Thursday, November 15, 2012

ToasMaster's Project 3 Speech - What's in a Face?

Here is my P3 ToastMaster's speech. It didn't really go as planned. For once I forgot my speech mid way and was forced to look at my notes. From there it was a road downhill. I made a lot of mistakes which I would have otherwise avoided and my voice modulation was not at all as I had practiced  Might be because of my lack of confidence due to my initial blunder.

Many thanks to my fellow ToastMasters especially my evaluator Suman, for their encouraging feedback and also for telling me my shortcomings. I am planning to give this speech again after incorporating their comments.

What's in a Face?

“Nice to put a face to a name.” It’s a phrase that we hear very frequently and which probably makes sense socially but think about it – professionally? I reckon in the work environment, this phrase is at least a decade past its expiry date. Good Afternoon fellow ToastMasters and guests.

All right so it might be mildly satisfying to find out how your colleague in the US looks like when all you know about him/her is through emails or phones. Nice, yes in the same way you get a clue right in a crossword. But essential? I would beg to differ. Let me tell you a few reasons why.

For a start, not meeting removes all manner of possible discrimination on the basis of age, gender, weight, looks or even the clothes. Operate mainly by phone or email rather than in person and you are more likely to be judged on the value of your work and not on the firmness of your handshake, the stiffness of your shirt and a 100 other visual nuances that help people form the much valued – “first impression”. Tell me who are you more likely to do business with – a shabbily dressed man with bright orange hair, green side burns and a perpetual drool on his face or an immaculately dressed fashionista? It would require a considerable effort on part of the former to convince you of his skills even if you somehow manage to get past that appearance.

Perhaps the most valuable contribution of remote working to the corporate world and to human kind in general is in reducing those awful meetings. Of course, we now have to endure more conference calls, but the sunny side is that everyone wants to get them over with as quickly as possible rather than the face to face meetings which drone on and on. You are no longer forced to take your clients or bosses for lunch and pretend to be friendly. It is way easier on the company’s resources and your mental faculties to just talk to them on phone. You can still be effective and create a personal link in a lot less time. And if they are a bit rude, opinionated you can choose to rise above – quite literally, well that is if they are not sitting in front of you. You can always choose to stand up and take the call. It gives you an extra bit of confidence over the other person.      

The benefits of working over emails cannot be overestimated. When you are involved in negotiations over fees, one side will often feel cornered. But not so over the email, where each party has considerable time to think over their replies and come up with all the supporting data to corroborate their arguments. There are far less chances of things getting ugly, trust me. And what about when your manager sends you an umpteenth email asking you to go over a 100 page report that you have already gone through and found no error. In person, it would take an extremely strong minded person to not snap back or at least show his frustration. But over the emails you can always say – “Sure, will have a look and get back to you.” You can still curse all you want but he doesn’t have to know.

This is not to say that face - to - face communication is not useful anymore. Of course when you are brainstorming perhaps or when you are just more comfortable expressing yourself in person. But if working remote means  improved cash flow for the organization, less time spent in travel and meetings and fewer interpersonal conflicts, then maybe the secret of success today is keeping as low a profile as possible or not putting a face to a name.

P.S. - Inspired by a post from Reader's Digest Oct'2012.

Friday, September 14, 2012

And Then The Curtains Fall

Some shared moments,
Some cherished memories,
A few hearty laughs, 
And a few idiosyncrasies,
Is all that you can glean
from the time you spent away.

And then the curtains fall,
The candle snubbed and darkness prevails.
Smoky eyes and a misty face
Is all that remains.

Some shared moments,
Some cherished memories,
And then the curtains fall.
You realize it is already too late...

P.S. - Dedicated to my late friend Vivek whose untimely demise has left us all baffled. Time may have drifted us apart "Bhoyaa" but you will always be remembered and missed. It is true that the only true gift you can ever give a person is your time and I am privileged and honored to have been gifted with your time.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Project 2 Speech - ToastMasters

I managed to deliver my Project 2 speech for ToastMasters today. I have to thank my blog for writing this speech as three posts that I had published way back on this very blog were the foundations of this speech.

I am still not sure how I managed to garner good reviews for this as I had not been keeping well for the past two days before delivering this speech. I guess it helps if you read your speech for over 20 times and create a mental picture of all your gestures and expressions in your mind.

Anyways this time I got my fellow ToastMasters to record my speech and here is the video.

