Saturday, September 27, 2008

Toastmaster Project 3 - Get to the Point

Having just witnessed the practice session of the Formula One night racing last night, I thought I would kill two birds with one stone. I will blog about the experience and also use it as a topic for the next toastmaster project.

The speech topic is "I was Part of the Formula One History". The general purpose is to inform. Specific purpose is to provide a glimpse of what it is like to watch the Formula One race life. From the viewpoint of the audience, "After hearing this speech, the audience will be able to know the general significance of the Formula One event, the clueless ushers and the thrills of watching the race life."

Objectives :
1. Select a speech topic and determine its general and specific purposes.
2. Organize the speech in a manner that best achieves those purposes.
3. Ensure the beginning, body and conclusion reinforce the purposes.
4. Project sincerity and conviction and control any nervousness you may feel.
5. Strive not to use notes.

Time : 5 to 7 minutes

I was Part of the Formula One History - Oct 2008

Good afternoon Club President, District Officers, fellow toastmasters, friends and guests.

“Vroom… Vroom….” The roar of the engine was thunderous, almost deafening. I could not believe that on 26 Sep 08, my brother and I joined 50,000 people who thronged Marina Bay Street Circuit to be a part of history – to witness the first Formula One, night racing in Singapore.

A fan of Formula One, I am not. In fact, I am not even a car lover. To me, a car is just a form of transportation. But with two free single-day tickets that were hawking for $400 over the Internet, dangling in front of me and the lure of being able to witness history in the making, the offer was too good to reject.

What’s so great about Formula One? For one, it has put Singapore in the International Front for its known efficiency. Work began in 2007, a year after Singapore clinched the deal to host the Formula One race for five years. Three months before the race proper, that was in June this year, we have completed all major preparation for the SingTel Singapore Grand Prix. This included the completion of the $40 mil Pit Building for housing the Formula One team garages, media centre and Paddock Club, and a new road. The new road was roughly parallel to the Republic Boulevard, and was required for the Start/Finish stretch. Another must-see factor was that this was the first time in history that we have car racing at night. To this end, we have installed the state-of-the-art lighting system, to simulate day-time. This involved about 1,500 projectors shinning 4 times brighter than a typical soccer stadium and was believed to cost $10.4 mil. Added it to the 40 mil to construct the Pit Building, the structural costs totalled more than $50 mil – a whopping sum! And I got to see it all for free.

So did I enjoy the show? Yes, but it were not all bouquets, there were also some brickbats. For one, it was a breeze to get to Marina Bay Street Circuit even via public transport. My brother and I took the MRT (Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit Train) to City Hall Station and were able to get to the event venue in a cinch. The security was with minimal fuss. However, once we were in the thick of action in the event venue, there was strangely a lack of signboards to direct us to our designated stand, where we were supposed to be seated. We asked the ushers who absolutely clueless and just pointed a direction where everyone was heading towards. There was a point where I feared that there could be a stampede. There were hundreds of people squeezed like sardines and we were in a deadlock. What made matters worse was that there were also some people trying to move in the opposite direction. Then someone said “Just let them go, or else we cannot move.” That was a life-saver sentence. Though it was barely audible to the rest of the crowd, everyone was very graciously and did exactly that. And yes, my brother and I escaped unscathed.

But we did not manage to find our designated seat. Being none the wiser, we followed the ushers’ direction and came back to square one. We exited unknowingly from the event venue. We then made our way back to Gate 7 again and saw the same usher. Deju vu. She then who gave us the same instruction again. This was how clueless the ushers were.

Smartened from our previous experience, we decided to trust ourselves. So, did we manage to find our seat? Unfortunately, no. But we did manage to find a spot to catch the race. From then on, it was action time. There was something that the television could never do justice to the race. We felt the adrenaline rush of being in the heart of the event. The deafening noise was loud, was scary. But we loved it. These cars generated noise comparable to a jet plane. Even as the cars zipped past, their engines continued to howl. We tried to capture these ultra-fast cars with our cameras. But the cars were too fast for our hand. After we clicked our camera on these flying machines, what that was captured was an empty track. It was then that I really appreciated the phrase “In a blink of an eye”. After some trial and error, we quickly mastered the art of snapping a picture of these cars – by clicking the camera in advance. It was not difficult to know when the car was approaching. The giveaway was the faint whirring sound in the distance. But as the cars were moving in such high speed, what we have captured was some blurry machine. Then, we decided to just sit back and enjoy the show. Against the spectacular backdrop of the Central Business District, it was indeed a rare treat.

