The Curse of Knowledge

In 1990, there was an experiment done in Stanford University by Dr. Elizabeth Newton for her Ph.D. In the experiment, she assigned 2 groups of people with 2 roles: Tappers & Listeners. (Hat tip to Made to Stick)

Tappers received a list of well-known songs and were asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener by knocking on a table. The listener’s job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped.

Out of 120 times the songs were tapped, only 3 times the listeners got it right. Tappers had predicted in the beginning that at least 50% guesses would be correct.

What actually happens here is that, when I am tapping, the song is playing in my head. Happy-birthday-to-you. But it is not being played in your heads. As a listener, you don’t have the knowledge which I already have i.e. the rhythm of the song. When I tap, I assume that you should be able to guess easily, but that doesn’t really happen.

This, my friends, is called “The Curse of Knowledge”. It happens when having prior knowledge prohibits us from delivering the message across to the other party in a manner in which is not fully understood. Through my speech, I will attempt to indulge you in the practice of trying to make your message clearer and understandable.

Most often we mistake communication as a one-sided activity. We assume that if we have done our part of imparting the knowledge, the receiving party has understood everything. For example, when an engineer tries to explain some simple technology to a layman. We have all been through there, haven’t we? Have you ever tried to make your parents understand something you find very easy? Say using Instagram or installing Dropbox or even sending voice note on WhatsApp? Wasn’t there a struggle?

Lesson 1 of Communication, therefore, is when you communicate, get to the level of the person/audience you are speaking to.

Aaron Beverly, the 1st Runner Up of World Championship of Public Speaking 2016, had a 57-word title. 57-word title! And when he came up on the stage, all he said was “Just because you say more, it doesn’t mean that people will remember what you said.” It simply means that when we are giving some information to others, giving a lot of information won’t do any good. A 1000 word speech might not make the same impact as a 100-word speech. What you speak counts, not the amount you speak.

Lesson 2 of Communication, therefore, is when you communicate, don’t assume that more information means more understanding.

I will share a very small story to illustrate Lesson 3.

When World War 2 was towards its fag end around mid-1945, after victory in Europe, the Allied leaders Truman, Churchill, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-Shek called for Japan’s unconditional surrender. When Japanese Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki was asked by reporters about the surrender, he uttered a single word, “Mokusatsu.”  Depending on context, mokusatsu has several meanings. Prime minister meant “No comment.” But, the meaning which was translated back to the Allies was “Not worthy of comment”. We all know what happened next.

Lesson 3 of Communication, therefore, is when you communicate, try to pay attention to the context.

In business, in work, in a relationship, we all suffer from the curse of knowledge. We often communicate in a way, which makes our message either diluted or exaggerated. We suffer from the knowledge imbalance like the Tappers and Listener.

Whenever next time you are talking to someone, or giving a presentation, or giving a speech in a Toastmasters Club, try to not get into the trap of ‘The Curse of Knowledge’. Rather, try to avoid it by remembering these 3 lessons of Communication which I have shared today.

One, understand your audience.

Two, don’t assume things.

Three, Context matters.

 

The above was my speech at Toastmasters Club Meeting on Jan 10, 2019. It went pretty well.

Some accolades of our club

So I recently watched: The Founder and this is not a review but yet another Toastmasters Post

I have taken over as the President of my organization’s Toastmasters Club. Again. Below is my presidential address of acceptance. You may read it for some motivation. Enjoy!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Founder

The Founder

Recently, I happened to watch a movie called “The Founder”. It was about a businessman called Ray Kroc, who was the chairman of the McDonald’s corporation. Although the movie is called ‘The Founder’ as Ray Kroc liked himself to be called as ‘The Founder’ of the restaurant chain McDonald’s, he was not the actual founder. He used to be Milk-shake maker salesman. He used to sell these machines door to door with mediocre success. By chance when he saw the 1st McDonald’s restaurant, he was amazed. He was super-impressed with the efficiency of the place, he had an epiphany. He quickly developed an idea. What he did was to show and convince the actual founders of McDonald’s, 2 brothers named Richard and Maurice McDonald, that what they could be. He worked diligently hard on the franchise model and made McDonald’s a household name throughout the world. He wasn’t the original founder, but he adopted the brand and made it so successful.

