Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Midcon 2011: A Success!

     The Midyear Conference, or commonly called by its shortened name "Midcon," is an annual event in Toastmasters District 75 in the Philippines aimed at assessing the progress of clubs in each division, and at the same time providing an avenue for learning and most especially having fun and basking in the sun! This year 2011, the Midcon, themed Festive Island, was held last October 22-23 at the paradise island of Boracay!

     I'm a novice in the Toastmasters world but in a span of two years, I've gained so much from my Toastmasters learning experience. Not only have I improved my communication skills and gained self-confidence but I have also learned how to deal and connect with different personalities of people--which is one of the essentials in order to succeed in every endeavor. International Director Christine Temblique asked the audience about the most important thing they have learned in Toastmasters during her speech and she said, for her, it is valuing people. The end of effective communication apparently is knowing how to lead and establish ties and relationships with people; thereby, urging them to work for a common goal. This I have realized when being part of the Midcon working committee; you have to keep an open communication. With Midcon Chair Mhel Sillador at the helm, the Midcon 2011 has definitely been a successful one! Click here to know more what happened.

     Perhaps, one of the salient highlights of my very first Midcon experience was the Speech to Evaluate contest where I served as a test speaker. I was evaluated by ten contestants and their positive reviews and suggestions for improvement were very enlightening and encouraging. Those were the best evaluations I got so far from fellow Toastmasters. Their words have fired up my passion to step up my public speaking skills  and reach excellence. Below is the manuscript of my speech entitled "Esprit de l'escalier."

     In the beginning of our Toastmasters journey, when we are put on the spot in a defining moment, we tend to give the best of what we got to nail a performance. But in a spur of that moment, we may get excited and anxious at the same time; we could be overwhelmed by either apprehension or enthusiasm. We often ask: can I do it and deliver, if not excellently but at least properly? Or will I bask myself in a lifetime of humiliation, public speaking turned public shaming? The phrases “What if I did this” and “Had I been” are haunting—and subjectively disheartenment fills the unanswered questions. Another doubt arises: will I do it again?
     Public speaking, for some of us, is arguably a monolithic task; notwithstanding, quite an enjoyable activity if one occasionally immerses himself into it. Once, I thought public speaking is the same as merely colorful talking—saying what’s on your mind and that’s just it. Others regard it as a traumatic experience because they fear being criticized. But all of those presumptions are blatantly untrue. When I joined Toastmasters two years ago, I have learned there are more to public speaking than just talking. It’s more of how you say rather than what you say, and not just how you say but how much you need to say. One of the biggest challenges in public speaking every Toastmasters member must take on, apart from overcoming fear, is applying the significance of simplicity and self-control.
     Albert Einstein once said, “Things need to be simple, but not simpler.” And making things simple entails the elimination of the unnecessary so that the necessary must stand out. Public speaking needs to be simple. It doesn’t require the usage of highfalutin words to impress the audience nor does it have to be anchored on an arcane subject. All you may need is a topic as plain as a dot and inject an ebullient personality into it and soon you’ll see the dot drawing and painting lines and curves. You don’t even have to tackle a table topics in a matter-of-fact manner; sometimes, you just need a single point and a slice of your personal experience to make a mini-speech interesting and sparkling with inspiration. The necessary is something you have already undergone, which can never be refuted. Your ideas must be driven by succint language and hemmed together based on ubiquitous speech organization patterns and principles we have learned only in Toastmasters.
     One of the best learnings I got from Toastmasters is the value of self-control. Standing on a rostrum, we can zealously blurt out anything we want and we are unstoppable until we see the red light. When our time ends and before we realize it, we haven’t said what we’re supposed to say because we lingered on the unnecessary. We should’ve said something that would make a difference in the moment but because time has run out, that’s just esprit de l’escalier. Similarly, this translates to saying the right words at the right time. It takes a lot of discipline to say enough in a limited amount of time, and this is the kind of discipline that distinguishes us as Toastmasters and makes us stand out.
     Evaluation is ostensibly a test of simplicity and self-control. We all know the purpose of evaluation is to help a fellow Toastmaster realize his goals as a speaker. It is the very heart of a Toastmasters program. Thus, evaluation doesn’t only have to be direct-to-the-point, but it must also be non-judgmental and non-prejudicial, for public speaking isn’t something we should be ashamed of or be traumatized with. In Toastmasters, we build an amicable environment conducive for learning and growth where nobody is a stranger. Together, we form a family and we build a community. Toastmasters is where we have fun and where we learn.
     Being proficient in public speaking is a work in progress—and is achieved, not on the spot, but through tenacity by doing it again and again. As much as how you thrive depends on your own commitment, your success as a speaker relies largely as well on the kind of people that surround you and help you shine and become better. You’re sure you will not be humiliated and you can build self-confidence gradually as there’s always a room for improvement. If we keep an open heart and mind, we’ll find the beauty in Toastmasters is being able to grab the urgency of now—learning how to speak out the right words today would spell out a huge change.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Farewell Steve Jobs