As always any reviews and comments are welcome.
Here is the speech in written - 

He was suffocating. The room was filled with pitch black darkness. He was desperate for fresh air. He moved to the only small hole in the door and put his mouth to it to suck in air, but it wasn't enough. It was as if the walls all around him were closing in on him. He clasped the door knob and tried to force the door open but to no avail. It was as if the entire vitality in the world was against him, forcing him back in the room and he was losing the fight and the will. He was suffocating, the key, he had to find the key. He panicked, he had searched for it before, he couldn't find it and now he was afraid, afraid of going away from the hole, afraid that he'd lose his only breath. No he would not leave it, he'll cling to it. Damn that elusive key.

Good Afternoon! Ladies and gentlemen.

 Dreams, we hear so much about them. How many of us sitting in this room are living their dreams or are at least working towards achieving them? How many of us haven’t felt the fear of that claustrophobic man but still refuse to find the key? Let me ask you a very simple question “What’s Stopping You?”  Take a moment to reflect on the question. Meanwhile, I will help you identify the three main doors behind which the answer hides. Again I cannot deem to answer this question for you, I can merely make a suggestion and leave you to ponder and discover the answer for yourself.

“What If?” isn’t this, the biggest dilemma we all face? This is the first door. What if you fail? What if you reach out your hand and all that comes in your grasp is thin air? A wise man, in this session itself once told me, that the ideal attitude for succeeding in life is 30% optimism and 70% pessimism. Yes, think before you act but don’t let the uncertainty of the result weigh down your determination. You can’t control how the chips fall into place so stop fretting and take the plunge. Sometimes it helps to not worry over the repercussions. This in no way means that if your dream is to bungee jump or sky dive, you don’t take the necessary precautions. Remember you are no Tom Cruise and this isn’t Mission Impossible.

It is often said that we live our lives not as we want them to be but as others perceive them to be. Yes friends, it is the mighty public opinion – the second door. There is a cartoon floating around on facebook these days. It depicts two rotund, overweight people, a male and a female, sitting atop a feeble donkey and enjoying what seems like a safari, when they come across a group of people who remark – “Oh! Two people on a donkey’s back!! What sadists.” The female gets down the donkey and they continue. Seeing them thus, another group remarks – “How cruel!! He is letting his wife walk!!”. Now the man gets down the donkey and offers the seat courteously to the woman. They had only gone a few meters when another group jests – “Look, he is letting his wife ride. Who is the boss!!”. Fed up both the man and the woman decide to walk beside the donkey, their safari now being entirely ruined when they hear – “Fools!! They have a donkey and they are walking”. Hearing this, the man starts pulling his hair out and the woman starts crying.

Well this satire on our society is absolutely true. No matter what you do, you cannot please everyone. So why even bother? There are always going to be people who criticize you for the sheer audacity you displayed by doing what you want, just because you had the guts and they didn’t. They still analyze and criticize Mahatma Gandhi for something he did when he was alive. He has been dead for over 60 years and they still won’t give up.

And now we come to the third door.  We are all pretty familiar with the following excuses – “I have responsibilities, kids, wife, parents” or “I am too old now” or “Is it worth the risks” and still better “I am comfortable here and good at it, so why change”. Well, I’ll only add – You are never too old to start living, unless you take the risk you will never know and nothing great is ever achieved without sacrifices.
This brings us back to point zero.  Answer this – What or rather Who is Stopping You? Who is it that has caged himself behind walls of inadequacy and worthless excuses?

If you have realized the answer, If you have found the key, then let yourself free of those shackles. Break your cage and set stride on your empyreal flight for sky is the limit.

fly afar o! little one,
rest not under the scorching sun..
till there is air in your wings, scale the sky..

Thursday, August 16, 2012

ToastMasters's Speech - Project 1 (Introduction)

I gave my Project 1 speech for ToastMasters today. For people who do not know what ToastMaster is all about, they should definitely visit the link - at least once. I am happy that I got to be a part of Toast Masters as every session is a unique learning experience for me. Not only do I get the privilege of talking to like minded people but also get to learn a lot from each and every one of them.

Talking about my P1 experience, it was really great. Even though I am not new to public speaking, having participated in a lot of debates/elocution contests in school, yet I still could feel my stomach churning right till the moment my name was called. As I walked to the podium, I could feel my legs shaking and had to take the support of the table placed infront of me just to maintain my calm. But as I started and went on I became more comfortable and began enjoying my speech. I knew, I got this.

