Business · Life

The difference between good mentors and bad ones

There are more fake gurus and false teachers in this world than the number of stars in the visible universe. Don’t confuse power-driven, self-centered people with true mentors. A genuine spiritual master will not direct your attention to himself or herself and will not expect absolute obedience or utter admiration from you, but instead will help you to appreciate and admire your inner self. True mentors are as transparent as glass. They let the Light of God pass through them. 

Shams, The Forty Rules of Love

Note to self: anyone is a mentor in some way. You have bad ones and good ones. The bad ones barely teach you anything, and the good ones teach you naturally. The bad ones don’t care about your improvements, the good ones know how important it is for you.

In a nutshell, bad = bad. Good = good. But how do you tell the difference?

Here’s what I noticed for the time being:

Continue reading “The difference between good mentors and bad ones”
Life

Life needs to be hard before it gets better. This is why

As a Sufi, I had been trained to accept the thorn with the rose, the difficulties with the beauties of life. Hence followed another rule: The midwife knows that when there is no pain, the way for the baby cannot be opened and the mother cannot give birth. Likewise, for a new Self to be born, hardship is necessary.

Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love

We have those days when we are down. The loss of a family member, poor exam results, you didn’t get the job you wanted, and many other bad situations. It feels like life likes to punch us in the face.

But when things get better, it can be due to two main forces:

  1. The environment around us changes for the better
  2. We grow, and change for the better.

There’s a limit to how much we can control number one. The most that I can think of is to move to a nearby jungle, away from civilisation, and if that is a good change for you then go for it. But I’d like to focus on number two: giving ourselves the chance to grow.

But hardship is necessary. It’s like exercise, training heavyweights at the gym so that we can get stronger. We train with heavier weights on purpose because we grow that way. Life is the same: It needs to be hard before it gets better.

Continue reading “Life needs to be hard before it gets better. This is why”
Life

How to face fears, doubts and control the moment

Ella and her dog stood side by side under the late-spring moon, staring into the thick, vast darkness, similarly frightened of the things moving in the dark, frightened of the unknown.

Elif Sharak, The Forty Rules of Love

The unknown is a scary place. It’s ominous: you don’t know what’s lurking in there. It makes sense then that most fears appear in the dark. Fears, doubts, lack of control: it haunts us all the time.

Why do you think fear stops us from doing the things we want to do? We have doubts to stop us from taking steps forward. We have second thoughts about doing things we want to dive into. We have past traumas that prevent us as if on reflex:

“This bad thing has happened to me before, what’s going to stop it from happening again?”

There are two ways to handle our fears:

  1. Get rid of them
  2. Learn how to traverse them.

Number 1 is dependent on your fears – I can’t teach you that. That is entirely subjective.

Instead, I can share with you ways to understand that fear is there, present, and move forward. Train yourself well and you can learn how to use fear and doubt as a weapon to further yourself.

But first, a primer on what we are all made of:

Continue reading “How to face fears, doubts and control the moment”
Life · People

The People Around You Define your Creativity: Midnight In Paris by Woody Allen

Creativity differs according to each individual.

Either way, how we express ourselves can be scary at times. No matter how creative we can get, there will always be jabs at us.

Some people find this overwhelming, and choose to conform their creativity to acceptable levels. Others go the opposite direction: they strive to improve their craft.

This post is about the latter, and how a movie reminds us of just how creative we can truly be. That is, creativity through other people.

The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence. -Gertrude Stein

Continue reading “The People Around You Define your Creativity: Midnight In Paris by Woody Allen”

Life · People

Is Self Expression taught in education? Let’s find out

The concept of expression is a strange one. It differs with each individual.

We are free to do whatever we want.

Write what we want, dance, play: live a life however we want.

While some may be able to express themselves better through painting, others express themselves better on the rugby field, speaking on stage, or performing complex calculations for experiments.

All of these are expressions of the inner character: We share what we are most passionate about through expression.

But, were we taught to express ourselves? Do we have the freedom to do this around the world?

It is fun to express: we learn as we grow older that we have this need to do so.

