Advice on Becoming a Public Speaker from Dr. Andrew Goh

A little over a week ago, I had an opportunity to speak to Dr. Andrew Goh. 

I told him,

"Dr. Andrew, you may not remember me. A few years ago, I asked you for advice on becoming a public speaker. Today, I am well on my way. Thank you for your advice."

I then gave him two copies of The Introvert Teacher, one addressed to him and the other to pass on to anyone he wants.

This was the advice he gave to me. The elaboration is my own:

1) Volunteer to Speak and Practise

At the start, the only way to get known and gain recognition is to speak whenever you have an opportunity.

Also, you are going to need the practice and volunteering yourself will help you to figure out your niche topic, which brings us to...

2) Have a Specific Topic

It's all too easy to take on any and all projects that come your way. 

However, being a generalist can be confusing, especially for those who are looking for speakers on a particular subject. It also makes you less memorable to those who have already heard you if you tell them that you can do 'any topic you need'.

People look to experts. Establish yourself as one.

3) Once Established, Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Speaking Fees

At some point, you are going to have to be paid if you intend to embark on speaking as a career.

This can and does happen organically but the surest way is to ask.

Start by getting the organisers to cover your travel expenses, even if it's just a taxi ride.

From there, as you gain confidence, ask for more. Be reasonable. You probably shouldn't ask for 10 thousand dollars per hour if you only started speaking 2 months ago (unless you're already some sort of celebrity) but, hey! If you get it, that'd be quite an achievement.

Still, be firm in your requests. If you give in too easily, you are only shortchanging yourself.

Thank you, Dr. Andrew, for being a teacher I look up to and for taking the time to advise me.

With Dr. Andrew Goh

An Introvert's Impressions of the People and Business Practices in Yangon

Before September, I had never been to Myanmar (Burma).

The only contact I had with the country was through the gemstone sellers I met in the gem fairs here in Singapore (which I will be a part of later this month of October - more on this later).

Sule Pagoda - Yangon

I had read stories and watched documentaries and news reports about Myanmar and I wondered what it was really like. Was it truly what the media had portrayed it to be?

So, when I was presented with an opportunity to be a part of the Professional Development Conference 2017 in Yangon, I jumped on board as soon as I could. Let me say here that it was an excellent decision.

Granted that Yangon is a major commercial centre and a large city and, thus, not an accurate representation of a country with more than 900 times the land area of Singapore and nearly 10 times as many inhabitants, it was still quite an experience to have met and conversed with the locals there.

I found them to be friendly and approachable, welcoming and ever-willing to lend a helping hand. Their culture is one of resourcefulness and I experienced a deep hunger in them to connect and to learn. I hope to be of service to them in the near future and onward.

I decided to expound on some of the observations I had while on this trip. Here they are:

1) Respect for the Buyer is Important

Walking through Bogyoke Market, there were hardly any touts or loud callers. It was nothing like the noisy 'fish markets' my primary school teachers used to compare my class to. The business practice seemed to be one where the buyer approached the seller only when he/she was ready to browse or buy, and only when the buyer was close will the seller start promoting his/her wares.

Many of the sellers I met had also invited me to return even when I was merely browsing. Those that I had bought from made it a point to remind me that I was always welcome to visit them again. There was an open-ness in their invitations and many even offered bottles of water and chairs to sit on while I was at their stalls.

This spoke to me of a respect that the seller had for the buyer, especially in terms of comfort and personal space. It was one of the reasons I so enjoyed the markets and street stalls in Yangon. I didn't feel the pressure of having to repeatedly decline sales-y advances and persistent offers to be of assistance when I didn't want any because there was always a respectful distance between buyer and seller that the seller did not close unless the buyer desires it.

2) Polite and Indirect Speech Works

Before my trip to Myanmar, I had heard that the locals use a lot of word play and indirect allusions to meanings in their conversations. Though I hardly understand the language, I see this 'indirect-ness' in many ways. 

When talking to many of the business owners I met, though they are glad and willing to talk about their business dealings, they rarely speak of their connections, no matter how impressive they may be, unless asked directly or the conversation obviously veers in that direction. 

This reminds me of the very British trait of indirect, polite speech, where the hearer is expected to listen carefully and deduce the meaning of the words spoken. It makes for high formality and a certain amount of rigid-ness (both are still stereotypical traits of the British even today) but it produces a culture of sophisticated social skills and less in-your-face confrontations.

Perhaps, being an ex-British colony, Myanmar has assimilated some of this into her own culture. Though I have to wonder why Singapore, also an ex-British colony, has lost all traces of this subtlety and social grace.

3) Communications Take Time

Being in a fast-paced modern society means that everything needs to happen 2 minutes ago.

In Yangon, though Wi-Fi and Internet services are as commonplace as honking vehicles (quite an annoyance, really), there is still a certain slow-ness of pace.

I found that e-mails aren't read and replied at the feverish pace most of us in Singapore are used to, messages are hardly acknowledged, let alone replied to, and even phone calls take repeated tries to get through.

