You can speak. Can you communicate?

When I was 2 years old, I uttered my first word – apparently ‘ma’. I learnt more complex words quickly – food, chocolates, biryani,etc. Soon, I spoke fairly well and could express what I wanted. While the choice of words might be different, this is the case for most of us. That’s both fortunate and unfortunate. Fortunate because most of us can speak. Unfortunate, because we confuse speaking with communicating.

Speaking is about expressing an idea. It is a one way relationship – much like my high school romance. Communicating goes beyond. It is about forming the bridge with the other party. It is about a two way dialogue.

So how can we be a “Public Speaker” and yet communicate?

We think of speeches as a fully prepared script. We rehearse every motion and deliver them. However, a trully powerful communicator can use static scripts only if he trully knows his audience (refer point 1). Instead I propose that you think of your speech as a slightly fluid piece of work and alter it based on what the audience is telling you. There are loads of techniques and loads of things to learn. But let’s get started with three.

Knowing your audience:

This step is to let us predict your audience in advance and plan for it. Start by building the persona of your audience.. Below are some questions that can be used to build the persona.

  • What is the knowledge level of the audience (and their views)
  • What is their physical and mental state (tired because of journey, just had lunch,etc)
  • Why are they here & what do they want from my speech

Now imagine how they would react to the currrent draft of your speech. Better still, deliver the draft to a few people who can represent your target audience. Based on these reactions, modify and fine-tune the speech. In this approach, though the audience is not giving you immediate feedback – you’ve already gotten feedback in advance & fine-tuned the speech to build the bridge quicker.

Gauging the audience:

You are on stage to give the audience the best experience you can. By continuously gauging the audience’s non-verbal cues, you can adjust your speech.

  • They look bored: Maybe thisparticular  segment is not new to them (assuming you are a great entertainer). Skip over this part of the talk and go to the more juicy parts.
  • They look lost: maybe you were not supposed to speak now? Open the floor up to questions and you’ll understand why they feel confused. Then get the confusion sorted.
  • It looks like they disagree: If it is a lot of people disagreeing, you need to do something about it. A question like – “you look concerned, how can I help” may help. But do this early, not at the end of your presentation.
  • They are shivering or reaching for jackets : Simple way to win the audience – ask for the air con to be reduced. They will listen to you after that.

We can go on… ask the editor to make me write more J

Influencing your Audience:

While material on this subject is worthy of a few books, let me illustrate with an (over simplified) example. Imagine a teacher at a boarding school trying to get her students to go shower.

  • Format 1: Go shower now.
  • Format 2: Can you go shower?
  • Format 3: Would you like to shower now or in 30 mins?

Format 1 works if the teacher has the power, but might lose respect. Ask my parents about the success rate of Format 2. However, Format 3 works wonders as it allows the children to decide that they will shower.

With such subtle changes(when not used for sly things), a communicator can gain acceptance from the audience and by the end of the speech – build a very strong bridge.

Delivering a message is step one, but when your audience accepts your message and feels like they connected with you – then you’ve graduated from speaking to communicating.

The true difference betweena speaker and communicator is exposed when they are put in front of an opinionated audience. A good speaker will express his or her views very articulately, but not many opposers will change their initial views. A good communicator can build a bridge with the audience and convince the audience of his or her views. Which one are you?

Published a part of Toastmasters District 98 newsletter –

Screenshot 2015-12-02 08.44.03.png


Focus on the process and the journey

At the recent Toastmasters meeting, I informed people about Stephen Covey’s P/PC balance (Production and Production capability). Covey explains how a company that only worries about production and doesn’t think of machine downtime will soon lose out to the other which plans its PC- production capability with downtime, machine repairs, research, upgrade etc. Similarly, I requested people to concentrate on what they were doing with their own production capability rather than just the results – so sleep habits, eating & exercise, building teams, learning new skills, etc. Focus on the process of self-improvement rather than just the results.

The Toastmaster of the Day (Sid) had a couple of lovely messages with “Movies” as the theme. Interestingly, I felt they applied to this overarching theme of the process. He opened with a story about his granduncle explaining the time and effort it took to create a movie. He showed him the many takes, the edits and all the effort that went into creating one clip in a movie. All this effort is always hidden and we only see the movie. But such is life. You may have to put in days or months of effort and that would yield one moment to present yourself. Like they say, it takes 10 years to become an overnight success.