We want to prove that we are the best artists. We want to shout that we are the best in our fields: Talking with the right people, by expressing humility and grace. Showing we want to learn more, by expressing a willingness to be a student of life.

How was it taught in education?

Continue reading “Is Self Expression taught in education? Let’s find out”

Life · People

You are at your ugliest when vulnerable. Here’s why

I was afraid to share my secrets.

Here we are at the usual coffee shop near Town Hall, and my friend asks me.

“Could you tell me what’s wrong?”

I couldn’t. I didn’t want to be seen as weak.

I bottle my problems up so that I don’t bother others. Yet, I felt his sympathy.

“Well…”

15 minutes of silence after, I told him.

I didn’t want him to know, but I was at a loss. No one was there to help me. I couldn’t make sense of the thoughts in my head. I didn’t want my best friend to see me in such a poor state.

Have you ever had a time when you were uncomfortable with sharing something due to who you are?

It could be this notion I have in my head. Whatever my problems were, it doesn’t seem right to share. He might be uncomfortable hearing about it. He may judge me.

He won’t. He’s my friend. I know him that well.

Yet, I felt unattracted to the idea. I am at my ugliest when I’m most vulnerable.

When I realized that, I started crying. He already had his hand on my shoulder.

He knew I was suffering. We all need help sometimes.

Continue reading “You are at your ugliest when vulnerable. Here’s why”

Communication

What is a Keynote Speaker and Why You Need One on Stage

A keynote speaker is someone who sets the tone for the audience.

A capable person on stage, they introduce the topic of their choosing and, assuming the topic is of interest to us listeners and proceeds to set the tone.

Like all types of speakers, keynotes have a core theme that is highlighted throughout the presentation. This core theme is the journey that the keynote speakers takes us on. As they explain key points and shares their thoughts, you begin to understand the purpose of this journey.

If you have gained value at the end of the keynote, whether it be new thoughts, perspectives, and realization, the speaker succeeded in their mission. There has been an increasing demand for these performers on stage, and as someone who can introduce a certain train of thought for everyone throughout the event, speakers are highly sought after.

Why are they effective?

Presentation is key in almost every form of interaction.

Good writing, great conversation, and well-fitted clothing: these all add to the general impression one can get.

Keynote speakers capture the core part of the theme through a presentation. As this is their method of choice to convey to the audience, a well-executed presentation can leave a lasting impression on those who listen. That is what the audience is there for and that is what lies at the essence of a great keynote.

Furthermore, since there is limited time in a keynote, speakers are made to introduce the most important highlights to the audience. This creates relevancy and adds to the overall value that we seek.

In order to do this, speakers are prepared: they thoroughly research the issues that need to be discussed, the industry it is in, and the audience themselves. All this is preparation for a 40-minute talk: while some speakers drone for too long, others may leave out important details. Keynote speakers give an effective keynote right in the sweet spot.

The best part? Every speaker is different, and therefore every keynote is different. The talks are unique, and only for the audience to see. Instead of witnessing a speaker’s antics from far away via blog posts and social media, seeing them voice their thoughts on stage is the closest to conversing with them.

The difference between listening and reading

You could take the time to research these things yourself. If it was a field of your interest, maybe you could reach the same conclusions.

But, how do you know if your conclusions are justified? What if there was more knowledge that you did not know about?

This is where a keynote speaker comes in: they introduce their side of the story.

Compared to reading an article, the stage has more impact. The keynote speaker is an article talking to you, introducing their own model of the world and what they observed. Granted, an article may do the same – but there are difficulties in articulation that a blog post can face.

A keynote speaker talking towards the audience, towards you, makes the story more believable. As they craft and articulate their words, the most important points are being presented to you immediately. In essence, they can help you think.

With keynote speakers in front of you, they make the theme clear to understand and guide you in addressing it.

The greatest reassurance for us listeners is that they have their bodies on stage. Many signals can be found in one’s non-verbal communication patterns, and these signals help us understand the topic better.