It gets a little frustrating sometimes but, through prior experience, things eventually fall into place. Not always the way we wanted or expected them to, but they do work out somehow. 

This reflects the inventive-ness of the locals and it highlights their need to come up with unusual solutions in order to survive in a somewhat chaotic environment.

Things really do take time in Myanmar and this isn't necessarily a bad thing. If anything, we need to learn to slow down and smell the roses rather than expect everyone else to speed up. It will make for a more interesting life.

Busy Street - Yangon

My First Overseas Conference - PDC 2017 in Yangon

Late last month, I was in Yangon for the Professional Development Conference (PDC) 2017. It was held at the historic, beautiful Sule Shangri-La (previously known as Traders Hotel) in the heart of commercial activity in Yangon.

The conference brought professionals from various industries together to learn from the expertise of over 30 trainers from Singapore. I numbered one amongst them.

Educators of the Future - EOS

The style of the conference was such that there were five concurrent Executive Overview Sessions (EOS) occurring at any one time, excepting timeslots for breaks and lunch. Each attendee to the conference was free to attend any of these sessions, according to the areas of their interest. It was inevitable that some wished to attend sessions that have timing clashes. Nevertheless, feedback regarding this style of conference was positive.

Trainers who weren't training during a timeslot were free to attend other EOS's or network / mingle with other attendees.

Over the first 2 days of the conference, I got to meet a number of locals who were either currently part of the private education sector or intending to be part of it. In the following days, I learned that many of the other attendees were also interested in setting up training centres, pre-schools and/or tuition centres in the city.

It is heartening that the private education sector in Myanmar is taking the leap and spearheading changes in the way education is done there. 

I will follow up with some of the contacts I made and see how I may be of assistance to them. Who knows? I may be there for longer periods of time in the coming months.

At PDC2017

Celebrating Teachers' Day at the 132nd APTS Meeting

On 31st Aug 2017, I presented The Trainer's Toolbox at the 132nd APTS Meeting. 

Though it was targeted at newer trainers, the veteran trainers affirmed that they learned something as well. Now, before you think that they were just 'being nice', allow me to explain how the meeting went.

As a new initiative suggested by the committee of APTS, member speakers will give a presentation that will be subject to evaluation. Feedback will be given at the end of the presentation so that the speaker can be alerted to any possible blind spots and areas of improvement. This was all explained beforehand so the member speakers will know what they are getting themselves into.

I started my presentation by expounding on apples as fruit associated with knowledge. With that information in mind, I had a small gift for each trainer present. As they, too, are teachers, I gave each of them apple-flavoured candy. I had considered actual apples but I found candy to be more portable and less perishable.

The presentation proper continued, as I covered points on how to make any training session impactful by utilising specific techniques and taking certain actions.

Though my presentation went slightly overtime, it was well-received and I was applauded for keeping a consistent, polished delivery.

This was deemed worthy of comment as most of my fellow trainers agreed that, should they have known that they were being evaluated, they would have been more than a little distracted.

In turn, I assured them that it wasn't anything close to natural talent but a result of constant, dedicated practice over many years and that they, too, can achieve similar results.

The areas of improvement mainly revolved around the content I was using - how certain areas could be clarified further, certain parts could be more concise and other parts could be expanded. 

There was also a very useful bit of feedback on providing more audience-related examples. As the audience that evening would be trainers, the examples and stories to be presented could be more related to training and improving oneself as a trainer.

All in all, it was a fruitful (pardon the pun) evening and I am glad that many of the trainers took something useful back with them. If possible, I'd love to give another presentation.

After all, one can never get too much practice.

With David Lee

Meeting (and Shooting) Wesley

A few times in your life, you meet someone who inspires you to become a better version of yourself.

A few days ago, in the Google office here in Singapore, celebrating the launch of his book 'Finding Happiness', I met just such a person - Wesley.

Just prior to his book launch, there had been media stories about Wesley and quite a bit of fanfare surrounding this event, especially on social media. Nevertheless, being intentionally blind to the large amounts of information bombarding my news feeds on social media, I would not have paid much attention to it if not for my contact with a friend - one of the many people who wanted to help Wesley. Through him, I got a chance to know a little bit more about Wesley, his book and this event.

It was also through this friend that I volunteered to help during the event - as a photographer.

Through my own eyes and the lens of my camera, I saw the many people who were brought together with a common cause - to become a support and help to Wesley and his wife.

During the book launch, Wesley thanked everyone for their help, especially those who had come beside him since many years before. At numerous times, many were moved, some to tears, at the stories that were related on stage.

Through the event, his story, and by observing him and his interactions with others, there is no doubt that Wesley is a man of immense grit and determination. He has a great sense of humour and a charming personality. Though he is not always able to express it easily, all you have to do is look into his eyes and see how they sparkle with a light that has helped him overcome so very many difficulties that, for a weaker man, would have been insurmountable.

