Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Speaking to Inform Project 5 - Ethics in Public Speaking

[With this speech I completed all the requirements for getting the Advanced  Communicator Bronze (ACB) Award from the Toastmasters International]

For this speech I have chosen a topic which is very relevant to each and every one of us.

Ethics in Public Speaking.

What is Ethics? It is an abstract concept which raises lots of questions.

Is Ethics something which I feel is right or correct?  Suppose I feel it is OK to use my office car for personal work, am I ethical?

Does it mean being a God-fearing person? If I am an atheist does that give me license to be unethical?

If I follow all the laws of my country am I ethical? What if the laws are like the old apartheid law of South Africa?

What then is Ethics? 

Ethics is a set of standards or guidelines for behavior.  It tells us how we as an individual or as a member of a group or a professional body should act in a given situation. 

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University studied the works of many philosophers and ethicists. Based on this study it classifies ethical standards in 5 categories.

The Utilitarian Approach - any action which does more good than harm is ethical.  For e.g. bombing the location where terrorists are hiding may cause death, injuries, and destruction of people, but it is for the greater good achieved in ending terrorism.

The Rights Approach - taking actions that best protects and respects the moral rights of people is ethical. For e.g. right to information, right to privacy.

The Fairness or Justice Approach - actions that treat all human beings equal or fairly based on some standard are ethical. For e.g. performance linked salary or bonuses in a company.

The Common Good Approach - actions which ensure common welfare conditions are ethical. For e.g. establishing systems for law and order, safety and health care, education etc.

The Virtue Approach - actions consistent with certain ideal virtues like honesty, compassion, self-control etc. are ethical.

Now let us come to the application of Ethics in Public Speaking.

The book “The Art of Public Speaking” by Stephen E. Lucas gives five guidelines for ethical public speaking.

Guideline # 1:  Make sure that your goals are ethically sound. We need to ensure that whatever we trying to achieve through our speech are consistent with the ethical standards I just talked about.  When in doubt one should ask himself “Will I be comfortable in truthfully declaring my goals or intention in front of a worldwide audience?” If the answer is NO, then the goals may not be ethical.

Guideline # 2Be fully informed about the subject you are going to speak about.  “A speech is a solemn responsibility” said Jenkins Lloyd Jones.  Imagine how badly a listener will be impacted if we unknowingly give wrong information or misleading advice in our speech.

Guideline#3: Be Honest in What You Say. Honesty is the best policy. Public speaking rests on the foundation of the unspoken assumption that “words can be trusted and people will be truthful”. And I as a speaker should ensure that I don’t break the trust of the listeners. In my speech - I should not lie for a personal gain. I should not present a fudged data. I should not plagiarize someone else work. Only then I can be called honest.

Guideline# 4:  Avoid Name-Calling and other forms of Abusive Language. It demeans the dignity of an individual or a group and risks their right to be fairly heard.

Guideline#5 – The Last Guideline: Put Ethical Principles into Practice. I should always practice what I preach. Otherwise my speech will have no credibility.  I will be a hypocrite.

The goal of public speaking is to inform, convince and persuade the audience.  But definitely not by compromising on ethics!
A good public speaking skill is a power, which comes with heavy ethical responsibilities. 

Plato said “All the public speakers should be truthful and devoted to the good of the society”. 

Yet so many excellent public speakers have often abused their skills.  Hitler a powerful orator instigated Nazis to exterminate the Jews!

And that’s the ultimate reason why the power of spoken word should be kept in check by a strong sense of ethics.

I would like to conclude with a beautiful quote by Albert Schweitzer 
“I can do no other than be reverent before everything that is called life. I can do no other than to have   compassion for all that is called life. That is the beginning and the foundation of all ethics.”
[Date delivered: June 18 2011

  • Research and analyze an abstract concept, theory, historical force or social/ political issue.
  • Present the ideas in a clear, interesting manner.
Time: Six to Eight minutes

My strong belief in ethics made me overcome my usual hesitation of delivering message-oriented speeches. However I took care to minimize using the word "you" to avoid sounding like a preacher on the pulpit.
The speech was largely based on material available from the following sources :
1. Markkula Center for AppliedEthics, Santa Clara University
2. The Art of Public Speaking, Stephen E. Lucas 

Download the Handout prepared for the speech.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Story Telling Project 5 - Struggles of a Genius

Chennai, 1912.
Srinivasan, a student of Madras Christian College makes his way through the bye lanes of Triplicane.  He is handsome, athletic youth with well developed muscles. Hence his friends call him “Sandow” after a very famous body-builder of those days.