     This morning, I woke up with a shocking news I heard from a TV program; Steve Jobs, the great man behind popular gadgets such as iPhones, iPods and iPads, has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. Stunned and incredulous, I opened Twitter on my phone to verify the information--not that I'm cynical with the news report but at times I often find social networks a lot louder and more convincing. Except an iPod Shuffle, I do not own any other Apple products--I use and prefer a BlackBerry over an iPhone because I'm not used to a touch screen--but the demise of a visionary leader and business man like Steve Jobs is a terrible loss to the world. Surely, he contributed incredibly in how the lives and cultures of people have changed because of the innovations he introduced and strongly believed in--technologies that could lead to social transformation. And he was quite right. We can now see how drastically a computer, from its mere purpose of number crunching, has served an essential role in every day business, communication, entertainment and multimedia. The ubiquitous letter "i" imprinted on these gadgets' name would long be remembered and probably would transcend far beyond generations, much longer than the lifetime of this man whose name I've first known from the pages of a History of Computers book, one of my first courses as a Computer Science major. Since then, he has already stepped onto the pedestal of greatness. There's more to learn from this incredible yet enigmatic man, who kept most of his life private. One of the words he had spoken that I really like is this: "The only way to do great is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking." This brilliant man is definitely an inspiring model of tenacity and determination, and makes us believe we can always achieve our dreams.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Tribute to Teachers

     When I was in elementary, the first thing I would look at on my report card every grading period was not the grades but the remarks the adviser had written. Fragments of those I could remember very well were the words "silent worker" and "conscientious"--attributes my teacher never failed to see in me. Fired up to excel in studies and zealous to achieve greatly, a sixth grader like me grew a fascination with my mentors whose every word I believed and put to heart. Not only me but everyone in my class felt deep affection and fondness for people we considered as second parents. When a teacher had been admitted to a hospital due to heart ailment, a group of us visited and brought her fruits and flowers. Another teacher was rumored to be on the verge of death and was said to have undergone a major operation for a malignant tumor in her uterus--most girls teared up with the idea she had already died--but after several weeks she showed up in class and we were overwhelmed with gratitude. I couldn't believe it all happened during my last year in elementary. Even after graduation until now, I could still remember the names and faces of great people who did not only enrich my world by imparting their knowledge but also made an impact to my life through their kind words and generous deeds that inspired me to reach my potentials. Years have passed and I've never heard from my previous mentors again. They might be enjoying their retirement somewhere else, or might be in a better place right now, but one thing's for sure they were immortalized in the heart of every student they have touched.