I will not relate Wesley's story here. He does it incredibly well on his own and there is no need or place for my take on it. If you haven't read or heard his story, I strongly encourage you to. There are numerous articles and other forms of media already online about him.

Most of all, I encourage you to get a copy of his book. You can do so here:

www.wesleycan.com/book

Wesley, thank you for showing us that, with dedication and resolve, we, too, can cross hurdles that once seemed too high for us. Thank you for sharing your story with us, that we may learn compassion and how important it is to show love and be of assistance to others who are in need. Most of all, thank you for being you, that we are able to draw inspiration from you and your faith in God.

Wesley and Lorena

Gen X? Millennial? Caught in the Middle?

Am I a Gen X or am I a Millennial?

According to Wikipedia, 

There are no precise dates for when this cohort (referring to Millennials) starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years.

Being born in the early 1980s, by this definition, I could be considered an early Millennial. At the same time, I may be a late Gen X instead. Again, according to Wikipedia,

There are no precise dates for when Generation X starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use starting birth years ranging from the early-to-mid 1960s and ending birth years ranging from the late 1970s to early 1980s.

Of course, the truth is that neither group is truly defined by their age. It has always been more of a set of characteristics and behaviours.

That said, there is likely no such person who embodies every single trait (and stereotype) of either group. Humans being humans, we are mixed bags.

I wondered about this when I noticed my reluctance to adopt now-popular social media platforms when they first started out. I knew of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like almost as soon as they became available to the general public but I was never among the first to use them.

Perhaps this has nothing to do with whether I am Gen X or a Millennial and more of me being a bit of a laggard (as opposed to the early adopters).

Even today, I am apprehensive of hiring transportation from private cars, much preferring to get to my destinations by regular taxis (even if I have to book them).

At the same time, I am no slouch when it comes to technology. I have been customising, upgrading and/or fixing up my own computers since I was a teenager, I trawl the Internet for information on maximising my use of computer programs or fixing technological issues that I face (usually very successfully), and I insist on being able to customise my own technological devices - a core reason for my refusal to use a particular brand associated with the fruiting body of the Malus genus.

I recognise some stereotypical Millennial behaviours in myself, such as:

1) Researching product information on the Internet before making a purchase

2) Insisting on finding meaningful work

3) Disliking other people taking up unnecessary amounts of my time

Yet, I hardly exhibit other stereotypical Millennial behaviours, such as:

a) Viewing social media 'influencers' with large followings as celebrities

b) Embracing the Sharing Economy

c) Desiring a workplace that is social and 'fun'

It got me thinking: Aren't behaviour molded by cultures? Since the Millennials are the ones growing up with all this technology around them, is it any wonder that the behaviours forged by technology are picked up most quickly by those who are most deeply immersed in those same technologies?

With high Internet speeds, we become less patient. With mass production, we find blending in easy. With ready information anytime anywhere, we become less easily satisfied and more skeptical of what is presented before us.

The behaviours of a stereotypical Millennial, then, aren't so much to do with when the individual was born but, more likely, how readily they he/she has taken to the available technology. After all, there are 'aunties' and 'uncles' who exhibit the very same behaviours we ascribe to Millennials, and who embrace the fast-paced, high-tech lifestyle of the 'young people'.

So, am I a Gen X or a Millennial? 

I guess it doesn't really matter, does it? 

Smartphone

There are No 'Talented' Photographers. There are Only Disciplined Ones.

Photography is not about how good the camera is. It's about how good the photographer is. 

This has been my belief since I started snapping pictures with a simple film camera when I was in Secondary One.

I didn't realise it then but the pictures I took of my Secondary School are priceless treasures today, especially since CCHMS now looks very different after the numerous 'upgrades' it has gone through.

From that simple film camera, which I believe I still have somewhere, I moved on into the digital age with a digital point-and-shoot camera. At that time, a 2-megapixel camera was about the best that a typical person could get without spending thousands of dollars. That's what I got.

As technology sped forward, cameras became loaded with more and more features as well as more and more megapixels, which, as it turns out, don't really matter when it comes to image quality unless you are printing movie poster sizes.

That's right, all those camera salespeople you've been listening to? They've been selling you what is effectively a useless feature.

I traded up into the prosumer level of cameras in the late 2000s. I got myself a Panasonic FZ28, which resides in my dry cabinet to this day. The reason I didn't go straight into the world of DSLR was that I didn't feel it was necessary to do so and that I didn't have that much disposable income at the time. The image quality of my Panasonic was pretty good as it was, the camera was light and fairly compact, and I was still learning the art.

It was only after a few more years that I felt ready to shoot with a DSLR. By this time, I had learned a few things:

1) To see the shot before making it

2) To follow the rules before breaking them

3) Above all, to be patient

To make use of what I've learned, I bought a second-hand Nikon D90 and have been using it for the past 6 years. In that time, I learned:

4) To work with light before manipulating it

5) To change settings according to the scene

6) To post-process photos without over-processing them

On Friday, after more than 6 years, I made my latest upgrade. I got a second-hand (though still new enough to have more than 10 months of warranty left) Nikon D7500 - a model that was just released in June this year.