Sandow stops by a dilapidated house and knocks at the door.  A short, uncouth, unshaved, young man with bright and shining intelligent eyes opens the door. His eyes lights up in recognition and he warmly welcomes Sandow into his house.

“Addey Sandow va?  Va Va! [Hello is it Sandow? Come, Come!]. Welcome to my humble abode!”  

Sandow: “How are you Ramanju? Not seen you since you left Kumbakonam . I came to know you live here. So I thought I would drop in. What you have been doing all these days?

Ramanujan:  Well Sandow it is a long story. I joined Pachaiyappa’s college. I excelled in Mathematics but failed miserably in all other subjects.  This happened twice and so had to leave the college without getting my Intermediate degree.  Since then I have been pursuing independent research in Mathematics.

Sandow:  No wonder they all call you a genius!

Ramanujan:  Me a genius! Look at my elbow, it will tell you the story.

Sandow: What is all this, Ramanju? Why is it so rough and black?

Ramanujan:   Dear Sandow, my elbow has become rough and black in making a genius out of me! Night and day I do my calculations on slate. I wipe the slate every few minutes with my elbow.

Sandow: Why don’t you use paper to do your calculations?

Ramanujan: When food itself is a problem, how can I find money for paper? I may require four reams of paper every month.

Sandow:  Tell me honestly, what do you do for your food? How are you surviving?

Ramanujan:   After I left the college I lived in extreme poverty and was often on the brink of starvation. Then my Professor introduced me to Mr.  Ramachandra Rao. He is the Collector of Nellore and also the Secretary of Indian Mathematical Society.  I showed him my research work to him. Initially Mr. Rao had a doubt whether it was really my own work. He grilled me for a long time on elliptic integrals, hypergeometric series, and my own theory of divergent series. Finally he was convinced   about my genuineness. He then asked me, “What do you want?”  I said, “Sir, all I need is some job to take care of my basic need of some simple food so that I could pursue my research without worries”.  From that day onwards that great man has been providing me with money every month.

Sandow: Then why do you worry?

Ramanujan: How long I can depend on others? I feel a deep sense of humiliation. Therefore I did not take the money from Mr. Rao last month.

Sandow: What a rash thing to do! What are you going to do now?

Ramanujan:  Last month I applied for a clerk’s position in Madras Port Trust Office. In my application I mentioned that I could not pursue further studies after Matriculation and since then been devoting all my time to Mathematics and developing the subject. But I also said that I was quite confident that I could do justice to the job and requested them to hire me.  And I attached a recommendation from a mathematics professor, who wrote that “Ramanujan is a young man of quite exceptional capacity in Mathematics".

Sandow: So did you hear from them?

Ramanujan:  Well I have good news.  I got this letter from them. I have been appointed as a Class III, Grade IV accounting clerk.  Pay is Rs. 30/- per month.

Sandow:  Congratulations Ramanju! I feel so happy for you. Wish you all the Best! Well it is getting late, I should leave now.

Ramanujan:  Thank you Sandow. So nice of you to come and see me. We will meet again.

March 1st 1912. That was the day when Ramanujan came to know that he had got the job. It   was the turning point in his life. Things changed for better after that.  

Ramanujan joined Madras Port Trust Office. At his office, Ramanujam could easily and quickly complete the tasks he was given, so he spent his spare time doing research. His boss and colleagues encouraged him in his mathematical pursuits.

Next year he sent his work to Prof. Hardy of Cambridge University.  Greatly impressed by Ramanujan’s work Prof. Hardy invited him to England to pursue research. And the rest is history.

Within a couple of years Ramanujan was recognized as one of the greatest mathematicians of modern times. Unfortunately he died young at the age of 33 in 1920 after his return to India.

What happened to Sandow?  This intimate friend of the genius Ramanujan went on to become a very successful lawyer in Dindigul.  Not many people know about this. But I am sure about it because… I am Sandow Srinivasan’s grand nephew!