By and large, I must say that I felt really privileged to have the opportunity to witness the first Formula One night racing in Singapore. This event has put Singapore in the International front for its efficiency. While there were some kinks, it did not dull the excitement a bit. There were so much intensity of men and machines battling it out. After the cars had left, their engines still continued to howl. Hrmmm… Hrmmm…

Toastmaster of the Day.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

How to Teach Your Kids

My one-year stay in Pittsburgh has forced me to spend quality time with my two boys, which I would have otherwise used to earn more money. In the end, I learnt valuable lessons that money cannot buy. I embrace a new thinking and become more receptive of new ideas.

When I first returned home about two years ago, I attended a talk by a educator who retired as a vice-principal. She shared with us her approach in teaching her children - who are now grown-ups each with a successful career. One key take-away is that a man's lifespan is more than 80 years, what's one year of failure in school? With this thinking, she actually encouraged one of her children to focus on his passion - to hold leadership position in his Co-Curriculum Activity (CCA) which would not contribute to his grades, at the expense of an "A" level subject. This was a very bold move then as the thinking was then "only those who cannot made it drop an 'A' level subject." Her decision turned out to be a wise one. Her boy was offered employment even before graduation and now is doing well in the States.


Before I touch on how to teach your kids, what is more important is to ask yourself the what - "what do you want your kids to be?" To be ace examination or to be successful in life? I opt for the latter. And I adopt the "FAR" approach. FAR is the acronymn for Foresight, Agility and Resilience. To equip the child with foresight is to equip him with the knowledge - that's formal education is for. But this is not enough to be successful in life, we all know that things in life will not always be rosy. Hence, we need to be agile and flexible to adapt to today's changing environment. And when things get tough going, we need to have willpower to be resilient.


Now the how. Different people learn differently. But there are three main ways a person learn - "SHE". The first way is "See", second is "Hear" and third "Experience". Most people learn primarily through seeing - I suppose that is why we say "seeing is believing". The second majority learn through sound or hearing and the last group (or the minority) learn through experience or kinesthetic. Michael Phelps belonged to the last group and that was why his primary school teacher has so much trouble to try to keep him still.

Knowing how your kid learn will help you to formulate the right strategy to engage him in the learning. My elder boy learns through both sight and sound. He pays most attention when I tell him a story. My younger son loves to play. I get him to learn through staging a play like "Scrooge" or "The Little Match Girl". They will then take on the different characters in the story. The key thing is that we try to prompt them to think. For example, in the story "Scrooge", I asked my boys why was it that Scrooge was such a miser? I would then guide them along - it was due to the tough childhood and devastating blow of also losing his fiancee who died from an illness. Then I would tell them that what Scrooge could have done, was not to dwell so much into the past which has brought him so much bitterness. Instead, he could focus on how he could help others like him.

As a further example, just a week ago when I was supposed to test my boy his spelling. I composed a funny song and sang it instead of the usual testing method (texts in bold refer to the 16 spelling words). We were tumbling with laughters and my boy asked me to pen it down for future reference:

Music : Yesterday Once More

Yesterday, the thunder roared and the raindrops pattered. It was such a sunny day in the morning when it became so windy. In the afternoon, I looked at the calendar to see what festivals to celebrate. But the sky turned cloudy come evening and I was very gloomy. The weather soon became rainy, stormy with lightning. Oh, it was such a sombre sight and I decided to take an early night.

For younger kids where we also need to build their knowledge base, my focus is more on phonics and also reading. There are a number of free websites available - starfall is one of my favorite, another is readinga-z (with free worksheets for young children).

Have fun :)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Toastmaster Project 2: Organize your Speech

Objectives :
1. Select an appropriate outline which allows listeners to easily follow and understand your speech
2. Make your message clear, with supporting material directly contributing to that message
3. Use appropriate transitions when moving from one idea to another
4. Select a strong opening and conclusion

Time : 5 to 7 minutes

Run For Your Life

Good afternoon Club President, District Officers, fellow toastmasters, friends and guests.

During the Beijing Olympics Games, everyday as I watched the competition, whenever an athlete outperformed the rest, the athlete would put his or her fist at the chest. Prod it. Pound it. Punch it.

You cannot hear it but in your mind you know that the athlete is shouting “I have done it!” You cannot see it but you can feel it in an athlete’s performance. You cannot touch it, but when an athlete’s heart beats for excellence, you know.

And every time, I watched the Games I was inspired by the attitude - “to give everything I have got”. It is this attitude that push them to add an extra centimeter to a throw, or slice 5 micro-second, if every fibre of being is invested in the task.

Seeing the athletes at work made me decide to unleash the sportswoman in me and to push myself to work harder in my exercise regimen, to run faster – to run for my life as if I were being chased by some ferocious tigers.