Sid’s conclusion was equally apt. He said a good movie plot should not be judged on the twists and the climax, but instead on how the movie progresses between those points. Life is similar to that, we long for and sometimes dwell inside some key moments. But the real action happens between those points in your life. The points are just photographs, the movie is between them.

Toastmasters Opening Addresses

At the Toastmasters club in office, I’ve been giving opening addresses at the weekly meetings. I promised some colleagues that I’d start keeping a record of these,so to catch up here are the last 5.


When was the last time you complained about something? OK- what did you complain about yesterday? (Someone said computers). Great. When did you last say something good about your computer? (the audience didn’t have much to say).

I recently listened to Mahatria talk about a similar case. He said, when something bad happens we complain and tell many people. But when something good happens, we dont talk about it much. His challenge was for us to not talk about the bad with anybody and also talk about the good to atleast 5 people.

So if you didn’t find today’s meeting useful, please don’t tell anyone. But if you enjoyed yourself, liked the positive environment and thought you would learn something – go tell other people.

How heavy is the glass of water?

How heavy is a glass of water? ( answers started with depends to glass specifics and settled on a few grams). Great. So how hard is it to hold that glass of water? (not very). Ok how about holding it for a minute? (ok can do) How about an hour? (my hands may pain)

Well thats the point – don’t hold too many things in your head. If you need to discuss them, please do. Don’t keep them stuck in your head, you’ll feel much better if you just discussed them. It’s ok to ask for help and if you need a pair of ears to listen- you know where to find me. Have a lovely weekend!


The Barclays Singapore Toastmasters Club hosted its humorous and evaluation contest yesterday. After the contest I received a flood of whatsapp messages about what happened and how it compared to previous year contests. I felt like I was there and I felt happy for everyone. That’s also when I realised that they all reached out to tell me about it and helped me feel like I was still a part of that club. It meant that actually, they were behaving more like a family and less like just a club. I realised that I was part of the family.

Given tomorrow is Rakshabandhan tomorrow – we should aim to build a family here too, a community of brothers and sisters who will help each other grow. I don’t know how we can get there, but I know that families always have something to eat. So as a first step, I’ve brought chocolates for all of us. I will place it in the Members’ corner and hope we can share some food each week. Here’s to the Barclays Pune Toastmasters family. Happy Rakshabandhan.

The underdog

Have you heard of underdogs? Who are they? (some answers). Ya I guess its like Kenya in a cricket match. The beauty of underdogs is that we love them and want them to succeed. Yatharth wrote about underdogs recently and posed an important question. He asks if you back the ultimate underdog – yourself? Did you back yourself? Did you give yourself a chance?

I know many of you have come here to develop your communication skills. Don’t wait. You can be a better version of yourself. All it takes is for you to give yourself a chance- to use this platform, to start speaking and to start growing. Please let me know how I can help you. Wishing you the best.

STAR and Deliberate Practice 

This opening address was a 15 minute segment – behaving as a combination of an educational segment and an opening address. There were 2 main components:

  1. People wrote stories and we analysed the stories with the STAR framework, checked if stories can be improved and discussed how such frameworks make it easier for us to communicate:
    • S – Setting – What is the backdrop? (Crow was thirsty)
    • T – Target – What was the protagonist looking to achieve? (Crow wanted to drink the water in the bottom of a pot)
    • A – Action – What did the protagonist do? (Crow dropped stones)
    • R – Result – What happened? (Crow drank water)
  2. The biggest stars built their skills on deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is best described using the routines sportsmen use – they practice a particular routine over and over again  as opposed to gameplay. Yet at work, we are only engaged in gameplay – never consciously practicing skills. One way to do the latter is to use specific frameworks and analyse ourselves. So you can use the STAR framework to see if you are communicating effectively at work. In crunch situations another useful framework is the “Situation-Complication-Response” model. Ex: “The application has broken down, there is nobody in the office to fix it and so I will do XYZ”

So become conscious about what you say and be deliberate. Look for ways to improve it and your communication will also improve tremendously. Use things like the STAR framework, and start communicating like a STAR. Good luck.