[Date Delivered:  May 21 2011


  • To understand the purpose of stories about historical events or people
  • To use the storytelling skills developed in the preceding projects to tell a story about a historical event or person
Time: Seven to Nine Minutes

I had always wondered whether my Grand Uncle "Sandow" Srinivasan knew Ramanujan the mathematics genius, since both of them were contemporaries and belonged to the same small town Kumbakonam. Last year my cousin (Sandow's grandson)  drew my attention to a short conversation between Ramanujan and Sandow Srinivasan  described in the book "Ramanujan - The Man & The Mathematician". The author of the book Dr. S. R. Ranganathan, himself a mathematican and also a pioneer in library science was Sandow's classmate in Madras Christian College. This conversation is also available on the net:
For this project , I adapted the original conversation by making it more detailed. I added  a couple of narratives by  Ramanujan (Source: Wikipedia)  about his struggle for survival after he had to discontinue the education, his meeting with  Mr. Ramachandra Rao and  his application for a position in Madras Port Trust Office. There were discrepancies regarding the dates and numbers in the original conversation which I corrected based on the information available in Wikipedia.]

Monday, April 4, 2011

Speaking to Inform Project 4 - Slow Progress on the Competent Communicator (CC) Track :Facts and Figures

[Disclaimer: Speech based on the responses received during an online survey conducted during February 2011. Scenario might have changed and hence the facts and figures may not represent the real situation when you read this post]

What is Life without Challenges? Challenges lurk around every nook and corner. Our Club is no exception.As per the President and the VP-Ed the biggest challenge in our club is – the Members not giving speeches often enough and not progressing along the CC track.
I chose to do investigate this issue.

Lord Kelvin has said, ‘When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind’.  Hence I conducted an online survey to get real hard facts and figures behind this problem. I sincerely thank everyone who responded to the survey and provided valuable inputs for this talk.

I received 30 responses.  It is a fairly representative sample in terms of membership tenure and the number of speeches given.
So here are the facts and figures:
  • Speech Progress Rate is about 1 speech in every 4-5 months.  CC Manual recommends at least 1 speech in 2 months.  But only 4 members in their CC Journey are maintaining this rate. Why this is a major issue?  Unless one gives enough speeches, one can’t be in a position to evaluate and mentor the speeches of new members.  With very few evaluators and mentors encouraging and ramping up the new members and ensuring good quality speeches has become a daunting task.
  • Where do the priorities of the members lie?  Only about 50 % of the members say that they can’t achieve their career and personal goals without good speaking skills.  So giving speeches regularly is not really an absolute must for the remaining 50 %.   Only about 60-70% of the members have indicated Toastmasters and Speaking Roles as their topmost interest apart from their work or personal life.
  •  For the members who really want to give speeches regularly is Daffodils providing a conducive and friendly environment?   73 % of the responses said that they were likely to recommend Daffodils on a scale of 9 or above. 37 % said that Daffodils had excellent mentors.  These figures are good but needs to be better if we want to have a continuous flow of speeches by the members.
  •   Now if the environment is not an issue what delays a member’s next speech? The top 3 roadblocks which account for about 60 % of all the reasons cited in the survey are:
    • Difficulty in Topic Selection
    •  Getting the Right Content
    •   Writing the Speech
  •  So what does club needs to do to motivate and encourage members to give speeches?   Nearly a one-third of the members felt that the club was already doing enough and the ball was in the individuals’ court to take initiative of giving speeches regularly. About 30 % were looking forward for more persuasion and encouragement to speak. The rest suggested more mentoring and educational sessions. The three noteworthy suggestions  I received apart from the above mentioned areas are:
    • Table Topics Master should give chance to new members or members who rarely speak.
    •  In every meeting at least one Committee member should be  a Speaker, thus leading by example.
    • A website or blog to post all the speeches delivered by its existing speakers     
To conclude here are my recommendations:
1) Accept the fact that for nearly half of our member public speaking is NOT a MUST HAVE
    Skill. They have other priorities.  Identify and Focus on the individuals who really need and seek help.
2) Take more proactive efforts to create a sense of belonging among new members
3) Focus Mentoring & Educational Sessions on areas like Topic Selection, Finding Content and Writing Speeches

Hopefully implementing these recommendations will encourage more speeches among CC aspirants. 

Silence is NOT Golden in a Toastmasters Club!
[Date Delivered:  March  26 2011

*   Prepare a report on a situation, event, or problem of interest to the audience.
*   Deliver sufficient factual information in your report so the audience can make valid conclusions or a sound decision
*  Answer questions from the audience

Time: Five to Seven Minutes for the speech, and two to three minutes for the question-and-answer period.