In the few days that I've used it, I was able to tell why many people make constant upgrades to their camera bodies. My newest camera made it much easier to capture what I wanted to capture without having to constantly change settings or manipulate light and the surroundings. 

That said, an advanced camera can only produce results that are as good as the eye behind it. Without the years of conditioning and training to make better pictures, I would only have a great camera that produced pictures that were a little above average at best.

I still have a long way to go in learning photography and I hope that, some time soon, I'll be able to add another 3 points to the list of things that I've learned.

Curving Lamp

To My Pioneer Group of Students from Chung Cheng High (Main)

A decade has passed since first we were introduced in a smallish but, thankfully, air-conditioned room on the 2nd floor of the new(er) study block in CCHMS.

You were new to life in Secondary School and I was new to the world of training.

A number of you knew (or came to knew later) that Chung Cheng High (Main) was my Secondary School. As such, I was elated to have been offered an opportunity to give something back to my alma mater. I am glad that you were the ones I could render this service to.

There were times of boring instruction, times of necessary discipline and times of intense focus. Above all, there were times of fun and sessions of learning.

Though some of you have professed to me in recent years that you had forgotten almost everything I had taught you in the DNA Hub, I know that there were moments that you remembered. I hope that they will always have a place in your memory.

In the past weeks, many of you have graduated from University - my heartiest Congratulations to you! - and had arranged for photoshoots in your now-alma mater. Clearly, CCHMS is dear to you. I hope that she will always be, as she is to me.

We no longer share a teacher-student relationship and I will not be presumptuous enough to assume that we are now friends, though I have at least one colleague amongst you and fairly regular correspondence with others. For that, I am thankful.

Wherever life takes you from this moment on, know that you can always count on your family and friends to support you. Though there will be down times, never feel embarrassed to reach out for help. And, of course, when times are good, share your joys with others.

To reach your goals, be resilient and always remember that a situation may fail, but that does not make you a failure. Look up and carry on. That is how success is made.

If you are able to, find a mentor, perhaps even different ones for different aspects of your life. It is true that information is readily available at your fingertips today. Nevertheless, it can never substitute real-life experience that your mentor(s) can bring.

You may not know it, but I learned from you, perhaps more than I ever taught you in return. In that vein, realise that you are an influence to the people around you and that you have an impact on them. Strive to be a positive one.

I wish you the brightest of futures, the richest of experiences and the deepest of relationships. May you discover your path early, may you find favour with those with whom you interact and may your future endeavours leave a legacy that will swell your heart when you look back upon what you've accomplished.

Here's to your journey ahead and the many adventures you will embark upon! Oh, what adventures they will be.

CCHMS Lake View

Hosting the 131st APTS Meeting and Meeting Dean Shams

On Thursday night, I was privileged to have hosted the 131st APTS meeting. 

Our VP, Eugene Seah, shared about ensuring that we are always bettering ourselves so that we can be ready to take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves. He also advocated the use of self-recorded videos of our presentations, that clients can have a preview of what we offer before they decide if we are suitable for their training requirements.

These are excellent reminders and I shall record a more recent video of my training. The last one was taken quite a few years ago and has been lying dormant in a folder in my computer.

Next, we had Dean Shams to take the platform. Dean has an impressive skillset, one that many of us would be proud to have. He regularly writes articles of 400 words or more in 30 minutes or less.

As an author myself, I know how difficult it is. I had much to learn.

The first thing he told us was that Writers' Block was imaginary. It appears only because we believe we have it.

He had only 3 main steps, which all sound all-too-easy:

Step One: Plan

Step Two: Write

Step Three: Edit

That's it? Well, not quite. He was quick to add that each step has to stand alone and that mixing them is a sure way of slowing down your progress.

What that means is: When you're planning, don't write or edit. When you're writing, don't edit or plan. When you're editing, stop planning or adding content.

Next, he broke it down for us:

1) Write to one person

2) Have an opinion, starting from your emotions

3) Write your main message in 10 words or less so you'll know if you're going off course

4) Focus on at least 1 of 3 outcomes: Think, Feel, Do

5) Start with the conclusion (in 3 sentences)

6) Write 3 points you want to make, then elaborate on them

7) Finish writing, then edit

Dean then got all of us to get down to do each step in a minute (yes, he kept time) each (though he gave us 2 minutes each for points 5 and 6). 

He then gave us 15 minutes to write our 400-word article and many of us managed to do so. I actually finished with a couple of minutes to spare and I was very impressed at how systematic the whole thing was. I then resolved to use this system to produce more articles.

Finally, Dean ended off by letting us know how we can connect with him and made copies of his book - Speak Smart, Make Your Mark - available to us. Needless to say, I got myself a copy. He also informed us of a 1-day workshop that he regularly conducts on writing to influence. The next upcoming one is on 26 August.

Thank you, Dean, for your valuable insight, and for making this session a powerful, highly practical one. I hope to learn much more from you in the near future.

