Sunday, December 17, 2017

Go To Move: Follow the Crowd

Dev, a Bal Sabha Sanchalak and Sabhaologist shares a go to move that did not go as planned either in Kishore Mandal or Bal Mandal, but still worked to drive home his overall message. He writes the following:
This week in Bal 1, our theme for the Sabha was simplicity. We played a game of Follow the Crowd in the beginning to show simplicity among our lives. This activity was played in Kishore sabha (K1) and did not go as expected (it was still unexpected but the presenter had to maneuver on his feet to make it fit the simple). We thought it would be a great activity for Bal Sabha (B1) and decided to try it out there as well. Here is what we sent in our sabha preview and review (combined into one post).
Simple: Simplicity is key in happiness.
Unexpected/Go To Move: Follow the Crowd.
Follow the Crowd is a game which will show who follows the crowd or who can stay away from the influence of fellow balaks/balikas.
Objective:  Sway a few balaks away from the right answer to show that we can all get influenced by others.
­   Whiteboard
­   Markers
How to Play:
  • Before sabha, when MC is talking or as soon as sabha starts, take one balak/balika in the hallway or away from the other balaks where he/she can’t hear what the presenter has to say.
  • Talk to the balak and distract him from what’s going on inside of the sabha, making sure that he/she can’t hear the presenter.
  • While the balak/balika is outside, tell the rest of the sabha to say the wrong answer, and not tell the balak/balika that was outside what is going on. 
  • For example, draw a big box and a small box on the board. Tell the balaks/balikas to say the wrong answer. If the presenter asks which box is bigger, everyone must point to the box that is smaller.
  • The balak/balika will not know what is going on and will say that everyone else is wrong. This will show that he is not influenced by the crowd and strongly believes in his answer.
  • What is expected is for the balak/balika to go along with everyone and say the wrong answer.

  • When we played the game in Kishore Sabha, the game did not work as the Kishore that was picked went against everyone’s saying. He was a fellow Bal Karyakar and, so we decided to try the same game in Bal Sabha.
  • When the MC was talking, a balak was taken out and “talked to”.  The other Bal Karyakar explained to the rest of the sabha to say the wrong answer.
  • As soon as they were ready, the balak was brought inside. Even though everyone was told not to tell the balak, one of the balaks told him to say the wrong answer. 
  • This game did work in a way but did not go as planned since the balak already knew what was going on and said the wrong answer like everyone else.

Relation to Simple:
  • The simple of the sabha was that simplicity is key in happiness.
  • In life, we tend to go with everyone else and fall into the trap of wanting to get everything that everyone else has.
  • In this game the balak/balika had a choice of going with everyone or keeping firm in his belief of the right answer.
  • In our game, the balak went along with everyone because he knew about what was told to the rest of the balaks.
  • In Kishore Sabha, the other Bal Karyakar went against what the rest were saying.
  • While everyone else is getting new toys, games, etc. we must be the one who stays simple in our lives. We must stay away from the influence of other balaks/ balikas.
  • We must live a simple life by staying away from what everyone else wants. Only keeping what we truly need will lead us to happiness.

In general this is a great unexpected activity that makes the point of that we all can be influenced by our peers (follow the crowd).  It may not go exactly as planned, but it will still bring home the point, just be prepared to think on your feet.  When we tried it in Kishore Sabha the kishore simply refused to be influenced. Kudos to him. We then used this as a counter example - he was like fire and not water as Yogi Bapa used to say. He stayed true to being simple. In Bal 1 our execution was off. We took one balak out of the room but when he came back in the rest of the balaks told him what we were about to do so the activity turned out to be a bit pointless. We salvaged it by asking the balaks to image if it had gone as planned - what would have happened? This game might work better in groups 2 and 3 since the older balaks (hopefully) won’t tell the one balak. Let us know how it works out for you.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Beyond SUS

Many sabha-ologist have asked what comes after SUS. This is an excellent question since it implies a truth that many sabha-ologist have not really contemplated. SUS is just the starting point. (Gasp!) One of the next step in crafting a great talk is to refine what we are going to say and how we are going to say it. This will require deliberate practice which is a fancy way of saying giving lots of talks and getting lots of feedback (a sabha-ologists version of a good time). There are many excellent speakers who after their SUS write down each word they are going to say line by line to hone their presentation. Evan Puschak (the Nerdwriter) has an excellent example of crafting a message (hat tip Jarvikbhai) by deconstructing a Louis C K joke.
You know, more than anything else I think I’m obsessed with articulation, with the magic of putting things just the right way. There are 207 words in this joke and not a single one is wasted. They’re used either in meaning or in rhythm to contribute to the overall effect, an effect that lets us see the world from a different angle, and more importantly, makes us laugh.

