Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mindsets and Mental blocks

All our activities are governed by certain mindsets which vary from person to person leading to habits which are difficult to shake off. Almost every one has a mindset of his/her own!

The most common mindset is related to drinking coffee. There are people who say, “I get a headache if I don’t have a cup of coffee immediately after my lunch!” Others say “If I have a cup of coffee after 6 pm in the evening or if I sleep in the afternoon, I can’t sleep at night”.

I have no such problems. Even if I sleep for 3 hours in the afternoon on a Sunday, I am fast asleep by my usual bed time of 10 pm! For me any time is sleeping time. The best sleeping pill according to me is a book. Every time I start reading a book, within half an hour, I fall into the deep-sleep mode! If I get up in the middle of the night and am unable to go back to sleep, the best remedy I have found is to start reading a book. No need to chant Ram, Ram, or counting sheep till you go back to sleep.

But I do have a mindset problem! Its related to giving Speeches!

Whether it is a five minute vote of thanks or a 90 minutes lecture in a classroom, I believe in preparation. I write down my speech and rehearse it a couple of times to ensure that I stick to the time limit given to me. The hard copy of my speech also clearly indicates where I should pause (for a possible applause!) or where I should emphasize a point.

This habit continued even after the introduction of slide & tape presentations. I would lug around a Kodak Carousel projector with slides, always accompanied by a typed version of the presentation clearly spelling out the comments on every slide. The fear that I might forget important points made me read from prepared texts.

While pursuing this method of presentation, I was particular about having a podium, on which I would place the papers or the file containing my talk. Getting a podium was not a problem when I addressed larger gatherings in Hotels and other such venues. But when it was a presentation to a small group in a client`s office, invariably the small board room or meeting room did not have a podium. On such occasions I would carry a portable table model podium which I got specially fabricated. Later, I tried to use a foldable steel stand (which musicians use at concerts to keep their musical notes or book of lyrics) to keep my prepared notes while I was talking. These stands were so flimsy that every time I hit it while using my hands to emphasize a point, they would collapse and the papers would start flying all over the room. In retrospect, I realize what a spectacle I was making of myself in front of my audience – all because of a stupid mindset which I could not get rid off!!

Fortunately all this changed due to an incident which took place about ten years ago!

Breaking a Mental block

My wife and I were in Madurai to attend a wedding. Our associate in Madurai, who came to meet me, informed me that the Director of Thiagaraja School of Management wanted to meet me. He offered to pick my wife and me from the wedding hall and take me to meet the Director. While on the way, he threw a bombshell! I thought it was a courtesy call but he said the Director would be happy if I could give a brief talk on Rural Marketing to the Management students of the Institute. I was shocked and livid! I told my friend that I never gave a talk without preparation and besides in the absence of any notes or slides, it would be impossible for me to give a talk.

I retorted angrily, “I have never done this in my life, and I will not do it now, forget it!”

He looked at me with pity and said “what sir! You call yourself a Rural Marketing Expert. Can’t you speak for at least 15 minutes on the subject and follow it up with a Q/A session?”

Even before I could respond, we had reached the Institute and I was taken to the Director`s room. After the usual formalities the Director now threw another bomb!

“Mr. Rajan, I am so happy you accepted my invitation at such short notice. In fact I have assembled the students of both the 1st and 2nd year in the Auditorium, who are eagerly waiting to hear you!”

I felt like a trapped rat! There was no way I could get out of the difficult situation and so I sought some time from the Director. Five minutes to marshal my thoughts on what I was going to say for the first 10 minutes of my first extempore speech!

When I went up to the stage to face over 200 bright boys and girls I felt Iike a naked man in a crowd. To compound the problem, my wife and my niece (who was attending the Management course) were in the audience which further added to my discomfiture!

Marshalling all the courage in the world, I started speaking. There was no podium, no presentation paper and no slides! Just me with a collar mike walking up and down the stage – like an actor giving a solo performance. Within five minutes I realized that the audience was with me, rapt with attention.

Literally, the actor in me took over. Words were flowing. Thoughts were flowing. Examples and anecdotes from my years of experience were coming thick and fast! In the absence of video clips (which I would have normally shown to students) I was literally acting out the commercials!

I did not realize that I had spoken for more than 90 minutes without interruption and with total attention from the boys and girls. This was followed by another 60 minutes of Q & A session. At the end of the nearly three hour session, when I collapsed on the chair; totally exhausted, I found the boys and girls giving me a spontaneous standing ovation. I could not believe I had done it! I had spoken on a subject for 3 hours without a bit of paper in front of me.

Later, my niece told me that it was the best lecture that the students had heard in the two years that they were studying in the college. I was thrilled. A long standing mental block I had about not being able to give a talk without speaking aids was broken. Though I use power point presentations these days and still prepare my speeches, I don’t read a copy of my talk verbatim any more. My comments on the slides in the PPTs are also spontaneous. I feel totally liberated from a mindset which had dogged me for over three decades!

The moral of the story is that age is no barrier for breaking negative mindsets, which often come in the way of better performance in different facets of our lives.

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