There was one very important line in that movie which Ray Kroc often used to say to himself, and I quote:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of good old persistence. Talent won’t. Nothing’s more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius won’t. Unrecognized genius is practically a cliche. Education won’t. Why the world is full of educated fools.

Persistence and determination alone are all powerful.”

I strongly believe in the concept of Persistence being the only difference between those who succeed and those who don’t. The never say die, winners never quit, quitters never win attitude, is the only way to be successful.

Coming back to our club, Toastmasters wasn’t founded by us. Neither this Club was founded by us. At least most of us sitting here. But in Trailblazers Toastmasters Club, we found an opportunity. When we joined the club we found this an opportunity to not only to become better communicators and better leaders but also, an opportunity to make difference in each other’s lives. Of course, there were and there will be numerous ups and downs. But together, we will persist and overcome all the challenges.

Now, please note, this is very important and might sound harsh. While I certainly do accept the responsibility and I will try my best to fulfill this position. I have to say this:

In our club, there lies a lot of potential. Each and every member present here has a lot of hidden talent. But most members suffer from a problem which can be summed by just one word: Hesitation. We hesitate. We need some push. Some external stimuli. Some catalyst. Some trigger.

It might sound totally weird but instead, what I am telling you is to assume that you have no President and no officers. Still, since you are paying money to Toastmasters, you have to run the club yourself. You have to volunteer for roles, you have to fill in for back-out, you have to spend time in helping others by being the timer, the ah-counter, and you have to represent your club everywhere else. We are totally open to all the new ideas. We encourage you to come up on the stage and bring out whatever talents you have. Just remember, the Trailblazers Toastmasters Club, should be a Trailblazer where members have full freedom to do whatever want to achieve their goals.

You, yourself, have to keep the club running. All Officers have an equally important job as yours and they have the same 24 hours as you have. We all know ours is a corporate club. We have to make the best of what we have in our hands.

Can we do it? Can we do it? Can we do it?

Having said that I would like to say that the set of officers we have had in the past term tried their best and they were indeed successful in achieving a lot. I would like to thank and congratulate the past term of officers, who did a fabulous job and took the club to greater heights.

<I thanked all the officers here>

Last but not least, fellow Trailblazers, a leader is nothing but a contributor with a fancy title. I would like to thank you all for trusting me, once again. I can summarise my way of contribution by stating just 3 things:

Doing > Planning > Sitting idle and let things happen to you.

I am pretty sure, all of you will help me and each other and will work towards our common goals. There is a lot of potential in all of us. It might not always be in speaking, but in so many other aspects. Look at the things, you do best and use that to be the best.

Remember, if you keep at it, you will do it. Persistence is the only way to succeed. All the best to all of you! Thank you!

Serious Pose

Serious Pose

Leadership Dip or Trip

It was a Monday morning at 10 AM in an office in New York. Like all over the world, people had the same groggy look on their faces. To their surprise, when they entered, they saw a big poster on the door of the building. It said

“The person who wanted to stop your growth has passed away. Please join us at 11 AM in the cafeteria to pay respect to the deceased”.

It came as a shocker to everyone. Not only they felt bad that someone had passed away, but they also had the curiosity to know that who was the person who was stopping their growth.

When they reached the cafeteria, they saw a coffin lying in the middle. On top of it, there was a placard which said,

“The person who wants to stop your growth lies here.”

When they opened the coffin, there was nobody. There was just a mirror, showing the reflection of the person who opened the coffin.

Well, the moral of the story is simple: The only one person who can make or break us is we ourselves. It is up to only us, to get ourselves out of the problems we might face.

The person most easily to blame is someone superior to you. Most of us are engineers here and when asked why did they do engineering, their replies are mostly because their parents pushed them to it. True, isn’t it!

And when it comes to their jobs, most of the blame goes towards the managers. Am I wrong? We all know whom to blame for our bad days at the office.

Personally, I got the chance to actually start to lead and manage a team officially only in the last couple of years. Not only I was made the team lead at the office but I also became a Club Officer in my TM club. I always thought that I can contribute my best to the team when I will actually get a chance to lead it. Being a team member, I had my limitations, obviously. But to lead others and take decision for others is more difficult than any team member can think.