Whether it be the tone, movement of the body, or the speed, the speaker’s movements act as markers to help guide us through their speech. If they are there for us, this makes them trustworthy and adds accountability to their name.

You would need a keynote speaker at your event to set the first note. It’s where the name came from: singers sing the first note before a song to set the key. Your key is the mood and the attention of the audience.

Starting off with a great opener, and setting in stone the topic of the day, a great keynote speaker knows what to do and say. With enough presence on stage, they can influence everyone’s thoughts.

Presence is key in speaking after all.

Business · Life

Motivate Yourself by Capturing the Moment

You have your tasks set for the day.

The conditions are perfect: The sun is shining, everyone is smiling, the air is fresher than usual.

When you put your hands on the keyboard, ideas just pour out from your mind and onto your screen. Everything just works: All your focus is on one task at a time, and you complete them.

You exceed expectations: your boss praises you, and you’re doing great work for yourself. You feel satisfied.

You’ve done a lot. Nothing went wrong with what you did.

It’s an amazing feeling. But it doesn’t last long: you may not be so motivated the next day.

Sometimes, you have days when you don’t feel like doing much. When you do so, you start to think about that amazing day again. It gets frustrating:

  • How do I become as motivated as back then?
  • What do I need to do to achieve the same result?
  • How do I stop comparing myself all the time?

Your job now is to capture that feeling.

How to capture the moment

Set aside one hour to yourself.

No distractions, no technology; just pen and paper.

In order to capture that lovely day, you need time to reflect. Record the following:

The Conditions

Write down what were the conditions around you, and within you.

After all, the mix of both resulted in that golden moment you were looking for.

Your conditions can range from:

  • The weather
  • The temperature of the room you were in
  • The taste of your coffee
  • Whether you’ve done much exercise
  • Your internet speed
  • The amount of time spent being distracted, etc.

The Inputs

Next, write down what are your preferred tools for input:

  • What tools do you need to work with? A good outfit, a laptop, your favorite pen and notebook?
  • What’s your style of writing? Do you prefer long-winded notes, or bullet points?
  • What inspired you to do so well that day? Did you propose to someone the day before?
  • Did you get enough sleep?

The Process

Write down the flow. This is where the magic happens:

  • What were your chosen methods?
  • What was your thinking process as you carried out your tasks?
  • What level of research was needed to achieve this?

The Output

  • Which tasks were completed?
  • Have you done the 5 most important tasks?
  • Did it turn out to be as you imagined?
  • How much time did you spend on each one?

Feedback & Reflection

It’s time for feedback! What do you think of your work? How do others think of your work?

Then, you reflect. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What did you do?
  • What were your objectives?
  • Who was it for?
  • What was your intended goal?
  • What did you have to research?
  • What skills did you have to use?
  • Were you already prepared beforehand?
  • What were your thoughts throughout the entire session?
  • How many perspectives did you use to tackle the whole situation?
  • How large of a part did the following play into your session: your phone, social media, friends, colleagues, personal worries, world events, electricity, internet speed?
  • What could you have done better? What methods can be explored further in order to be more productive?

Be as methodical as possible here. This is your chance to record down the whole process.

It is always good to have a system for self-reflection: you spend less brainpower on thinking up questions to answer, and instead use that on actually answering.

You can even play around with what you’ve written above, drawing it out like a diagram:

Conditions -> Input -> Process (Methods, Thinking, Diagrams, Research Headlines) -> Output -> Feedback

Recording your Golden Moment.

You have your diagram. Now, you have your reflection. It’s in one file, or in your notebook, or documented somewhere that is easily accessible.

Congratulations! You have just made a graphical representation of your most productive time.

The purpose of this is to remember the level of clarity and focus needed to achieve that level of output.

Assign a phrase to this Moment.

Treat it like a password: It’s that important. It can be anything you want, it’s your Golden Moment after all.

Write it on a post-it note and put it somewhere visible: your workstation, the bedside table, or your phone wallpaper. You need to make every effort to remind yourself of this mindset.

This is to condition yourself into reliving that Golden Moment again.