For interested people here is my ToastMasters P1 speech. I know there is a lot of scope for improvement and although I have completed P1, I'd still welcome any and all reviews.

Project 1 (Introduction Speech)
“No Regrets, One life to live” is my motto for life. I believe in living in the moment and doing whatever I want to do at that moment. I am always on the lookout for learning something new. Good Afternoon Toast masters and friends.

I am Ankit Rastogi, from Meerut, U.P. I am an only engineer born into a family of doctors. I completed my B.E Computer Science from BITS Pilani. I am an amalgamation of values and experiences accumulated from living in a lot of cities all over India. Till now I have never stayed in a city for more than 4 years. Maybe that is why I have an inherent wanderlust, a thirst for adventure and a curiosity to know different cultures and people. It’s either that, or my dislike for cricket which makes me run from place to place. God has a wicked sense of humor. So he decides to make me an Indian, born into a family of cricket maniacs, in a place like Meerut where cricket is the way of life, blesses me with terrible – terrible hand eye coordination and just for the heck of it, decides that yours truly shall abhor cricket. Seriously!! Are you kidding me? You cannot imagine what I have to go through everyday. Well I have managed to live 24 years with it, I suppose I can manage another 24 hopefully.

One thing, however I am grateful to be blessed with is my love for reading. I vividly remember reading Pride and Prejudice, an innocent kid in 5th standard and not understanding a word of it. It was sometime later and with some experience and lost innocence, I realized the reason for this. Jane Austen was a girl. Anyways, it created in me a passion for words and gave fuel to my imagination. I must admit that this child like passion still exists in me every time I pick up a new book. I suffer from self proclaimed Obsessive Compulsive Reading Disorder. Not only do I read feverishly but for the duration of the book, I live in that world. I can recall this one incidence when I was still reading the Harry Potter series where instead of applying my bicycle brakes before colliding head first with a car, I kept on repeating “Impedimenta”, “Impedimenta”. For Harry Potter illiterates, this is a spell to slow down a moving object. But this being damned reality, the bicycle didn’t slow down obviously and I still met with the accident.

I cannot complete my introduction without discussing about my passion for teaching. I started teaching underprivileged kids as a part of NGO called Nirmaan during my time at BITS Pilani, and it is this experience above all else that makes me who I am. I learnt more from those kids and from teaching them what little I could, than I have learnt from anything else till now. “Joi de Vivre” – I learnt the true meaning of this phrase from those kids. Even if they didn’t know where there next meal was coming from, they never gave up on smiling. My best accomplishment till now is teaching one of them how to write his name. I am currently working for Samarthanam an organization for disabled children.

To sum up, I am a reader, a poet, a thinker, a renegade, a philanthropist and in the future I want to add a social entrepreneur and an established writer to this list. I am enjoying being all that I am.
The past is past, the future is ..but the present..
And living in the moment is all I have..
So let me fill this moment,
With all the vibrant shades..
For the dots are mine, as are the colours
And as are the choices I make.
On this note, I’ll take my leave. Hopefully you know me a bit better.

 P.S. - Although this in essence is the speech I delivered, I made quite a few Impromptu changes and additions in the speech, just to engage my audience even more.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Why I Think Harry Potter Is One Of The Best Books

One fine day I logged into my Goodreads account, out of the blue, and was surprised at the number of books I have read till now – over 120 (which is quite a lot ‘cause I keep reading the same book multiple times – I’ve read Pride and Prejudice over 14 times * now). That’s pretty huge coming from me even though I suffer from a self proclaimed Obsessive Compulsive Reading Disorder (hence referred to as OCRD).

Anyway, it was on this day that I decided to embark upon the tiresome task of compiling a list of 5 best books I’ve read so far. The list is done now, finally, but it was the process that really intrigued me. As I kept on going over the list adding/deleting names, arguing fervently with myself over the merits of each, one name however remained constant. This is a name which I have often had to justify to a lot of my friends who I made privy to my list.