With Dean Shams

Especially For Authors: Getting Your Message Out There!

It is never enough to merely write and publish a book. The next step is to get it into the hands of others. That's where it gets tricky. Thankfully, I'm getting guidance and advice from the best in the business.

1) Design Graphics for use in social media

Whether your book is published by a mainstream publisher or you're a self-published author, it needs to be seen by other people, and there is no wider audience than on social media

Weeks to months before printing, the cover of the book has to be finalised and it should be designed to catch the eye. Thus, unless you're a designer yourself, get one to come up with a custom design for you.

Yes, sites like Canva are very useful for putting your own graphics together and I highly recommend them for your regular posts on social media. However, this isn't just any typical graphic. 

A professionally designed book cover allows you to stand out from the thousands of uninspiring book covers out there. When people see your cover, they will associate it with you and what you represent - your brand. Do you really want them to come away with a poor impression of you?

Once your book cover is finalised, use its colour scheme for graphics associated with the book (and, by extension, you as the author). These graphics may include social media banners, profile pictures, marketing materials and so on. Keeping things consistent is the key here. Again, I recommend that you get a designer to do these things for you, at least for the first run. You can do your tweaks and changes on your own later.

These graphics will make your book more visible over social media and invariably lead to increased interest in what you have written, which leads to more people reading your book. 

2) Tell Others about your book

Along with the appropriate graphics, write an introduction for your book. Tell others what it's about and what they can learn from it. Show them how this book will improve their lives / make them happier / allow them to do things they didn't know they could etc.

A side-effect of telling others about your book is that you have now publicly committed to this project. This makes you much more likely to complete it, especially since others will keep asking when they can get a copy of it.

Another useful side-effect is the attention those outside of your circle will start to pay towards you and your book. One of these people may be linked to media outlets and help you gain yet more publicity. 

With regard to publicity, look for opportunities to share what you've written about - be it through workshops, speaking engagements, media appearances and so on. While you are keeping a lookout, continue to update your captive audience via social media.

You aren't expecting every single person who hears about your book to get a copy but the more people hear about it, the more people will want one. Don't keep such a great work to yourself. Share it with others and let them benefit from your book.

3) Give Copies of your book away

What? Really?

Yes. Give them to people who helped you on your book-writing journey, to your clients (current and potential), and, of course, to your loved ones.

Run contests on social media where you give a copy away as a prize. Give one to that brave soul who first stands up to answer your question when you are giving a talk. Give extra copies to people who know others who may benefit from your book.

You are trying to get your book into as many hands as possible. Though it may seem like an expensive way to do so, giving the book away works. Very well.

Throughout my journey as an author, I was constantly reminded that book sales aren't what I should focus on. They will come and they are important in keeping authors writing (otherwise, we'll have to find other paying professions), but my main priority should be in getting my message out there.

After all, that's why I wrote the book in the first place.

Meeting Gerry Robert and Travon Taylor Over the Weekend

Over the weekend, I re-attended a familiar event.

This was none other than the Publish A Book And Grow Rich (PABGR) Bootcamp.

What was a little different this time around was that Gerry had a co-speaker - Travon Taylor.

Cutting an impressive physique, Travon shared that he was in the Marines, served in Iraq, and later became a state champion boxer. When I met him in person on the last day (Sunday), I could tell that his experiences in these arenas had helped forge him into who he is today - a disciplined, determined individual with a drive to impact (no pun intended) those around him.

I was glad to have been able to speak with him for a couple of minutes before duty called him away (again, no pun intended).

Remus with Travon

Gerry, the ever-charismatic speaker, was a little elusive this time. I wasn't able to get an opportunity to take a photo with him, so here's one from 3 years ago, when I first met him:

Remus with Gerry

I also met a fellow introvert. He enjoyed the learning process of being at the bootcamp and told me that he was interested in learning more about being a published author. I left him my contact details and he assured me that, once he had organised his thoughts, he'd drop me a note.

It's hard not to be inspired when you just spent a couple of days with highly positive, driven individuals as Gerry and Travon.

For those of you who have been asking when my book will be out, I'm here to tell you that the date is drawing very close (yes, really really close).

The Introvert Teacher - Stack

I Learned About The Joy of Blessings in Cambodia

I just got back from Cambodia a few days ago, having been there on a mission trip with Project Khmer Hope.

They have 3 centres outside of Phnom Penh, which the team visited. However, due to my schedule, I had to return to Singapore earlier than the rest of the team so I was only able to visit 1 of the centres - the closest one, which was a 2-hour drive from the city.

This centre is in the Kampong Speu province and it provides English lessons as well as vocational training for Cambodian youths so they can join the hospitality industry once their training is over. 

I learned that the students' training is fully subsidised by the training centre and its supporting bodies, which makes it a truly remarkable opportunity for the youths, who apply to be students in droves. However, since the centre is limited in its size and staff, it can only take in a set number of students every year, and only after a stringent selection process.