It is this idea of articulation that SUS attempts quantify. SUS is just one of many methods to do this. We don't need SUS to make a great talk, but we need something. Using SUS is infinitely better than using nothing at all. After SUS we need to sharpen the saw. One method is to wordsmith in the manner that Louis CK does with his material - looking at every word we are about to say and evaluating if there is a more concise and impactful way of articulating our thoughts. Put another way: is there a better way to say our story to convey our simple message. We may not be able to script every word, but let's start next week by looking at one story.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Make the Kids Write - a new kind of unexpected.

Sahilbhai a first time presenter in Bal 1 and a very ardent Sabha-ologist came up with a unique unexpected (spoiler alert: it was not a video) to engage the Balaks. He wrote the following thoughtful analysis of his talk and how in the future he would improve. A great many good idea here for all of us to implement.

In preparing for my Bal 1 talk centered on the prasang of Shukanand Swami I came up with the following Simple / Unexpected / Story paradigm.

When we do seva our main goal should be to make Maharaj and Swami happy.I would have the kids repeat this several times to make sure they remembered it. This really worked as some of the kids were said this in their own words while they were eating dinner.

I had the balaks undergo a writing exercise in order to help them understand the difficulty of Shukanand Swami’s seva as Maharaj’s Secretary. Each balak had a blank piece of paper and a pencil. I would say five sentences and have them write it down word for word to the best of their ability. Then I would ask the balaks for feedback on they performed. There was only one balak who was able to get around 90% of what I said which was 40% higher than the second highest. I asked him why he did so well and he told me that he has a teacher who teaches at a fast pace. I related this to Shukanand Swami’s proficiency in his seva because before Shukanand Swami became a sadhu he was a merchant who handled the accounts of land and he was highly educated. Similar to the balak who performed well due to his experience with his teacher in school, Shukanand Swami was highly adept at writing long accounts due to his knowledge of linguistics he was able to handle the rigors of being Maharaj’s Secretary.

After receiving the feedback from the balaks, I immediately told them to flip over their paper and be ready for the second part of the exercise. Similar to the first part, I would say five sentences (different sentences) and have write them down word for word. After completing the exercise, I initiated another feedback interval to ask how they felt now compared to the first part. Many of the balaks improved from their performance on the first part because they kept a positive attitude even though they might have gotten less than 10% accuracy (accuracy is evaluated by how many words a balak was able write down which correlated with what I had spoken in the five sentences) on the first part. The balaks that had done worse than before or did not improve had a negative attitude which affected their performance. Because of the fact they were unable to get a 100% accuracy on the first try, they felt miserable. 
I used this data to inform the balaks on how this exercise resembles seva. When we do seva our main goal should be to make Maharaj and Swami happy. However, sometimes events happen that are out of our control. Those events must be seen as Maharaj’s ichchha (His doing) to test us. If we become depressed and quit we will never achieve the goal we set out which was to earn Maharaj and Swami’s happiness (rajipo). Therefore, if we remain sthitpragya (stable minded) we are able to analyze what happened (antardrishti) to help us persevere through the unsuccessful attempt in order to continue our goal to achieve Maharaj and Swami’s happiness.

I told the balaks about Shukanand Swami’s seva and the magnitude of difficulty he had to go through. I began with an overview of what it meant being Maharaj’s secretary. As the secretary, Shukanand Swami would create and maintain accounts of Maharaj’s discourses which were later compiled into major religious texts (Vachanamrut). Maharaj always tested his devotees in order for them to become ekantik (perfect devotee). The same was applied to Shukanand Swami by how he was pressured to write 14 page long accounts and end up having to revise them late into the night (this displayed the amount of meticulous perfection Shukanand Swami emphasized in doing seva). When he would submit his seva to Maharaj as a form of bhakti, Maharaj would test him being tearing up the papers and throwing them on the ground. Nityanand Swami asked Shukanand Swami if he experience a feeling of frustration and Shukanand Swami replied by saying “I had written it just to please Maharaj and Maharaj pleased himself by tearing up the pages”. This quote best illustrated how we should perform our seva which is to earn Maharaj and Swami’s happiness and remain stable minded like Shukanand Swami. As a result, Maharaj appreciated Shukanand Swami so much that he would refer to him during discourses on seva.

In order to continue my emphasis on when we do seva our main goal should be to make Maharaj and Swami happy as well as the mahima of Maharaj's ichchha in our seva, I used the London Mandir prasang. It was Yogi Bapa's agna to have a Mandir in every continent. So to fulfill this agna, there was an area of land originally permitted by the urban planners in the city to be used in the construction of the Mandir in London.  Unfortunately, some problems occurred and the land was no longer permitted for construction. The devotees did their best to win a case for permission to construct the Mandir but there was no success in obtaining the land. Due the lost efforts, the devotees lost hope in the cause and quit. However, Pramukh Swami Maharaj had the sthitaprajna to remain focused on fulfilling Yogi Bapa’s agna and inspired the devotees to remain focused on the cause as well. As a result, a new area of land was found to construct the Mandir. Today there is a beautiful Mandir in London which can be seen as a symbol of seva that was done to earn the happiness of Maharaj and Swami. 