Shocking your routine

When you need to work again, and you’re not feeling so empowered: look at your phrase. What does it mean to you?

The memories will come back: How much you did, how satisfied you were, how content you were, what you are capable of. How should you implement this into your routine?

Remind yourself over and over again what you are capable of achieving when you are productive.

Keep the phrase in your mind, and the feelings will surface again. When you capture that feeling again, keep it sustained for the rest of the day. Naturally, you would be more productive, positive and empowering on a day-to-day basis.

One thing to note: Personality is formed from habit.

Prepare yourself for the day by looking at this phrase as a routine. Write the phrase anywhere, anytime. Forgot what you wrote? Go through your answers. Your objective, is to pull yourself back into that moment again.

I have a few phrases of my own to get back into the zone. Sometimes, one phrase isn’t enough, so I have more.

  • ‘Nothing But Now.’
  • ‘Shut up and do the work.’
  • ‘The world around me does not matter until I myself move forward.’

These are my phrases. They may not mean much to you, but they do to me.

They came up when I was at my most productive, and when I am really satisfied with what I have done. These are my Golden Moments, and no one can take that away from me.

By going through these phrases over and over again, I can capture the feeling again. I can look at my past self, the great work that I’ve done, and tell myself I can do better than that.

Capture that feeling, and do better. You will do better, and nothing else will matter.

Communication

The 7 Inner Tools for Effective Public Speaking

What are obstacles to you?

This was the question I asked the audience on Toastmasters night.

An obstacle can differ in meaning according to the individual.

Silence.

Fear. Money. Expectations.

Silence.

But, obstacles are chances; they are opportunities for you. They allow you to be greater than you were before.

I scan the room, addressing every single member with my eyes.

Obstacles are necessary. They make us great.

Silence. Then, the clapping began.

Above was a snippet of my table topic for Toastmasters night recently. It gave me the chance to practice my tools for public speaking.

The great thing is that these are tools are available to all of us. They all come under the usage of your voice and body language: essential elements to the public speaking formula.

If you want to rock the stage with your public speaking skills, remember these 7 key tools:

Silence is the answer.

Every speech has one thing in common: there are points to be made.

These could range from:

  • Thoughts to consider
  • New perspectives for understanding
  • Questions that need to be answered.

As a speaker, you have a duty to inform your audience of the points being addressed while on stage. Silence is one of the best ways to achieve this.

Whenever you make a point and keep quiet for a moment, this is what you have sent to your listeners:

This is my point. Think about what I just said.

Silence is powerful. Having small pockets of silence after a certain sentence informs our listeners of their importance.

This is effective for questions as well. During a speech, when you ask a question to an audience:

Why do we need to address this? Cue silence.

This emphasizes our questions. You want your audience to not only listen, but think as well. These are your markers, your ways to interact with them:

This is my question. Can you answer it? Do you agree/disagree? What is the first thing that comes into your mind?

A moment of silence challenges your audience to think of the content they have just digested. It is similar to a conversation in that regard. We keep quiet to listen to others after all.

I tend to teach those around me about the power of silence in speaking: whether it be for power, listening, or to provoke the minds of others. We can stay silent to be humble, and keep quiet to stand our ground. In public speaking, the rules are the same.

Do not underestimate the quiet ones. Silence is a core part of public speaking.

The most powerful actions need not to be said, only experienced.

Intonation is powerful.

Have you ever been in a monotone conversation? Can you remember what was said?

It could be a talk with your least-favorite lecturer about an complex field. They could have no enthusiasm in their voice whatsoever. It can also be someone who has trouble speaking in large groups: their voices are small, and may not be taken seriously.

In public speaking, intonation is essential.

It is generally known that the most compelling words are best told by the most strongest and energetic of voices. These are the ones who say with conviction what they want to say, and it doesn’t matter if you agree with them or not. They are sure in their craft and opinion, and it leaves you with a good impression of them as an individual.

As a tool, the tone of our voice helps the audience recognize our intentions. It is a guide for the audience as they listen to what you say, to understand the purpose of each word.