I was there to visit and identify the needs of the centre so that, when I come back in the near future, I will be more equipped to help out - perhaps in a teaching role or in some other way.

As I had never been to Cambodia, I didn't know what to expect. I certainly didn't expect to receive such a striking revelation as this:

We had a 'Concert Night' for the youths at the training centre and asked them to volunteer themselves as performers. We ended up with a fair number of solo performances and a few group items.

From the very first performer (who sang), the audience was exuberant, enthusiastic and excited. They clapped along, sang along and encouraged the performers.

To a Singaporean used to apathy and indifference in audiences, this was quite a pleasant surprise.

It wasn't only the audience that taught me something, though. The performers themselves put great thought and energy into doing their very best.

The final performance was a skit. Though it was in Khmer, which I didn't understand, the body language, movement and energy were unmistakable. These were committed performers and they had clearly put in as much practice as they could in the short time that they had. When the skit came to nearly a close, the audience erupted in applause. You would think that this was enough to end the night. We weren't quite there yet.

The actors then broke out into song and almost everyone jumped up out of their places and danced with so much passion and intensity, it was quite a sight to behold. There was pure joy etched into the faces of every person there.

Yet, this was not the end of the night. The highlight for them was still to come. They would light an enormous campfire, an annual tradition there, and would continue to dance and sing for the next few hours around the fire.

It struck me later that their overflowing joy and the ease with which they express and experience it is a true blessing. I wonder if I have ever truly experienced such joy in such measure.

Though the word 'blessing' is often associated with resources and means, I now find this to be erroneous. Certainly, our financial prosperity isn't to be sniffed at, but think of how little of this joy we see in rich, affluent Singapore. 

Through this trip, short as it was, I learned an important point: a blessing can take many forms but it can never be material. It is, if anything, an intangible feeling or sense that, at least for that moment, all is as it should be.

I went to visit the centre in Cambodia because I wanted to see how I can contribute there.

I did not expect to be the one taking something back with me.

Cambodian Mission Day

Your Opinion Doesn't Matter (or Does It?)

A number of things have been hitting our headlines in the past week or so, while I've been out of Singapore.

The most intense bit of news (at least based on the frequency it seems to be appearing) would be that of the now-publicised Lee family dispute. While I have my views on the matter, I will not speculate or discuss them until more facts arise. 

It's always tempting to grab any bit of information that supports one's worldview and shoot off a quick opinion piece or blast a scathing reply on the comment sections. However, it's almost never the best thing to do. Without calmly sifting through the information, putting the pieces together or asking more questions, how can we expect to form a well-informed opinion?

Of course, this is an unavoidable consequence of our ever-connected world of social media. Everyone has an opinion and many people think that their opinion is as valid as anyone else's, so everyone else should listen to what they have to say.

This, of course, cannot be further from the truth. 

First of all, not all opinions are equal. Some opinions are more valid than others.

As an example, a doctor who has been practising medicine for 20 years is far more qualified than even, say, a highly-regarded lawyer to say whether or not Vitamin C helps us recover from a cold.

An experienced electrician would be a far better person to ask about your flickering lights than an insurance agent.

A trained chef will be able to give you better advice on how to keep your steaks moist while grilling them than an IT professional will.

Experts in a field are far more qualified than the general population when it comes to their area of expertise. As such, it stands to reason that their opinions in those areas are far more valid than ours.

Secondly, the freedom to express does not equate to a freedom from responsibility.

Yes, we are able to post what we want where we want. Some people take this to mean that they should speak or type thoughtlessly without regard for others or for their own image.

Anything you post on social media or in a public setting is now part of public domain. You cannot suddenly decide that you are no longer going to take responsibility for what you say/do there. Neither can you blame a moment of folly or a 'slip of the tongue/thumb' for your comments or writing.

If you are going to put up information or opinions, then you will have to take responsibility for them. If you can't or don't want to, then keep them to yourself.

Thirdly, we can agree to disagree.

If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary. 

Just because someone does not agree with you, it doesn't mean that you have to always convince them to agree. It's fine to question and debate. Let's not degrade a possibly fruitful discussion to name-calling and insults.

Every disagreement can be an opportunity to learn instead of a mere bone of contention. We can learn of different viewpoints as well as how different people think.

Just as we want to be heard, shouldn't we allow others to be heard as well?

3 Steps To Getting Focused

In the past week, I completed a large project with a local primary school - to train their P5s for the upcoming Science Olympiad. It took 4 days of 4 hours each and I felt it  to be a little too intense for them. I realised that many of the participants didn't have enough prior knowledge to complete a large percentage of the test questions so I had to bring them up to speed in as little time as possible. 4 years' worth of Science education in 4 days of 4 hours? Well, we tried.

A glaring oversight was that the Primary students of today are getting less and less able to remain attentive for long periods of time. It was immensely difficult for them to sit still for the time of each session, let alone focus long enough to absorb the information.

Gratifyingly, though, I noticed that there were a few who could.

