Monday, March 24, 2008

Club contest

Friday I attended my first Toastmasters area contest. The setting was a conference room of a reputed Semiconductor company. The turnout was rather slim compared to my expectations. However, our club was very well represented and it was a jolly good time. I had managed to get into the contest by winning the impromptu speech contest at our club. So I was sufficiently nervous about having to perform on the stage.

But the real highlight of the show was the three prepared speeches made by relatively senior members of various clubs. What impressed me most about the experience was the ease with which the waltzed on stage and delivered their speeches. Not a care in the world. They showed no signs of effort or pretense. It was quite astounding.

What is it that makes us nervous about talking in front of a crowd? For me it is the sensation that people are watching me constantly expecting me to be interesting. I also have this perennial fear of looking the audience in the eye because I am scared I might forget what I have to say. But most of all I think it is a fear of making a fool of me that scares me the most.

I didn’t do too badly in my speech but I once again failed to make any eye contact or effectively add humor to my talk. Next time around I plan to take the lessons learnt from those fabulous speakers and try something new. Pick a few people in the crowd and use them as my targets. I will talk to them the way I have a conversation/argument on my dinning table with friends and family. I will not care if I forget my words. My entire focus would be to convince these few people.

Until then.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Journey and Character

Heard this from a friend over lunch:

"You need talent to get up the mountain. But you need character to stay up there."

Another one goes:

"Its not the destination but the journey that matters."

The problem is that I am in such an almighty hurry to climb the mountain and get to the destination that I doubt if I am building any character or enjoying the journey.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Come on

A year back it was Anna Nicole Smith. All leading news channels couldn’t stop talking about her death, her baby and everything else that surrounded her. Never mind that there was a war going on, an impending housing crisis and oil was at all time highs. Just when that was dieing down and you figured that the channels will focus back on the issues at hand, there came along Britney Spears and her little escapades. Not to mention the other minor distractions such as Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, The DC madam, the airport restroom rendezvous and everything else that kept us at the edge of our seats.

It’s almost as if the channels have decided that I am incapable of digesting real news in a decent fashion. Everything has to have drama and intrigue built into it. There has to be a sense of celebration and victory, anguish and defeat. Nothing in between seems to matter anymore. Is it that people can’t consume news in a normal fashion? Does listening to news have to be like reading a novel? Naming the ongoing primaries “Ballot Bowl 08” seems to almost insult my intelligence.

But it all came to a boiling point when CNBC spent two hours yesterday discussing the gory details of Spitzer’s rendezvous with the New York hooker. This is a business channel that is designed to appeal to the business community looking for investing information. Apart from the obvious joy of watching the sheriff of Wall Street falling in such a spectacular fashion, the viewers have little interest in watching the Governor making his way through midtown traffic, on his way to his office to tender his resignation while the anchor and his guests shamelessly dwell over inconsequential details of his life thus far while the financial markets are roiled in a credit crunch, a swelling inflation, a drowning housing market and a plummeting dollar.

Really people! Not only are you insulting my intelligence now, but you are also wasting my time.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Why Obama!

As the primaries began I really didn’t care much for the process. My first experience of the primaries was lackluster to say the least. The contenders were uninspiring and really couldn’t speak two sentences without sounding almost apologetic about running the campaign.

That was four years ago. Today I have a whole different perspective on politics. Not because my cynicism for the process has decreased or that I envision a country that would transform into something completely different under the leadership of Barack Obama, but because I “HOPE” to see some of the critical changes that I yearn for in the nation’s political scene. Even if Barack Obama doesn’t achieve half the things he says he would, I would still be glad to see him get ahead in the primaries and move on to win the presidential elections.

Over the last eight years I have watched in utter dismay at the way politics has degenerated in America. In the late 90s, when I began following politics, Clinton was embroiled in his scandal and politics was once again proving to be a dirty business. However the country was in a spectacular economic boom and no one really cared. All that ended with the stock market collapse of 2000 followed by the horrific events of 9/11. Rather than using the terrible events of 2001 as a motivation to bring the country together, both parties have effectively split the nation into two along the lines of fear and panic. The current administration has used the leeway that it was given during the time of war to push its own agenda and further alienate people who disagree with them. The democrats have done no better and their recent success is only a product of the ill will created by the current administration.

Hillary Clinton represents one of the leading faces of the Democratic Party during this unfortunate time in American politics. The Republicans view her as the symbol of partisan politics and fear her as they would an arch enemy. Barack Obama however is relatively new to the scene. He represents the face of a leader who is untouched by the brutal political battles waged in the past eight years at the national level. Though he is accused of being inexperienced and new to the political scene, I believe that he brings forward the opportunity to look beyond the hostility between the two parties and work on building a consensus driven government. He seems willing to accept things that are good beyond the Democratic Party if it addresses the needs of the nation even if it means embracing ideas that came from the opposite side of the aisle. I found it laughable that Barack had to be apologetic about the fact that he had inadvertently complimented President Regan for being a transitional president. Hillary Clinton was belligerently attacking him on this issue during a presidential debate. This kind of an uncompromising stance demonstrated by Clinton during her campaign makes me believe that she would only work to further tear this country apart. What the country needs today is to come together and work hand in hand to resolve the daunting challenges that lie ahead. The nation has no time or energy left to watch politicians bickering over trivial things while keeping the greater task of nation building on hold.

Most of us admit that we are moved by Obama’s speeches. The reason why it is so awe inspiring is because he truly believes in what he says. Most great orators successfully capture the minds of their listeners only because they talk passionately about things they want to change and influence. This passion translates into moving speeches which make believers out of people. Obama has this gift and I believe he also has passion for nation building. This passion will translate into his ability to bring both political parties together, leaping over the mundane differences and extreme beliefs. He will be able to build consensus among both Democrats and Republicans and will achieve great things through this unity. If he can do such a fantastic job of bringing so many people together during the primaries, imagine what he could do while working with the Congress and the Senate.

Today we stand at the crossroads. The path ahead for this nation is challenging. The road ahead, whichever we might pick, will have its own set of challenges and successes. However, we need a leader who will take us all together on this path forward rather than split us along various belief systems and send us on our own merry way. Barack Obama demonstrates the very essence of a great leader with his passion and sincerity.

Barack Obama might be a rookie in Washington, but his passion is real. He truly wants to create a political scene that is beyond partisan battles. That to me is what the nation really needs at this juncture.

A consensus builder!