How many of you think that you will never be at a position where you have to make decisions for others? The leader is someone who leads and shows the way. You will be a leader at multiple points in life. Even when talking about non-professionally, you will become a parent someday and you will have to take decisions, sometimes tough, for your family.

So, with my experience, I learned a few things. The most important thing is that when you are the leader, you have nobody else to blame. If you cannot make others work for you, you have to try harder. So, how can we be the leader we all want to have? How can we take decisions for others? How can we behave as a leader? What all it takes to be a leader?

With those thoughts in mind, today, I will share some skills with you, which I found in a book I read called ‘Secrets of Leadership’ by Prakash Iyer. These few points really had a huge impact on me and helped me to understand the role of the leader in a much better way. I hope they have some impact on you too.

Analogy is that a leader is like a tea bag.

The real flavor comes through only when the teabag gets into hot water.

The real flavor comes through only when the teabag gets into hot water.

A teabag must be porous. They never mind where they are in the cup.

A teabag must be porous. They never mind where they are in the cup.

Sometimes, one teabag is just not enough. You need to add some sugar and milk.

Sometimes, one teabag is just not enough. You need to add some sugar and milk.

Someone else holds the string. Always. It’s all about how good the tea is. Not the teabag!

Someone else holds the string. Always. It’s all about how good the tea is. Not the teabag!

Eventually, teabags need to make way and get out.

Eventually, teabags need to make way and get out.

Just as the true flavor of a teabag comes through only when it is dipped in hot water, sometimes it needs pressure and adversity to bring out the leader in you.


The above was my speech for Toastmasters Pathways Level 2 Speech 1 for Visionary Communication about Leadership Styles. Obviously, I spoke more than the text above. I have deliberately not written much here as I tried to do this speech on the go, as in I didn’t prepare what I was going to speak. I just relied on the analogies and proceeded.

It went fine.

All the pics used above were courtesy Unsplash.com and Freepik.com.

 

Auto!!

On one fine Saturday morning, I was waiting at BTM Bus Stop. With only 30 minutes for the movie to start, I was in a rush to reach PVR at Forum Mall in Koramangala, which was just 2 KM from there. If I had taken a bus, it would surely have taken me more than 30 minutes or so, thanks to the place where time just slows down. Yes, the Silk Board. I had no other option but to take an Autorickshaw which could zigzag its way from the lanes and take me to my destination in time. After waiting for some time, I found one empty Autorickshaw coming my way. I waved my hand to make him stop. Despite being vacant, the driver just glanced at me but didn’t stop. Maybe he was in a hurry himself, maybe I wasn’t enough good looking, maybe I didn’t have Maybelline. Another Autorickshaw was passing by. I shouted “Auto!”, he stopped. When I asked him, he just said “Neh!” and moved along, still vacant on the same road where it could have taken me easily and earned money. In a minute another one came. I asked him whether he will take me or not. Nonchalantly, he said, “Oh Forum aa? 200 Rupees!” without any shame or regret on his face. He demanded 200 Rupees as if I had asked him to drop me at the Airport. I said, “It is just 2 KM”. He got disappointed to see that I knew how far it was. He said nope and went away. I decided to walk towards my destination find an auto on the way. There was supposed to be an auto-stand half a kilometer away as well. When I reached there, I found 3-4 autos standing there. I went to one and asked “Sir, Forum?” The driver who was reading a newspaper gave me looks as if I had asked his daughter’s hand for marriage. I said sorry for disturbing him and chugged along. I asked another one, he said “Ok, 20 rupees extra. Lot of traffic there!”. I was getting impatient now. I sighed “Let’s go.”. Finally, I reached in 20 minutes.

I’m sure this must have happened to you as well? Right? When you were just refused or were asked
for an exorbitant amount or had to shelve 20-30 Rupees extra?