Well the name is Harry Potter. Yes the entire series and not one in particular. Yes, you are allowed to laugh/ mock/ ridicule me all you want, but for me it really is one of the best books I’ve read.
I remember reading the first 6 Harry Potter books over a span of a week (hence the claim for OCRD) and being so lost in Harry’s magical world for a long time after that, that I kept on blurting the spells from those books subconsciously. I vividly remember this one instance where I was on my bike, speeding down a slope and was actually about to crash into a car parked there and instead of applying breaks I kept on repeating “Impedimenta” (the crash still happened though, one more realization of damned reality). Not only this, I kept trying to scare away lizards with – “sssaayahaa sssiheth”. Never mind that lizards weren’t snakes but their being reptiles, was reason enough for me to practice my “Parseltongue” (for Harry Potter illiterates – that’s snake language) on them.

I know, a lot of Harry Potter fans will vouch for similar experiences, but the fact is, these developments were very important for me. I considered myself a mature reader then (a laughable and debatable thought now), having read Ayn Rand’s - “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” multiple times – and an ardent believer in her theory of “objectivism”. I had first brushed off the Harry Potter books as “kiddish”. These developments were, let’s just put it mildly - enlightening.

So what was it about these books that made me change my outlook? Was it the spells? the characters? The myriad fantasy creatures? Of course yes!! But I had read and admired Lord of the Rings long before I read Harry Potter books so it is safe to say that this world wasn’t new (and Mr. Harry Potter had mighty big shoes to fit in and so did J.K. Rowling). When I think about it, it wasn’t so much the magic, that enchanted me but the subtle links to reality and the way the author chose to establish them that really pulled me in.  
Magic, kudos to J.K. Rowling for plucking at that chord in all our hearts, for deep within don’t we all want to believe that it really does exist? Haven’t we at some point or other in our lives wished for a miracle or a magical solution for all our problems? Harry lives in that world. And you know what the best part is – neither he nor any of the other great stalwart wizards have a magical solution to his “Voldemort” issues. This is why I love J.K. Rowling’s books. On one side there is the promise of magic, the unknown and unforeseen and at the same time, the realities of life still pretty much remain the same. Pretty much because we still find descriptions of love potion, immortality etc. (Oh come on! it is a world of wizardry and it has to make some impossible things possible by magic!).

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. These words from Dumbledore truly form the gist of Harry Potter. The books may on the surface be about the more generic idea of good vs. evil and an orphan boy’s taking up the mantle against evil. However it is the importance of these words that Rowling chooses to emphasize through the actions of her protagonists and host of other characters that make the books what they are. Harry for instance never had enough to eat, was made to wear his cousin’s old clothes and in general was maltreated by the Dursleys. However, at the first opportunity he had, he chose to share whatever he could afford with Ron, a stranger he had just met (Book 1). It would have been perfectly understandable if he chose not to but he didn’t. There are multiple such incidents spread across all the books like when Harry had the choice to get Peter Petigrew killed for betraying his parents resulting in their death, but he chose not to(Book 3). Or when he chose to share information about the dragon test in the Triwizard tournament with another rival because he only thought it fair (Book 4) and last but not the least he named his son Albus Severus Potter choosing to acknowledge the contribution and sacrifices of Severus Snape (one of the most hated characters, well until the end of Book 7) in his victory. These are many of the various such incidents that left an indelible mark upon me. No discussion about Harry potter would be complete without Ron and Hermoine. These two characters epitomize the meaning of true friendship. They made several choices throughout the story choosing to stick with their friend through thick and thin even if it meant risking their lives. I mean erasing all your memories from your parents’ minds is a pretty big sacrifice and shows the strength of the character. However again, it was Hermoine’s choice to do this and it would have been understandable if she didn’t.

So in essence, Rowling talks about all the things that would tug at your heart and would definitely establish an emotional connect between you and the characters, love, kindness, friendship, loyalty, but it is the choices she has her protagonists make to demonstrate these traits that really pull you in. I mean even her protagonist is not an extraordinarily gifted wizard. He manages to come out the winner from all the situations because he is helped and supported by the people who love him. Tell me how many of us have not depended upon the strength of someone we love in times of distress? And Rowling chooses to emphasize this fact that however difficult the times may be, you can handle them with your loved ones on your side.

So yes, I love Harry Potter books, the characters, the magic, the world, but most of all I love that even though they are all wizards, they are still humans.     

* I say over because I have read the end innumerable times.
P.S. - I am back :)
P.P.S - This post has been long in the making. But I couldn't help it.Every time I started working on it, I ended up reading the books or watching the movies again. So in the end today I just decided to get it out of the pipeline. So the post might feel a little rushed towards the end.