Perhaps all is not yet lost to touchscreens and other devices for instant gratification, including those incredibly annoying 'fidget spinners'.

If you're thinking of getting one such 'spinner' for your child or someone else's child, please don't. They really don't need another distraction. Instead, they need to learn to focus on their tasks at hand.

Focusing is difficult even for adults, what with the myriad distractions around us. As such, I've found it very useful to do a few things to help me focus:

1) Have a dedicated work space and work routine

This means setting a specific part of your desk to do work at. Use that space for nothing else but work. When you want to take a break, move out of that space so you don't end up mixing its use. It sounds like a lot of bother but, being creatures of habit, it will really help once you get this going.

If you're the nomadic type, like me, then you need to set up a strong work routine, since your work space will keep changing. Still, try to keep one such space at home, if possible.

For your routine, once you fire up the laptop, you immediately open a document file (or PowerPoint or Excel file, whatever you're working on) before you start trying to connect to the Wi-Fi, which will likely lead you to waste time doing endless searches on Google or some other site. 

If you prefer to write, start writing the date once you crack open your notebook / organiser.

2) Record EVERYTHING down

I create a 7 Day Plan for myself, in Excel format, in which I have the things I need to do each day already typed out. It doubles as my secondary calendar of events, because I can occasionally lose track of things.

I also keep a notepad-type app on the home screen of my mobile phone. On it, there is a To-do List that I check at certain intervals every day. Any time I think of something that needs doing, in it goes. Every time something gets done, it gets ticked off (and removed).

By having all these things down and ready for the days ahead, I don't have to waste space in my mind on remembering where I need to be tomorrow or what I need to get done later.

3) Announce your focused time slots

Let people around you know not to bother you at specified time slots. These will be the periods during which you do what you have to do.

This may be difficult in an office environment or if you work from home but try anyway. Once others know you have a routine set up, they will learn to respect your time and you will find fewer distractions.

You may even find your co-workers or family reminding you that you need to get work done when your time slot nears.

Last Night, I Learned How To Create Videos for Udemy and How To Write More Effectively

After 2 months of absenteeism, I finally managed to attend another APTS Meeting last night.

The speakers were Andy Ng, who spoke on producing Udemy videos for (nearly) free, and Walter Lim, who spoke on writing to get leads.

Andy showed us that, with the right equipment and know-how, it wasn't that difficult to produce an online course that could meet Udemy's standards. All we needed was a camera (on a mobile device), a camera stand (with an appropriate head), a video-editing app like VideoShow, PowerPoint installed on the same mobile device, a bluetooth headpiece with a mic, and content that we wanted to turn into a course. Easy peasy!

Of course, it wouldn't be too difficult to get better equipment if we are so inclined but Andy was insistent that there was no need. The most expensive bit of equipment was the bluetooth headpiece, which should be tested for high sound quality before buying.

Andy showed us how the apps he used worked and he showed us some of his finished videos, encouraging us to do the same. Of course, they aren't as polished-looking as 'professional' videos, but they certainly cost a lot less and still get the job done.

One thing that bothered me was Andy's speaking style, which was a little too opinionated for me and he had a tendency to go off-tangent. Also, there were a few times when he spoke rather condescendingly about other trainers who charged fees for helping others to put up Udemy videos. Perhaps he was trying to insert some humour into his presentation. However, I feel that he missed the mark and has, regrettably, adversely affected my impression of him.

Nevertheless, I won't associate a person's manner with the knowledge he has. If the information is useful, it should still be accepted and acted upon as it is.

Our second speaker was Walter Lim.

He told us that he wrote for a living and had been doing so for a very long time. His company name is Cooler Insights and they work with their clients to produce social media content and to direct traffic to their sites.

Being quite an writing expert, he emphasised the importance of an eye-catching visual, a powerful headline and a strong lead-in for any writing that we do. This is especially important for long articles and blog posts.

He also showed us the importance of incorporating appeals to Search and Social functions when we write and he also gave us links to useful tools and resources online such as Google Trends, SEMrush, Buzzsumo to look up trends and Freepik, Pixabay and Unsplash for visuals.

It's a lot to take in all at once but I'll certainly be putting Walter's advice to write regularly and consciously to practice.

Thanks, Walter.

Guess Who's Back!

Many apologies for the long absence. Major events have been occurring and I just got back from Taiwan after my honeymoon.

Yes, in the month or so since my last post, I'm blissfully married, had a number of photoshoots and been to Taiwan - Taipei and Hualien - on honeymoon.

So many thoughts to organise, so many things to express. It'll likely take a few posts but I'm confident that I'll be able to put it all together.

In the meantime, I hope you and yours are well. 

Stay tuned for more updates in the coming days ahead!

Yes, that's a motorcycle coming towards me!

Yes, that's a motorcycle coming towards me!

Flu Season

Been down with a pretty bad bout of flu the past couple of weeks and it got pretty bad around the time I had a back-to-back sessions in schools. 

It gets really difficult to teach when you're coughing constantly and are in real danger of losing your voice.

