest of our points reinforces this main point. What if we have a really great story, or video clip, or prasang but it just does not fit with our simple? What if our topic is Bhakti and we have a great example of Samp? Then we need to exercise McKeown's third point: Kill your darlings. That means we need to self-edit our talks and remove all stories (even though we really like them) that do not back up our simple.
Stephen King has written that in order for a story to come to life, you must “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” The same type of self-editing can be applied to telling stories. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Square and co-founder of Twitter, thinks his primary job is to be the Chief Editor of the company in order to “present one cohesive story to the world.”
McKeown's last point is subtle but again points towards keeping our simple message relevant. Be repetitive without being boring. The idea of giving a sticky talk is that everyone leaves with the exact same message. One (admittedly boring) way of doing this, is to just repeat your simple one line message one hundred times and sitting down. Everyone will remember the message, and everyone will hate the talk. So the idea is to weave the simple message through out our talk. After every story go back and show how that story related to our simple message. Better yet explain how the story shows our simple message from another point of view. That is really the art of the simple.
Alastair Campbell, the communications advisor to Tony Blair for years, explained at a CIPR conference the challenge we face today in getting a message through in our noisy world: You’re in a huge room with a wall on the far side that’s painted white. Your job is to paint it blue using only the paint gun in your hand. You shoot a single ball and it hits the wall on the other side and makes the tiniest blue mark. You’ve got your message out there once, but it’s still drowned out. So you shoot another ball over. Then another and another and another. You keep going with great persistence until you look over there and the wall starts to look as if you aren’t sure if it’s white or blue. This, according to Campbell, is the best you can hope for.
But before you can be repetitive, you have to decide on the one message you want to hammer home – which means prioritizing. When the word priority came into the English language in the 1400s, it was singular. What did it mean? The very first or prior thing. It continued to have that useful definition for the next five hundred years. However, in the 1900s we pluralized the term and started speaking of priorities. But can we really have many first or prior things? Words can be potent enough to change the world, but if we try to share too many different messages, we water down the power of our message.
The whole post is worth reading.