We can categorize our words by intention, or statement types:

  • Is it a question? Raise your tone at the end of the sentence.
  • It’s a statement! Have a powerful ending to your sentence.
  • It’s a fact. Tone is slightly raised, with great clarity.
  • An observation, a justification and a conclusion: Keeping it varied to distinguish between each section.

Tone allows you, the speaker, to influence the focus of your audience. Through your tone, you can tell your audience which sentences are questions, statements or observations. Making each intention clear helps them understand you better. When you are understood better, you have greater accountability.

Monotone speeches have very little emotion injected into them. They are then regarded as negative in terms of provocation and provide little engagement. It is akin to white noise – a constant pitch or sound. Without any change in tone, it would be the same as riding a train: a constant hum, which would inevitably bore us as an audience.

Keep your tone varied. Show them how enthusiastic you are.

Vocabulary must be clear.

To be clear, is to be concise.To make things simple, is to make things easy to understand.To complicate things, is to show your inability to explain them.

This rings true for any audience. But, who is the right audience for you? Your vocabulary is the answer to that question.

Vocabulary is important when deciding what you want to say. It shows your ability to think from your audience’s perspective.

Understand that the audience is willing to comprehend your speech from the very beginning. Complicating things will make it difficult for them to do so. Vocabulary is one way to counteract this. Some questions to ask ourselves included:

  • Who is present? Age group, demographic?
  • What is their language ability?
  • Do you tailor your words to your audience?

Is your audience full of specialists? Are they experts in their field? If the vocabulary in your speeches consist mainly of technical terms, this would be a good fit.

Is it the general public? Depending on the demographic, they may have different levels of understanding. Little value can be obtained if you stick to complicated concepts and the like.

As public speakers, we need to make sure our speeches cater to the right audience. One way is to include and implement a wide variety of vocabulary. Though having technical vocab in your speech is optional and may depend on who is attending, clear concise vocab will always work.

Think of the Feynmann technique. This is a technique to ensure we keep the right perspective. I like to explain this technique as the 15-year-old Rule.

It’s simple: Treat the audience like they are 15. It’s not an insult, don’t worry.

As the audience, I may not have much knowledge or understanding of what you’re talking about. With that in mind, I may have more questions after listening to your explanation. I may want you to elaborate more, but without the expertise that you have (as the speaker).

As the speaker, your job is to dumb your speech down an easy-to-understand level, to allow all audiences to receive your points. This creates clarity and maximizes effectiveness.

Clear wording has less noise. People do not have to think so hard to understand what you say. This means that your other techniques could also be amplified: silence and tone for example. It is easier to include tonal techniques to short, clear points as opposed to long-winded theories.

For technical explanations, you need to define the purpose of each one. Some explanations can be a necessity, especially for an audience full of experts. As a public speaker, you need to define the following:

  • What is the point of your explanation? Is it to have an idea of the situation being described?
  • What can I, the audience, benefit from your explanation? Is this knowledge I can apply to my daily routine, for example?
  • What are the main takeaways from using technical terms in my speech? Awareness? New perspective? A fun fact?
  • How long is the explanation? Will it take a lot of time? Could I get bored as an audience member?

Clear vocab trumps all. Technical vocab is mainly used for specific audiences.

Make sure you use words with clear intended purposes.

Slides are not always important.

How important are slides in your public speech?

Is there something that you need to show, or is there something very difficult to describe without a visual aid? An example would be ideas found in a field or a diagram that is very complex to explain.

Note: slides are a compliment. There is no defined context for them unless you, the speaker, are present to explain them for greater clarity. The presentation is not a primary source of information: you are the primary. Audience members can refer to the slides to stay on the topic, but they will refer to you as the expert.

There are cases where slides are beneficial or a necessity. But, you must be careful: make sure that there is a limit to detail concerning content on your slides. If you have too much, it may be daunting.

If your slides are too effective, why are you speaking?

The point of you, the expert, being there diminishes. If your slides can talk for you, then it is not a public speaking event anymore.