What went well:
  • The exercise was something challenging and forced the balaks to think better than they would've if I showed them a video.

  • I made them say my simple in order for it to stick in their head. I would say “what should we think when we do seva” and then they would reply “to make Maharaj and Swami happy”. I did the same thing with how being stable minded is important.

  • When I talked I didn't use any advanced Satsang vocabulary rather I utilized the words happiness, stable minded, and desire. This helped them remain interested because they knew what I was saying.

  • I used a lot of gestures (shout out to Aksharbhai) when I spoke to make them interested.
  • Because it was my first time, I made them feel comfortable talking to me by joking around before sabha (I did the “lawn mower” backwards and deliberately fell to make them laugh and a bunch of other goofy stuff). I believe this is a great thing to do if someone is presenting for the first time in front of balaks (especially if your height is intimidating to them).

What I could improve:
  • Don’t forget to do Jai Naad (shaking my head in disappointment as I type this).

  • I should have paced myself because there were other things that I planned to do during my presentation but failed to do so because mentally I was going too fast. As a result, there were some flaws in conveying the exercise's relationship to Shukanand Swami’s seva (I should’ve talked to a balak privately telling them I’ll tear up his paper as part of the exercise).

  • I wasn’t able to successfully transition into my story which made some of the balaks bored listening to it. As a result, some of them might forget the name Shukanand Swami. This is a major problem for me which is storytelling. I should’ve told them to imagine the scenario by describing what it was like during Maharaj's time (no microphone, cramped fingers from writing, no pencils so no eraser, revisions that could keep Shukanand Swami awake late into the night without anything but a candle, end up having the papers torn up, going straight into another long discourse while being sleep deprived, and much more to help the balaks see the story more clearly). Shout out to Tusharbhai for the storytelling advice.

  • Next time no pencils so they cannot erase (Shukanand Swami did not have an eraser).

  • Tell the balaks before the exercise to try their best and not stop to ask questions (which ended up consuming time).

  •  Have more than enough materials to prevent wasting time in search of spare pencils, paper, etc. 

How NOT to ruin your SUS

A fellow sabha-ologist and Bal Presenter - Jarvikbhai sent us the following observation.

How many of us have started our presentations with a question? I certainly have and this blog post is an instant example. Questions are a tempting tool to make things interactive. A quick and easy unexpected - maybe a way to gather consensus on a specific topic we want to talk about.  I recently utilized asking a question to start my Bal Mandal presentation trying to make things interactive. While it may work for a blog post (since the question is rhetorical) I found it isn’t as effective when doing a presentation, especially for Bal Mandal. I lost all command presence after asking the question since the sabha devolved quickly into a free for all. I did not want to crush enthusiasm or shout at the kids to pay attention (because they were paying attention they just were not behaving). So I weathered the storm, but it took a great deal of momentum out of my talk. As a presenter, we want our audience to pay attention from the beginning.

Following our Simple-Unexpected-Stories paradigm, we usually start our presentations with an unexpected to grab attention. It does not have to be a video and in fact if we start every talk that way it would not be very unexpected. I spoke to the sanchalaks and they confirmed that the kids had not seen a video in a few weeks. My simple take home message was “We should follow Yogi Bapa's example and fill our free time with devotion.” So I found the following video to grab attention.

The video is fast paced and just under about a minute long - perfect to entice the audience (balaks for my case) and prove the point that we spend a considerable amount of time doing unnecessary things which wouldn’t help us in the long run. Thus, we should use that free time to do different bhakti/seva for Bhagwan. I felt really good about starting in this manner and then integrating this idea to all the prasangs of Yogi Bapa.

However I started with a question asking the Balaks what they do during their summer time. I was expecting answers that weren’t  bhakti/seva related so that I can have balaks realize the amount of time we spend doing unnecessary things by showing the video next. In theory the plan would work but reality disagreed. As soon as I asked the question, all the balaks started yelling different things which is opposite of what I expected. I lost all command presence. I did not want to yell to get them to quiet down. I wanted to feed their enthusiasm.  If I had started with the video, it would have grabbed their attention much sooner and would actually care to listen to the following things I had to say.

So are there no real ways of using questions in your presentations, absolutely not! Virenbhai’s blog post is great example of how to incorporate a question at the beginning of a talk. Afterwards I thought of the following ideas that I may try in the future. Bring a ball or a throwable object. We could set conditions that whoever has a throwable object can speak. We could ask the same balak who has that object to pass it to another balak for them to speak. That way the commotion is reduced drastically.