Now, before the Beijing Olympics Games, I have already been pretty successful with maintaining a regular exercise routine. However, I must confess that it was not easy for me to exercise consistently. In fact, it was an uphill task. This is because we, humans are creatures of habit. After completing formal education where Physical Education was compulsory, I adopted a laissez-faire attitude towards exercise – if I wanted to exercise, I would. Otherwise, no. And what happened? I was always finding excuses not to exercise. Things like I was too busy. I had no time. Or I was tired. Then six years ago, I decided to be serious about it. But even then, my exercise routine was sporadic to say the very least. I would exercise once – at times only for 15 minutes and stopped for a few months before trying to find my momentum again. At such erratic pace, it was not surprising that my health was not very good. And I used to fall sick easily and having long spells of cold and cough which ran into weeks. I felt lethargic, tired – in short, terrible. My quality of life dropped.

So how do I manage to establish the routine? It was through participating in sports event. Two years ago, I joined a one-day program at the Outward Bound School. It was supposed to be a sampler of the full-fledged 21-day program – where you will do things like canoeing, flying fox, rock climbing and etc. We went through seven mini-exercise stations. After the first station, I was already dog-tired and it was a really nightmare for me to persist until the last station. It was at this program that I met a man pushing 50 years of age, in a pink of health and boy, he was cool. The seven stations were no sweat to him. So I asked him why he was able to do that. He told me simply “Exercise”. Hey, but how you were able to find time. He then told me that he would go to the gym at 7 am, exercise for an hour before heading to his office by public transport. It then dawned on me if I have to find time to find excuses, I should have time to exercise. Today, I exercise three times a week during my lunch hour. As I have mentioned earlier human is a creature of habit, once I manage to establish this routine, I will feel weird if for any reason I miss an exercise session. Somehow, I will then find some ways to do.

My next step is after watching the Olympic Games, I decide to bring my exercise regimen to a higher level. But being a lesser mortal, I do not aspire to be the next Shelly Ann Fraser, the fastest woman on earth. I just want to outperform myself. To do this, I go on an incremental approach. I first pushed myself to run up to 3 km before slowly building up to 4 km per session. Timing was not crucial as I wanted to first build up my distance tolerance. It was only after I was able to complete 4 km run consistently that I focused on the timing. In a sense, this approach takes major pressure off me and yet puts improvement on a comfortable auto-pilot mode. I am proud to say that in August this year, I have also run my own Olympic – participating in my company’s work-life run and I have completed 2.4 km in my personal best record time at 14 minutes and 10 seconds. That’s not all. After that, I set a new time target of below 14 minutes and have since met it.

I am sharing with you my experience as I hope to inspire you to also “run for your life” - take charge of your health. The same strategy of “participating in sports event” and “setting incremental targets” could also be adopted in our toastmasters’ journey. The first strategy is to do more toastmaster projects and participate in our club meetings. And the second is to set incremental targets, say to do one project every two month. In this way, slowly but surely, one day, we will become good toastmasters, with rosy cheeks.

Toastmaster of the Day.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Investment Thoughts

A few months ago, I started harbouring renewed thoughts about going into investment. There have been so talk about people making their millions in the stock exchange. The belief is that the bourse is a quick way to make money. But for so many years, I am deterred into entering the market except for some supposedly lucky wins - at some IPOs, which I have had only a miserable two - one still above water and one under amidst the current bloodletting in the financial bourses worldwide.

Then I am challenged by some books which I have read - does high return necessarily mean high risk. A case in point here is the world's greatest investor, Warren Buffett. He has two rules when it come to investing. Rule 1 "Never lose money". Rule 2 "Never forget Rule 1". But yet, he has amassed an astonishing amount of money from the stock exchange.

So I reason that the stock exchange is not necessarily a rowdy place if you know what you are doing, and begin to do some serious research. This post is to share my findings with many of friends who are also interested to venture in this area.

Step 1: Have an Investing Plan
You need to know what you are doing! For many of friends who are in the family stage - like me, this is a long stage and there will be changes made to the family's asset allocation over time. First, set your objectives - 1. to invest for retirement income,2. to provide for children's education; and 3. to clear off any remaining home loan.

Your target here is to try to settle most of your housing loan. After meeting the minimum $20,000 cap in your CPF-OA and CPF-SA account, you may want to consider investing your CPF in a combination of unit trusts and blue-chip with good dividend yields.

Financial Alliance advised that a typical investment portfolio for the family stage could be 30% in unit trust, 20% in stocks, 20% in savings and fixed deposit and 30% in alternative investments (which could include local or foreign property that can generate rental income or foreign currency-denominated savings account.) The unit trust allocation, a moderate-risk portfolio could be allocating 25% in Singapore Bond, 25% in Global Bond, 20% in US Equity, 15% in Europe Equity and 15% in Asian Equity. [Suggestion from Financial Alliance is used as an illustration only. Readers are advised to do own research and make their call accordingly.]