Stop fighting, start embracing…

I have a default advice to give first time speakers – You will feel nervous when you go on stage. The look on their faces is quite priceless as usually their question is how do I stop feeling nervous.

I’ve presented to audiences of 1000s of people and yet a presentation in front of 3 people will still make me nervous.  But it is important that you go still speak and feel nervous. When you finish speaking, the nervousness will go away and hopefully, over time you will start enjoying that nervousness.The nervousness is preparing your body to be top performer by secreting the necessary hormones – but we don’t understand that and we don’t have to. Instead, let’s just think of it as an adventure sport – bungee jumping or sky diving. It is scary at first – but nobody dies (at least not in public speaking) and it feels alright by the end.

Acknowledging the nervousness and the fear makes a huge difference. It puts things into perspective. This is quite true of any activity – the tough interview, the application to your dream programme or even asking the tough questions. There will be fear and nervousness – but stop fighting it & start embracing it. Hopefully you’ll have a smoother ride.

Be afraid and Do it anyway!

I was 13 years old, trying to teach my 6 year old sister how to dive into a swimming pool from the side of the pool. It was taking quite a while as my sister was really nervous about it. We were at a big, public pool, and nearby there was a woman, about 75 years old, slowly swimming laps. Occasionally she would stop and watch us. Finally she swam over to us just when I was really putting the pressure on, trying to get my sister to try the dive, and my sister was shouting, “but I’m afraid!! I’m so afraid!!” The old woman looked at my sister, raised her fist defiantly in the air and said, “So be afraid! And then do it anyway!”  That was 35 years ago and I have never forgotten it. It was a revelation — it’s not about being unafraid. It’s about being afraid and doing it anyway.

Source: Redditt

Stage Time is not Limelight

There are some who are shy of the stage, others not so much. The latter decide that for better visibility & more recognition they should take to the stage. Unfortunately, once you put yourself on the stage you will be judged closely. A bad judgement takes times to fight back from. If you do well, you can enjoy the limelight & the stardom. If you are not up to the mark – you merely enjoyed stage time & created no positive impression – often even created a negative impression.

Stage time is important and the means to achieving limelight.Fortunately though, there are many stages.  Some stages are frequent & more forgiving. Choose your stages wisely.

My super-public habit tracker 

May: Exercise 1 Blogging 8 Meditation 4

Speaking Or Writing?

A powerful speaker knows that speaking is not about the idea, but it is about the emotion. He knows the audience won’t always remember what they heard, but will remember how they felt.

Speaking has its bounds – it is very hard to convey a complex idea with speech. That’s where essays, mails & presentations come to play.

Writing is a great way to express ideas but harder to express emotions. Speaking is vice versa.

In most daily situation, we do a mix of the two.

  • Logic(text/presentation) to arrive at the problem. Emotions to build that problem.
  • Logic to discuss the options to solve the problem. Try to arrive at a solution.
  • Emotions to push that solution to agreement & immediate execution. (Analysis is logical, decisions are emotional)

Point is – Think of what you are trying to do, find the purpose. Then use the right medium for your purpose.

3 questions for better feedback

I love asking for feedback – well I am still just getting used to it , but the results are great and I love the results.

The process of sending my work to a bunch of people, asking them to be brutal, and then reading their varied comments is very very scary. Each time I get a varied set of results – one person likes an aspect, the other hates it.P1 likes ABC but P2 dislikes ABC. Sometimes it’s just so brutal.

But what I now find useful is to ask 3 questions to the reviewer:

1) what do you like?
2) what do you not like ?
3) what confuses you ?

This provides a balance of like/dislike so I don’t eliminate the good work by mistake. It also ensures people don’t tell me they dislike a certain aspect because they don’t understand it. And often I follow up with a few “why” questions for each input. This eliminates howlers and opposing views quite well (P1 like ABC because of XYZ but P2 dislikes ABC because of ZZZ)

I’ve found this to work very well as with some effort it gives a fairly consistent view of my work and great direction to improving it.

Change your words

Change your words, change your world.

Often we don’t think through our words, like the person offering you a lift in his car – asks the fat one to sit in front. Innocent statement perhaps, but hurts a person.

Words are powerful, think before you speak. As they say, taste your words before you spit them out 🙂