As mentioned in the beginning I had conducted an online survey among our club members which formed the basis of the speech. Some of the key questions asked during the survey were:
1) What delays the delivery of your next project speech ?
2) How helpful has been your mentor's guidance ?
3) What the club can do to motivate/encourage you to give more project speeches?
4) How interested are you in Toastmasters in comparison to your other interests and hobbies?
5) To achieve your career and personal goals and aspirations, how important it is for you to acquire good speaking skills?
6) In a scale of 1 to 10 how likely you are to recommend our club to your friends.

I delivered the speech using power-point slides showing graphs as visual aids. The speech was well received and there were several questions which I handled well ]

Saturday, March 5, 2011

2 Years of Toastmaster Speaks

It is now exactly 2 years since I started tracking the performance of this blog through Google Analytics.
Here is how this blog performed over the last year (Mar 1 2010  - Feb 28 2011):
  • Unique Visitors: 3462  i.e. 9 -10 visitors per day [Last Year : 2386  (6-7 visitors per day).]
  • Visitors came from 83 countries [Last Year: 72]
  • Page Views : 7961 [Last Year :   6205]
  • Top 5 page views were for the following speeches:
    1. Ragging - A Learning Experience (934 Page views): This was my CC  Project 5 Speech, where I spoke about how I was ragged as a first year engineering student at NITK, Surathkal (then KREC, Surathkal).
    2. The Blog Home Page727 Page views.  
    3. Mobile Phones - Early Days: (527 page views) This was my CC Project 2 speech. At that time I was working for Freescale and our business unit was developing wireless software for mobile phones. So I had enough background to speak on the story of how mobile phones evolved. 
    4. Cherished Childhood Moments: (486 Page views) This was my Icebreaker Speech from the CC Manual, where I relived my  good old carefree childhood days.
    5. Project 10 Speech - The Three Essential Qualities of a Toastmaster: (441 Page Views): I spoke about how I prepared and delivered all the 10 speeches from the CC manual and what qualities a Toastmaster needs to have to achieve this feat. 
Top 4 in the above list also featured in last years Top 5 Views in the same order (except  No.3 &  No. 4 which got switched over).  
No.5 is the new entrant, replacing last year.s No. 5 Wisdom, Wisdom Everywhere: ( my CC Project 8 speech based on some soul-stirring stories and articles from  the book "Like the Flowing River " by Paulo Coelho. I have posted my review of this book in "Bookworm Reads", the other blog I write.)

One of the visitor to this blog , liked it well enough to invite me to write a guest post in his blog.
Read More about it.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Story Telling Project 4 - A Pair of Tongs

[This is my own adaptation of Munshi Premchand's original Hindi short story - Idgaah ]

It is festival of Id today. Everyone in the village is very excited about it. They will be going to the mosque in the nearby town. There they will offer prayers and then have a gala time in the town fair.

Mahmood is a portly boy from a well-to-do family. His pocket is bulging with coins, competing with his protruding belly. He is joyfully jingling them. He has twelve pice. He will able to buy lots of toys and sweets today with this money since we are talking about 1920s not 2010 !

Hamid is a four year old, poorly dressed, thin and famished-looking boy. Just 3 pice in his pocket! His father and mother died last year. He lives with his Granny Ameena who tells him “Beta, your father has gone to earn money and will return with sack loads of silver. Your mother has gone to Allah to get lovely gifts for you”. This makes Hamid very happy and hopeful. It is great to live on hope; for a child in these circumstances there is nothing else than hope.

However Ameena is sad. Mahmood is going with his father. How can she let Hamid go to the town fair all by himself? It is three miles from the village. What if he gets lost in the crowd? If she goes with him, who will go out to arrange for money? She wants to cook a decent meal for Hamid at least today on this festive occasion. If there is no money how can this be possible? 
Hamid says, "Dadi Ma, don’t worry. I will take care of myself. ".

Hamid joins the party of the villagers going to the mosque. After offering prayers in the mosque everyone embraces each other and then rush to visit the fair.

At the entrance there is a merry-go-round strung with wooden elephants, horses and camels! “Enjoy Twenty-five rounds for just one pice !” cries out the merry-go-round man. Mahmood inspite of his huge bulk manages to rush and take a ride. Hamid watches him from a distance. All he has are three pice. He couldn't afford to part with a third of his treasure for a few miserable rounds.