In a few cases, I had to cut down on explanations because there was simply no way of getting more than a few sentences out before the coughing began.

Now that I'm better, I'm going to be even more mindful than ever about taking care of my health and my vocals. Since I am dependent on speaking to earn an income, it is imperative that I be able to speak.

So, in the coming months, more rest, more water, less unhealthy food.

Need to be back in top form!

Is Mental Wellness Regarded as Unimportant?

Yesterday, I did a project management workshop for a local secondary school (of a rather high caliber). The purpose of this was to get the students into groups to promote a lifestyle to their fellow schoolmates.

They were given choices of topics ranging from increasing exercise time to smoking prevention. As there were more groups than topics, many groups worked on the same topic but managed to produce diverse ideas without consulting each other - evidence of the power of many minds.

What stood out to me was that none of the groups chose to promote mental wellness.

I originally attributed this to a possible lack of knowledge on the subject or that the topic was too broad. However, as I started to think about it, I wondered if it was simply regarded as unimportant compared to a healthy physical lifestyle, good eating habits and abstinence from tobacco and alcohol.

Perhaps this occurred due to a non-emphasis on mental health, that stress, anxiety and depression are seen as normal in our society.

There is no doubt that we are always told to 'Chin up!' and get on with what we are supposed to do, to fake confidence in the face of uncertainty and even to hide mental disorders or risk being stigmatised by others as 'crazy' or 'insane'.

Is this really the way we want the next generation to grow up believing? That nobody wants to hear about their problems and that they need to handle their issues on their own? Is this why we are becoming so cold and uncaring?

Thoughts to ponder upon...

The Scream

A Commemorative Dinner, A Book Launch, An Opportunity to Collaborate

On Wednesday, I attended an event at SAFRA Toa Payoh - 'Lest We Forget' - a dinner to commemorate the passing of our Senior Minister Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and to work towards continuing his legacy of nation-building and raising up future leaders.

The event was organised by the SG100 Foundation (yes, the same one that organised the SG100 Carnival in January this year) and it was a huge affair - 500 people across many industries, of various expertise and with myriad life experiences.

I met familiar faces and connected with some whom I only knew by name. I also got to meet new people and I look forward to working with them on future projects and collaborations.

The event was also a book launch of B.O.L.D: Be Outstanding Living Your Dreams. This is a book containing interviews of 10 inspiring individuals who have impacted and changed lives, in which they share their experiences and offer nuggets of wisdom to the future generations.

I was particularly interested in the interview with Fandi (Ahmad), for whom I did the photoshoot in February. It's always a pleasure to know that your work is good enough to be published and immortalised in a book.

The book will be available in bookstores very soon!

Spot a Social Faux Pas? Just Speak Up!

A few days ago, I was on the right side of the upper deck of a bus and reading a book when someone a few seats away on the left side of the bus suddenly decided to watch a video at close-to-maximum volume on his mobile phone.

The bus wasn't very crowded but there was a middle-aged man, also on the left side, a few seats in front of the video-watcher, who turned to glare his disapproval. Without saying a word, of course.

My initial instinct was to just ignore the situation, but the video started to produce high-pitched sounds, made worse by the tiny speakers.

It was too much to bear, so I looked up from my book and said to the video-watcher, "Hi. Could you turn the volume down, please?" in (what I assume) was a neutral tone, though I'm pretty sure some annoyance went through. I wasn't exactly smiling.

The video-watcher fumbled a little with the phone but brought the volume much lower, to which I said, "Thank you."

The rest of the bus journey went on rather smoothly, though I did catch myself wondering how unpleasant it would have been if I had just kept quiet.

We have a slightly odd culture here of staying silent when things need to be said. Most Singaporeans will simply stare at the social offender, hoping that he/she will realise the social faux pas he/she is committing and 'automatically' rectifying it. 

I'm sure we've all witnessed this every now and then and it would be great if social offenders realise on their own what they are doing.

Unfortunately, it's far more likely that they are thinking more along the lines of, "If no one is telling me to stop, then I don't have to stop," or "If someone is bothered by what I'm doing, they'll speak up."

Perhaps they don't even realise that what they are doing is annoying other people. Some people are really, really lousy at reading facial cues and body language.

The only way they will know is if somebody tells them.

Of course, most of us would say that it's none of our business or that we would rather be nice and suffer in silence.

I've come to a realisation that we have to speak up, not just to allay the annoyance, but also to educate these people that what they are doing is not alright.

There are 3 things that I think will help:

1) A polite request for a specific change in behaviour

"Could you lower the volume, please?" is likely going to work a lot better than "Shut that phone up!"

2) Rehearse in your head before you speak

This is so you will hear yourself saying it first. Listen for unnecessary angry words or sarcasm and remove them. You want to effect a change, not start a fight.

3) Make normal eye contact

Glaring and staring are rude in and of themselves. Look at the person in the same way that you would someone with whom you were going to have a conversation.

The next step?

Just Speak Up!

Squawk