Sunday, January 25, 2009

Toastmaster Project 6: Vocal Variety

1. Use voice volume, pitch, rate and quality to reflect and add meaning and interest to your message.
2. Use pauses to enhance your message.
3. Use vocal variety smoothly and naturally

Time: Five to Seven Minutes
The Force was with Me

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

I will never forget the date four years ago. It was my date with the UNKNOWN as I bravely trotted out with my two boys in tow. To minimise the number of mysterious unknown happenings, I had armed my two boys then aged one and three, each with a harness. Something like a haversack without the sack but with a leash that I held tightly with my two hands, so that these two hyperactive darlings would not run out of my sight, while I balanced my body with a real big haversack on my back.

Sending me off in this journey were my mother and my brother. We were at Singapore Changi Airport as my brother bidded me goodbye.

"Bye, big sister, see you in a year's time and may the force be with you"

My two children and I were on our way to Pennsylvannia in the United State of America. We were to be re-united with my husand, their father after two, long, weary months of tying up the loose ends in Singapore before we left this home country of ourselves for a year of family bonding in the United States where my husband was doing his post graduate studies. We were not rich but we had done our sums that we would be able to survive that one year without my pay. With monetary concerns settled, we figured out that we should stay together as a family.

After the Star Wars saga, the phrase "May the force be with you" was all rage in our family to wish each other luck. It was especially apt in this circumstance as I stepped out with my two young, boisterious boys - first time alone.

There was no direct flight from Singapore to my final destination - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvannia. With two children to contend with, I had made all necessary preparations - shipping all our essential stuff consisting a box of clothings and some toys a month in advance. Next, I had also planned for the easiest-within-budget flight from Singapore to my destination. We took the then still available economy seats in the Airbus by Singapore Airlines, the ONLY direct flight from Singapore to the United States. But ALAS, United States have 51 states. And as the big apple, New York is the financial hub
and not Pennsylvania, we needed to take a domestic flight from Newark International Airport to Pittsburgh, a small city in Pensylvannia.

So while the flight from Singapore to New York took 18 hours 30 minutes in physical time, it was really a breeze for me as we were in good hands. The friendly SIA staff greeted us by our first names.

"Good day, AC"

"Hi, P. This are some coloring materials and toys for you"

"Yes!!!" P cheered as his face lit up.

"Me too" R chorused.

"Hi R, would you want some Milo?" R nodded his head vigorously and greeted the SIA girl with a big smile.

Once the plane touched down, I was on my own again. Or so I thought. Oh gosh, the earlier flight was slightly delayed by 30 minutes! We were dashing for our next 2-hour domestic flight. But as Murphy's Law had predicted it all - all bad things came together. There was a long queue which we needed to pass for security check.

As each minute passed, my heart beat went a notch faster. Desperate, despairing, destitute, I was at my wits' end. But then, I remembered the FORCE! In order to be with the FORCE, one needed to be at peace. So I took a couple of deep breath. And I approached the Caucasian male in front.

"Excuse me sir, do you think you could let me go ahead of you as I am running out of time to catch another flight" I let out in a bullet-train speed.

"Oh sure." He smiled. "But do ask the person in front of the queue which will speed up things a bit for you" He further suggested.

"Thank you so much" I replied grasping my fists with gratitude.

The man in front was also a kind soul.

The gates were closing! With no time to lose, I grabbed my one-year old boy and released the harness on P and asked him to run and follow me quickly. I was carrying a big haversack on my back with my boy in front and running as fast as my legs could carry me in the bid to beat time. At the same time, I would turn my head to keep my elder boy in sight, calling out and signalling out to him to hurry up. That was the closest thing to competing in an Olympic race that I ever had.

We completed our race with flying colours. There were still people in the queue for our domestic flight. The gate had not closed yet.

The force must be with me. I could see spectacular bursts of delightful colours celebrating our triumph. I could see the people cheering for us as though we had won the Olympic games. We smiled and hugged each other tightly while gasping for breath all at the same time.

Toastmaster of the day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Outlearning the Wolves

This is a summary of a fable (by David Hutchens) which I have read many years ago and re-read recently to my elder boy. Fables are very powerful as they can teach difficult concepts in a simple manner.