It can happen. Some people are visual learners as opposed to aural. They may ask to have a copy of the slides and leave it at that. You want to minimalize the chances of your audience losing their attention span, and resorting to other ways to learn the same content.

There are methods to mitigate this: speakers can benefit from ebooks or document links provided at the end of the talk as a refresher. This maintains you as the primary source of information during the public speech and serves to help your marketing/sales funnel if you have one. Very useful for an aspiring public speaker indeed.

In essence, most presentations can be done without slides. If slides are unavoidable however, try to avoid going more than 6 lines each slide. There is only so much information you can take from one slide, and trying to fill it up dense information can be detrimental to your audience.

6 is only a guideline, some advocate for 4 while others for 8.

In terms of what goes on the sides, this is the magic formula for it:

Pictures > Numbers > Words

A Picture tells a thousand words. Diagrams include much more.

Numbers help emphasize facts that are important to the audience. You can complement your mention of a number by having it presented visually, to further emphasize its importance.

All in all, don’t make the slides control you. You are the one walking on stage and giving the talk, not the projector behind you.

Eye contact is a must.

Maintaining eye contact maintains power.

This is seen in everyday conversation. Timid individuals, or those from higher-context cultures, for example, tend to not focus on eye contact as a form of non-verbal communication.

Power is everything in a public speech. For those who are not so confident in public speaking, the ability to go on stage in the first place already gives a first impression. Maintaining that power requires you to hold your ground. One of the ways to do that is eye contact.

On the stage, if you make it clear that you are giving eye contact to your audience, this reaffirms your personal space on the stage. When you maintain this, these are the messages communicated:

  • This is directed at you and is therefore relevant to you.
  • I am the one on the stage, believe my word.
  • I am giving you my full attention. Listen to me.

It also helps to maintain your eye contact across a large audience by scanning across the room.

In your path to public speaking, there will be tons of people who want to hear what you say. You cannot neglect your audience, regardless of where they are in the hall.

Make them feel wanted with your eyes, and they will listen to what you say.

You do not have to look directly into their eyes all the time: for large events, the act of it also works. Looking in their general direction shows that you are making an effort to create eye contact. This is done through your body language, and it does show weakness if you refuse to look your audience members in the eye.

Maintaining eye contact (or ‘faking’ it), is a good way to show power when speaking. Use it often.

Pace sets the structure.

Set the pace for everything that you do.

Do you have a time limit for your speeches? A limited amount of slides to hold your content?

For the listening audience, they are there to learn and think. To achieve these two key objectives, having a structure in place is essential. Some may explain the outline of their presentation before starting, while others go straight into it.

Your pace defines structure. Generally, there is little value in telling your audience what they are about to see, as opposed to showing them said content. Instead, you can dive straight into the content and control your speed, to control the learning pace of everyone listening to you.

Examples include:

  • Slowing down during a specific explanation informs your audience of its importance. It could be a point, or data, or a diagram. Whatever it is, it tells your audience that they must listen.
  • Maintain a constant pace throughout a section of your presentation and people will assume that it is a standard explanation. It may be up to them to take notes, listen or ignore.
  • Having a variety of speeds in a section helps with identifying different statement types. Important points can be stated slowly, but clearly (with proper tone!). Explanations after that add detail to reinforce the point, but it is complementary and can be mentioned at a regular pace.

Control the pace, and you will control your stage.

If you are just blazing through your speech, you are letting the talk overwhelm you as an individual. That can result in mistakes or blunders, which are of little value to your audience. You have a responsibility to avoid this, and pace is one of the ways to do so.

Remember that the stage is yours, so the pace is yours to manage.

The stage is a wild animal: You control it, not the other way round.

Always practice, become better.

Reading advice helps, but nothing beats practice.

Nothing beats going in front of a bear and checking your different aspects and apply them.

Nothing beats being in front of an audience and seeing your feedback in real time.

Nothing beats struggling under an intense environment.

Nothing beats being in the field.

Always practice, and you will always improve. Just remember to make it a habit!