Then there is a row of toy-stalls with all kinds of toys; Splendid display! How lifelike!. They are priced at 2 pice each. Mahmood buys a few toys. All Hamid has are three pice; how can he afford to buy such expensive toys?

Then come sweet shops. Mahmood buys halwa and gulabjammuns and gobbles them. And as if that is not enough he gulps down a tall glass of white, thick and creamy lassi. He then smacks his lips with relish. Hamid, the luckless boy has at least three pice; why doesn't he also buy something to eat? He looks with hungry eyes at Mahmood. Mahmood does not pay any attention.

Next to the sweet-shops there is a hardware store. There is nothing here to attract the Mahmood’s attention. He goes ahead. But Hamid stops. He sees a pile of iron tongs.
Hamid asks the shopkeeper, “How much for this pair of tongs?" "Six pice”, says the shopkeeper. Hamid's heart sinks. He steels his heart and says, "Will you give it to me for three?" and walks away lest the shopkeeper screams at him. But the shopkeeper does not scream. He calls Hamid back and says, “Ok Beta, for you only 3 pice” and gives him the pair of tongs.

Hamid rests it on his shoulder walks proudly.
Mahmood sees him and laughs, "Are you crazy? What will you do with the tongs? Is it some kind of toy? "."Why not?" retorts Hamid. "See I am carrying it like a gun; If I clang them it becomes a musical instrument”. He then flings the tongs on the ground and says, "Now throw your toys on the ground. It will be smashed to bits. If a drop of water fell on them, the paint would run. What will I do with toys like this? It’s of no use to me. Toys are a waste of money. You can have some fun with them but only for a very short time. Then they are gone. But my iron tongs are everlasting". Mahmood is speechless. He realizes that Hamid is right.

As soon Hamid returns home Ameena hugs him. She notices the tongs in his hand. "Where did you find them?" "I bought them for three pice”, says Hamid.
Ameena scolds him “You stupid child!! Couldn't you find anything better than this pair of tongs? At least you could have bought something to eat or drink.” Hamid replies in injured tones, "Dadi Ma, every time you make rotis, you burn your fingers while taking them out of the fire. So I bought this for you. If you use it to take out the rotis, your fingers will never burn again. I thought you will be happy but you are getting angry.”

The old woman's temper suddenly changes to love. She thinks “What a selfless child! What concern for others! What a big heart! How he must have suffered seeing Mahmood buying toys and gobbling sweets! How was he able to suppress his own feelings! Even at the fair he thought of his old grandmother.” 

Ameena is choked with emotions. She breaks down. Big tears fall from her eyes. She prays “O Merciful Allah! Please Bless this Child”. How can Hamid understand what is going on inside her! After all he is just a 4-year old kid!


[Date Delivered:  January  8 2011

  • To understand the techniques available to arouse emotion.
  • To become skilled in arousing emotions while telling a story.
Time: Six to Eight Minutes


When I read the guidelines for this project from the Advanced Communication Manual on Story Telling, immediately it struck me that Munshi Premchand's story "Eidgah" which had  I read many years ago in my school textbook would perfectly fit the bill.
I then hunted out from the internet an excellent translation of this story by Khushwant Singh. 
This served as a good starting point and I went about editing , adapting and adding my own literary embellishments. 
The speech was well received and I won the Speaker of the Day award. My evaluator wrote in his evaluation that it almost brought tears to his eyes.
My adaptation certainly does not do justice to the original or even its translated version. 
I had to edit out many excellent pieces in the story in order to confirm to the time limits, else the story telling session would have lasted at least for half-an-hour !
This is one of the most touching story which I have ever  come across. At the same time it  has  ample  doses of humor, satire and irony in it. Also an excellent study in child psychology.
So if you liked my adaptation, I would strongly recommend reading the original story in Hindi at
If you can't read/understand Hindi, please read Kushwanth Singh's translation at
http://www.4to40.com/Story/index.asp?p=Festival_of_Eid&k=Eidgah_mosque  ]

You can also listen to the complete story being read aloud (by someone else; not me !) English  in Google Videos

Trivia: The Havells Cables TV commercial is inspired by this story, though context is somewhat different. Watch it in You Tube