Step 2: Build up Your Financial Resources - Tangibles and Intangibles
For most of my friends who are gainfully employed, my advice is to continue to be so and add more value to your current job. That's one sure way to increase your tangible resources available for investing.

At the same time, do build up your intangibles. For one, upgrade your skills. If you are interested to trade, learn about how to do so.

For me, I have just added the Money Section - especially the part on Bull and Bear Run in the Straits Times in my daily reading ritual. To date, I am seeing good progress in knowledge of how the bourse work. It is also a good starting place before venturing out to read periodicals about stock market as well as investment books. Among the materials which I have read thus far, I will like to share with you, some really good ideas and principles.

One idea which I have got was from Timothy Vick - the author of "Wall Street on Sale". The key lesson which I learnt from Vick is that the stock market operates very differently from our normal departmental store. A case in point is if there is a sale at a department store offering a store-wide discount of say 50%, there will be long queues forming at the cashiers' aisles. Interestingly, in the financial world, it does not work this way, investors or should I say, speculators are all the more eager to buy at sky-high prices and sell at rock-bottomed prices. This is largely a manifestation of fear and greed in the financial bourses.

Three key take-aways from Vick:
1. Do not time the market and chase hot sector stocks. This is more gambling than investing.
2. Do not be overly reliance on forecasts of the economy or the stock market. As the forecast extends in time horizon, it is subject to more external variables that would influence a company's result. Likewise, extrapolating a company's recent growth rate into the future is fraught with dangers - this is one of the downside of using a discounted cash flow analysis except for the most stable fo comapnies.
3. As Mario Gabelli puts it "Buy what is, not what will be."

Next is the seven key elements of value investing from Warren Buffett:
1. View yourself as a business analyst
2. Don't be swayed by share price movements. Over time, price follows the company's growth.
3. Don't be a price taker in the stock market. Price and value aren't always the same.
4. The market doesn't always properly value businesses.
5. Wall Street is designed to sell you something and make you trade.
6. Successful investing is just old-fashioned financial statement analysis.
7. Being a value investor sets you apart from, but ahead of, the crowd.

Hope the above are useful to you. And yes, before you make your investment purchase do your homework studiously.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Fifth Discipline and Mental Models

I have just attended a course "Learning Organisation - Harnessing the Power of Mental Model" and am swept away by the course facilitator, Dr Jacob Lee.

I have actually been reading and attending some seminars on my own on this topic of Fifth Discipline (more than 5 years ago!) and Mental Models (recently). However, I was not very sure of my own value system. I knew that it was to be a personal journey but somehow, I always seemed to hit a roadblock - There were so many questions that I wanted to ask when I was going through the worksheets on my own but there was no one. So I took the opportunity in this course to ask as many questions as possible with the objective to uncover the inner me. At the end of the course, I gained a more intimate understanding of myself as a person. In the past, there were times where I wasn't very sure if I had made the right decision and I was wondering "was I going nuts or what?". Not anymore, now I understand why I made these decisions and my dilemma - because my value system has changed from what it used to me - installed and drilled into me since young based on societal norms.

No, he is not one of those "ra ra" type speaker who will motivate you based on one-in-a-million excellent example. What strikes me is that he is very helpful and effective in helping me uncover my value system. During the course, someone commented that he was surprised that there were people so different from him. The case in point was that while he valued "freedom", there was another who valued a very contradicting "predictability".

Course Description

There are two key parts. Part I is on Mental Models (MMs) - we see the world in our own rose-tinted glasses. That's how our brain protects us otherwise we will go mad with the millions or even billions of information flying around. So our brain filters information and also fills in the blank. Nothing wrong with this except that sometimes MM could be flawed. By changing our MM, we could change the way we work. The course covers ways to identify MM, challenge the MM and how to change the MM.

Part II is on Value System. Each of us have our own value system and the reason why we behave in certain ways is because our values are different. Our value system is shaped by our past experiences and environment. It could change due to changes in our life and crisis - eg. after the 9/11 incident, those who experienced close-death, changed their value system. However, we should not wait til a crisis to strike to change our value system - 'cos we may not recover from the crisis. And of course, the course also covers ways to change our value system - 1. Rearranging external circumstance (that's why some people quit their job); 2. Reframe the meaning of values (eg. to "achievement" could use to mean "moving ahead of my peers in the organisation", now, it is "to make myself valuable not just to the organisation but also to other organisations" or "to be nimble".); 3. Reorder the values.

Highly recommended course but to reap the most benefits, you have to go in with the aim to uncover yourself.