     Not at all times though, we see a "teacher" in a teacher. As I grew older, I came to know the difference between those who just sit and probably wait for the next pay day to come and those who go the extra mile. One of the courses in college I had not really given much attention to was Physical Education, but when we were assigned under this particular teacher--we called her Miss D--my attitude towards the subject matter had changed. The course was mainly about Individual and Team Sports and that included playing bowling, basketball and volleyball. She piqued our interest in those games by being funny, engaging and energetic. Coming to the school amphitheater before 7:30 in the morning twice a week was never a problem because just the thought of meeting a wonderful teacher motivated me not to be tardy--or else I would miss the flexibility exercises and the jog around the basketball court. On the other hand, I had a teacher on Web Technology who would rarely give any lectures and would just let us browse the Internet for the whole three-hour period, and when examination was about to arrive he would give us tons of notes to study which had not been discussed in class. He made his life easy by supposing college was all about self-learning--and he was quite right. Nothing he did, as far I can recall, furthered my education and perhaps I could have decidedly learned all those concepts just by reading By being what he was, he exemplified a mere instructor and not a teacher anyone can look up to and emulate, and was remembered because of what he didn't do.
     Being a teacher, for me, is the hardest and most challenging profession of all. Teachers give birth to all other professions and religions--the greatest teacher of all is Jesus--and are the ones who have a big influence in our lives. You might have decided to be a doctor because you admired your Science teacher or be an engineer because of a dexterous Math teacher. Our liking to a certain discipline or how our interests and preferences were molded might have been the result of a teacher's commitment and sincerity to his mission of honing the minds of the posterity. As we celebrate the World Teacher's Day on this very day, I wholeheartedly express my appreciation and gratitude to all teachers all over the world who remain steadfast and dedicated to their noble work, and especially to those who helped me find real meaning in life.

Monday, October 3, 2011

On Commitment

One of the things I am excited to find when checking my e-mail inbox every now and then is an inspiring article I subscribe from Bo Sanchez's Practical Soulfood for Successful People. This week, I received one entitled The Magic Sauce of All Success that talked about the importance of having commitment as the secret ingredient of success. One line I liked from the article goes this way: "God’s power works through our commitment."

I can fairly relate to this line from my real-world experiences. Every time I am faced with tasks in my job I am unfamiliar with or have not done before, I would not openly respond with "I couldn't do it"--probably what you'd expect as a pavlovian reaction from some people. Instead, I would say "I will try to do it to the best of my abilities." Others may regard saying "I will try" as a sign of weakness or lack of confidence. But for me, it means commitment. It takes a lot of courage to say "I will try" rather than "I couldn't do it." Of course, I will make sure that I deliver what has been promised no matter how big the besetting difficulties. Sure, it entails hard work and tenacity.

One situation in which I tested my commitment and another's commitment was when my boss asked me to train a co-employee on a particular software. It was during one of those hectic times when I couldn't manage my time well and I felt like I was already depressed in the job--I even had this crazy idea of saving up a two-month salary in order to buy a plane ticket back to the Philippines--that I accepted this job on-the-side. I sincerely gave my best, despite busy schedules, to train him in the same standard our boss trained us. I was committed to make him an expert on that software but it seemed to me that that person was not showing the same enthusiasm and commitment as I had. He would send me the same answers that I already marked wrong and he apparently would forget some items. Being objective and straightforward, I tried to get from him accurate and precise answers as much as possible. I felt he misunderstood my good intentions because I remembered the first words he said the first time we met, "Ikaw pala 'yung nagpapahirap sa 'kin." (You were the one who made my life difficult.) I took it as a humor. But as days passed by, I've been more convinced that he is one of those who worships the god of convenience. He also said that I looked intimidating. Well, I haven't learned to like his unclever cajolings. I'd like to prevent myself from believing he was saying all of that out of spite. I just can't handle his kind of attitude. We didn't finish the training since, for some reasons I don't know, my boss told me that it be temporarily stopped. 

If I don't have commitment, I feel that I don't have a driving force to accomplish something. For me, commitment is like a road map--it gives you directions and helps you calculate the distance of your destination. I've said to myself that I want to be a writer--that is why I would pursue a degree in Journalism, and it is one commitment I've set to myself. Getting the commitment of every member in a team or organization is also important in reaching a common goal. In Toastmasters, a public speaking club in which I'm a member, commitment is what makes every meeting possible. Without at least 6-8 attendees, the meeting would most likely be postponed. Commitment is also essential in realizing one's educational and leadership goals through delivering basic speech projects and performing meeting roles. Since Toastmasters is a voluntary organization, you cannot expect every member to attend a meeting regularly or finish an educational norm. I really like the way Toastmasters puts it, "Your potential is limited only by how many excuses you have." If you have commitment to your club as well as your personal development, you won't probably end up faking illnesses or devising abrupt appointments.

Similarly, God is committed to each one of us. If we experience great challenges right now, it is His way of saying never give up; it is His way of seeing if we, too, are committed to His will. I will never ever say to God that He is making my life difficult because I'm up for the challenge and I know that He will help and guide me all throughout.