Fortunately or unfortunately, Auto Rickshaws in India are the most common mode of transport, aren’t they? From small towns to big cities, you can find them everywhere. In fact, if you want to draw a picture of a market Scene in India, your picture will be incomplete unless you show a small yellow black toy looking 3-wheeler adorning the side of the road. I happened to read a blog post by a journalist Anand Ramachandran on Yahoo sometime ago. He, originally from Chennai, had just moved from Mumbai to Bangalore and he had an acute observation about Auto Rickshaws of all these cities. He said that while auto drivers of Mumbai are businessmen and part-time tourist guides, auto drivers of Chennai are basically gangsters. In Bangalore, they are hobbyists Autorickshaw drivers. He said that unlike other cities, Auto Rickshaws in Bangalore are just for aesthetic reasons and decorative purposes and serve no actual function. Maybe they are already very rich real estate owners themselves so they just don’t really care. To top all that, they live under a huge misconception that IT guys are rich people. IT guys and rich? Autorickshaws are going to take you for a ride, when they take you for a ride. Auto Rickshaws Drivers have personality of Dhanush but they carry the Attitude of Rajinikanth.

Love it or hate it, auto rickshaws are something which actually works in a place like India. They are small enough to get into any lane, no matter how narrow it could be and big enough to carry 3-4 people and even more if the driver decides to allow. He himself will sit in the smallest area possible to fit a human backside but if there is shared auto possible, he will easily fit 5-6 people without breaking much sweat. And the way they drive? They don’t really care how narrow or busy the street is. They still drive like James Bond and as a passenger, you have to hold whatever is available possible to save yourself. I had thought that after the inception of more buses, or cab services or even Metro, the attitude of Auto Rickshaws will improve but all in vain.

Did you think that through my speech I was going to present a solution to the menace of Autorickshaw Drivers? Nope. When we cannot improve after so many years, how will they? I guess, Autos in India suit our sensibilities as a nation. I just think when I will get fed up with my life as an IT engineer, I would become an Autorickshaw driver myself. And when some will call me to take them to any destination, I will demand at least 100 Rupees extra, just to see how it feels.

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Photo by Cassie Matias on Unsplash

Nice guys finish…

“Nice guys finish… last.”

How many of you have heard this quote?
My name is Abhinav, and I am a nice guy.

I believe that I am a nice guy because I am mostly nice to everyone. I don’t cheat in exams. I don’t honk much on the road. I pay my taxes on time. I stand during the National Anthem in the cinema hall, even when my mouth is full of popcorn. I fill in my appraisals, honestly. I don’t drink or smoke. I am also nice to animals by not eating them. But if you are a non-vegetarian, it is okay, you can be nice too. I am nice and modest. I am modest because I am saying that I am nice and I am not saying that I am great and all. Just nice. This is Toastmasters, not Boast-Masters (h/t to Jenny Locklin), after all.

In fact, I used to be very proud of being a nice guy until my college. Some time then, I used to have a crush on a classmate. I thought that I am so nice, she would never say no to me if I propose to her. When I just hinted my feelings to her, her reply changed my outlook about being nice for some time. She said, “Abhinav…”, I said “Yes…”. She said, “Abhinav, I know you are a nice guy..”. I blushed, smiled and thought, “Yes I know”. Then she said, “But… I already have a boyfriend.”

Being nice has its perks. But it also makes you a bit vulnerable. You make friends easily. But you also get friend-zoned. People consider you are reliable. But sometimes, they also take you for granted.

It is generally believed that being nice won’t take you further. You won’t be able to climb the ladders of success. You have to be clever and cunning to be successful. If you stay nice and average, you will stay nice and average. Never the best. You will lose your voice in the world where only the best of the best is praised. You will not be remembered for long.
But, let me tell you that if you are nice and average, you can achieve more than you think you can.

Despite all the odds faced by nice people, one thing is that their efforts will genuinely be remembered by other nice people. And I believe there are many nice people. Let me share a small anecdote.

I know a bit of photoshop and graphic designing and back in 2012, I made some Minimal Movie Posters which got some popularity on the Internet. Then, after a few days, I got a call. The voice at the other end said, “Hi Abhinav, I noticed your work. It is nice. Actually, I am a film-maker and I am making an Independent movie. I don’t have much cash, but could you help me by making some posters for my movie? I can pay you a bit, but not much.”. Being nice, I said, “Sure, I can try.” I made some posters for him and he paid me some amount. That movie did an alright business and life went on.

In 2016, he was making another feature film and this time, he was shooting in Bangalore. He asked all his friends in Bangalore if they wanted to be part of that movie. I pinged him and asked whether I can be a part too? He said, of course, come down and meet me. So, I went there and became a part of 2 scenes in a proper feature film.
Thus, I am nice, average and I have also worked in a movie.