For many years, the sheep were told by their ancestors that wolves ate sheep and that was accepted as the way things were always so.

One day, one sheep Otto challenged this belief. This got the flock thinking. That night the flock huddled and slept in a circle, with Otto guarding alone beside a tree. Next morning, Otto was missing.

Another young sheep Marietto rallied the flock, saying that they should think of a way to outsmart the wolves, building upon Otto's vision - no sheep shall ever die due to wolf.

The flock started thinking. There was a barbed wire surrounding the flock. In fact it has been raised to keep wolves out. There was no way for wolves to jump over the barbed wire. Marietto adjourned the meeting and asked the sheep to go back and think on themselves before meeting again in the afternoon.

At the start of the afternoon meeting, the flock were discussing aloud.

"I notice that the wolves seem to come more often after rain and not so if there is a drought."

"If I were the wolf, I will come everyday to feast on a sheep."

"COME HERE, COME HERE." Curly shouted, trying to catch his breath as he was running frantically from the river.

The flock followed Curly to the river side, where the flock used to get their drink.

Curly pointed his hoove at the lower end of the barbed wire. There was a clump of sheep wool.

"I got it. The wolves were crawling under the barbed wire!" Some sheep exclaimed.

"I guess they cannot swim."

"Ha, they are not so smart afterall"

The sheep laughed.

"But waited, previously, we were at the mercy of the wolves. Now we are at the mercy of weather, I mean there is no way we can control the weather." Some sheep lamented.

"Hey, I think we got it wrong. We cannot control the weather. But we CAN CONTROL the flow of the water." Gigi said as she began digging a circle around the river. The other sheep joined in, and Jeremeh pushed the stones with his nose to build a dam.

After that day, the flock had a beautiful pond to drink their water, play and enjoy. More importantly, the sheep stopped disappearing mysteriously.

But, maybe not for long - remember like the sheep, the wolves were also learning.

But then, that will be another story.
Morale of the story.

This fable teaches us about the five disciplines of the learning organisation by Peter Senge:

1. Systems Thinking - the problem exists in a wider context. The sheep disappearing is a function of not just the wolves but also the weather. If we can elevate our thinking to a higher level, we can see things from a far wider and new perspective.
2. Mental Models - we all have mental models. This is the way our brain helps us to filter the enormous information that is around us. It helps that we are aware of their existence 'cos not all mental models are always true.
3. Personal Mastery - in simple terms, it refers to people who are able to question long-held belief or assumption like Otto and Marietto in the fable. It takes courage to challenge these beliefs.
4. Shared Vision - not just a vision that is tossed out at us but a shared one. In the fable, the flock shared the Otto's vision that no sheep shall ever die due to wolves.
5. Team learning - each of us is capable of learning but if we could come together and put our skills together, we will excel even more. That's the power of synergy.

What I have written is based on my shallow understanding of the book. If you are interested, grab a copy and enjoy :)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Soft Sift in an hourglass

A few days ago, my husband passed me a book entitled "Soft Sift in an hourglass" by Rosalie Shaw. This book is a collection of stories told through the eyes of Rosalie Shaw, a doctor from Australia who came to Singapore to help set up the home care service of the Hospice Care Association.

Ironically, though the stories were about the end of life and death, there were much hope and resilence that resonated. Through my limited interaction with the volunteers at hospice care, many told me that they have also benefited as much, if not more than the patients from the volunteering experience. The hospice patients showed immerse courage in light of their health and continued to shoulder on, determined to live life to the fullest. They taught the volunteers that it is not about what life brings you, but what you live it that matters. They have such indefatigable optimism that rubbed on to the volunteers too.

I recalled my own experience of volunteering to deliver groceries to the poor. Though they were not rich materially, they were honest and generous with their thanks to a fault. They truly exemplify what Oscar Wilde said "Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”

Before I end this post, I will like to quote a reflection from a volunteer. "Many a times when people volunteer their services, they expect to learn about sufferings, pain and sadness. It is only after one steps in that one learns about love, joy and what it truly means to live."

Life can be unfair but it is still beautiful. Cherish it. If you could afford the time, help the less fortunate.