So, my message to you all is that if you are nice and average, somewhere someone would take notice of you. You will get your due. All you have to do is to be nice and consistent. Never ever get bogged down with average success. Just remember, your day will come too, if not now, little later.

Lastly, when it comes to my family and educational background. In short, I come from Jaipur from a joint family. I have a younger brother and 4 cousins. I work as a Principal QA Analyst. I am married now and this speech is approved by my wife. In Toastmasters, I aim to be a nice public speaker and bring smiles to the audience.

I will leave you with this quote: “Nice guys don’t finish last. Nice guys finish, where they want to finish.” (Did Rahul Dravid say this?)
Back to Mr. Toastmaster!

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http://www.animationxpress.com/index.php/comics/graphic-india-releases-original-animated-mahabharata-series-18-days-on-youtube

Toastmasters Storytelling Project 5 : S.D.D.B.

American author John Hammond once said,

“The early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese”.

Toastmaster of the day, fellow Trailblazers and welcomed guests, life is nothing but a struggle. A struggle to get things done, in the way we want. We try to convince our boss to give us a better salary. We try to convince our kids to not to spend too much time on mobile phones. We try to convince our partners to give us the remote. We even try to convince ourselves to get up early in the morning and do something about the continuous weight gain. Convincing yourself or anyone else is certainly a grueling task indeed. How do you convince yourself or anyone can define how much desperate or passionate you are? What techniques do you use to persuade others and make them follow what you want to convey?

Today, I will tell you the story of Mahabharata, which is a story about convincing and eventually not getting convinced. Through this story, I will try to tell you about the sure shot way of convincing others. Today, I will tell you about the concept of SDDB or Saam Daam Dand Bhed through one series of stories from Mahabharat. Most of you might be familiar with Mahabharata and its characters.

The state of Hastinapur had 2 parties in a headlock against each other. On one side we had the Kauravas headed by Duryodhana, a powerful man who had too much ego and greed of power in him. Totally acceptable politician and warrior we can say. On the other hand, we had Pandavas headed by Yudhishthira, another powerful man who was the rightful heir to the Hastinapur crown but also had a problem with gambling. Another totally acceptable politician and warrior. Although Kauravas had more military strength, Pandavas had Lord Krishna with them who was an expert in the concept of Saam Daam Dand Bhed.

So that the war could get averted, Krishna went to Duryodhan and tried the first technique i.e. Saam.

Saam literally means convincing by giving logic and diplomacy.

Krishna said ‘O Duryodhana, why do you want to have a war which would lead only to death and misery. Let your elder brother Yudhishthir, as he is the rightful heir apparent, be the king and let there be peace’.

Duryodhana said ‘Nope!’.

After a while, Krishna tried the second technique of convincing i.e. Daam or Daan.

Daam means bribe or a price. Sometimes it is also called Daan, i.e. sacrifice to gain something.

Krishna said ‘O Duryodhana, I understand that you don’t want to lose your seat. Who doesn’t? But, can we settle it so that everyone is happy? Can you please give 5 villages to Pandavas. Just 5. It is nothing!’.

Duryodhana said ‘Nope!’.

Now, the war was looming at the head and situation was getting tenser. Krishna, being the master of tricks he was, tried another technique of convincing i.e. Bhed.

Bhed means Difference. Sometimes it is also called Divide & Rule. And it can also be called using the technique of Blackmailing or using Secrets to have your way.

Now instead of going to Duryodhana, Krishna asked Karna, who was the actual eldest brother. But he was born out of the legal wedding system. Karna was close to Duryodhana.

Krishna said ‘O Karna, Do you know that actually there is no need of the war itself. You will get to know soon who is the actual King. Go convince Duryodhana to understand this and don’t let this war thing go out of hands. More so, you can even marry Draupadi, Pandava’s wife’.

This time Karna said ‘Nope!’.

So, Saam i.e. requesting by logic had failed. Daam i.e. convincing by a price had failed. Even Bhed i.e. creating a difference didn’t work out. So, the only thing possible, the last resort, Dand i.e. Punishment remained.

Krishna helped Pandavas as much as possible by giving them crucial advice and war tactics and we know what happened in the end. Pandavas, even when they were less in number, won the war. Although a huge loss of property and life happened.

Friends, the concept of Saam Daam Dand Bhed was furthered ahead by Chanakya in his text Arth Shastra. This concept can be used to get anything done. But, there’s a caveat. We should remember that it works properly only when it is used against the right person.

“सज्जन को सम्मान देकर,

लोभी को धन देकर,

विद्वान को तर्क देकर व

दुष्ट को दंड दे कर

पक्ष में किया जा सकता है ।”

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Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

Toastmasters Storytelling Project 3 – Moral of the Story – “F News”

It was one of the busiest days at work. I was deeply engrossed in my laptop. It was the last day of the project deadline, so the surroundings sounded of silence and seriousness. Everyone on my team had skipped lunch that day. My attention was divided between the software application I was working on and my mailbox in which I was expecting some emails from my colleagues about some critical issues.

Meanwhile, just to set some context, a couple of days ago, I had just finished my first year at the office, which also happened to be my first company. I, along with all my batch-mates who had joined on the same day, had received our first ever salary hike letters. We were generally in a mood of congratulations and celebrations. As you know, the first hike letter is special!

As I was expecting some very serious mail about critical issues, I got a message in my inbox. It was from one of my batch-mates. I ignored it for time being and kept on doing my work. Within minutes, then I got another message from another batch-mate. I ignore that too as I had to concentrate on my work. The deadline was lurking. After few minutes, few more emails came. Apparently, there was a mail chain going around with everyone replying to all. After ignoring them for a while, I opened the latest mail. It said that one of the friends had “heard” that the new batch of joiners have been given much higher package and that exceeded our current salary plus the hikes which we were to receive. As you all know, people are very emotional about money. This had started a chain-reaction. Many people had started replying to all in the same mail chain that “how wrong this is and we should do something about this. How could the company betray us like that?” Mind you, I had more than 50 batch-mates.

This replying to all going on for a very long time eventually choked my email inbox. I was neck-deep-busy that day but now my concentration had been compromised due to this unnecessary rumormongering. This constant barrage of email volley irked me. After ignoring for a long while, I decided to end the matter once and for all! I replied to all saying that I have just talked to the HR Manager personally and if this email chain does not stop, everyone’s hike would be canceled. I also added at the very end of the email that I was kidding but please do not send emails to all about such kind of confidential matter, as it is not at all professional.

And that worked! The shower of emails stopped. Some of my friends who thought I was really serious came to my desk and I told them that nothing’s wrong, I was just joking as I had got frustrated with the constant bombardment of emails onto my inbox. I told them about the last line of the email and the matter ended with laughter.

Everyone moved on with their lives. We finished our project on its deadline and life went on.

A few days later, I was at home on a vacation. I got a call. It was from office. I picked up. The person on the other side said that he was the HR of the company I was working in. He revealed that he had been forwarded that email of mine. The email also did not contain the part where I had said that I was joking. The tone of the HR was very serious. He asked me who had given me any right to spread such misinformation. I told him the whole story but he asked me whether I sent the mail or not. I said I did send but my intention was not to spread fake news but rather to stop spreading rumors. The HR said he does not care whatever was intended but since I was the one whose email he had received so I was to be blamed. He scolded me for 30 minutes before hanging the phone up. Luckily, he left me with a warning of never doing this again.

Toastmasters and guests, our generation is a generation of information. We all receive such messages. For example, UNESCO has declared our National Anthem as the best National Anthem. Drinking Coke after eating Mentos is Death by Explosion. Haven’t we? However, with this information overload, sometimes we receive some information, which is as far from the truth as Pluto is far from the Sun. There is an umbrella term for all such information. Can anyone guess? Yes, this plethora of misinformation is called ‘Fake news’.

Moral of the Story: First, do not believe the fake news. Always check several sources before forming your opinion. More importantly, do not react and spread fake news. In today’s age, whatever you share electronically, you have no control over where it will end up. Moreover, whether it will end up in its entirety or not, is out of your hands. I learned my lesson that day. Have you?

By the way, did you know that if you do not discuss this speech with 10 of your friends, you would have bad luck for 10 years?