Saturday, April 20, 2013

Post #6: Final Reflections

Before I begin on my final post, I hope that everyone reads the quote above, and takes a moment to truly let it sink in.
To me, the importance of being a good speaker only dawned on me when I realized the power of speech. Indeed, the most monumental social changes in human history have always been initiated by exceptional speakers, who could galvanize crowds to believe the unbelievable (e.g. Hitler, Martin Luther King).
With that realization, I find that my biggest takeaway from this course is definitely improving my oral presentation skills. In fact, the 2 main ways that ES2007S has helped me are the frequent presentation opportunities and the constructive feedback from my peers.
Almost every facet of this course required some form of presentations, be it the oral presentation, peer-teching, or even the HR interview. These opportunities allowed me to discover the presentation skills that I already have, as well as the areas of weakness where I could work on. In fact, I believe that everybody has the potential to become a great speaker! It is a pity that very few people have the opportunities to develop their personal style and hone their skills. Furthermore, the peer evaluation in this course has allowed us to share and receive valuable feedback from each other. Consistent practice is pointless if we do not know what we are doing wrong!
I can still clearly remember my first presentation this semester, where I did a short presentation on "active listening" with Vaish. I remember receiving feedback for having a clear voice, but having poor eye contact and non-verbals - I did not realize it, but my presentation was almost as though I was reading a passage!
Subsequently, I have taken steps to slowly improve on many different aspects of communication. In terms on non-verbal communication, I have learned to accentuate my speech with suitable hand gestures and postures, and to maintain eye contact to better connect with my audience. I have also learned to speak in a more concise and structured manner, so that the audience can understand and remember my ideas.
Looking back, it has been a fantastic 3 months. I have had a fulfilling and inspiring time, and I personally felt that this course provided huge educational value. The course might be over, but the friendship and the fun times we had will stay with us forever! :) 
To all my coursemates and to Brad, I wish you all the best!

Post #5: Reflection on Oral Presentation

This semester, I joined both Toastmasters and ES2007 with the aim of becoming a better speaker and communicator. Although it has been a short span of 3 months, I have picked up on many areas of improvement that could be applied in my oral presentation.
During my OP preparation, I had a frequent question on my mind - Should I memorize my script? Some speakers swear by memorizing their script, and are able to follow through with a convincing and engaging delivery. Others simply prefer to memorize the key points, and elaborate from there.
Eventually, I decided not to memorize anything, but to instead internalize my speech flow and ideas, and fine-tune my presentation through some rehearsals. On hindsight, I find that to be a good idea as I was able to organize my speech naturally as I presented. Without a script, I could also focus my efforts on engaging the audience, and avoid sounding "scripted". 
Brad often comments that some speakers sound "scripted", but what does it actually mean? In my opinion, some speakers who have committed long hours of practice often internalize their presentation to the unfortunate extent that they "run through the motions" during the actual speech itself. As such, they might end up focusing too much on their own delivery, neglecting to engage the audience sufficiently. Since the main objective of our OP was to sell our idea, my group and I put in extra effort to address the audience directly and connect with them, as we find that establishing a connection is essential towards persuading them.
After my presentations and speeches, I often get the feedback that I should be more confident. In fact, confidence is something I find to be very elusive. Even though I did feel quite at ease during my OP, perhaps some of my non-verbals potrayed otherwise! Or perhaps, it goes beyond the verbals and non-verbals into the passion I show. It remains a mystery to me, but I will definitely continue to work on it!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Post #4: Evaluating Intercultural Behavior

Living in a multi-racial society, Singaporeans are in constant interaction with people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. With time, we gradually learn about each other's practices, languages, and norms, and we seemingly internalize these ideas and apply them in our daily life. In Singapore, we tend to categorize these cultural differences by race, into neat little blocks of "Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian".

However, these perceived cultural differences can often lead to miscommunication. As my girlfriend, Jeo, is of Chinese-Indian heritage, her slight brown skin tone has resulted in countless interesting misunderstandings. Amongst them, a particularly memorable incident has stuck with me.

That day, we were at a food court, ordering food from a Chinese auntie. After a brief conversation with her in mandarin, I ordered my food. However, Jeo was still undecided over her order, and had this puzzled look as she pondered the menu. Clearly mistaking Jeo for a malay, the auntie interjected: "Girl, we also sell mee goreng here! No pork! Very nice!". With that, she continued trying to promote all her non-pork dishes. Till this day, I still vividly remember how the auntie's jaw dropped when Jeo replied in fluent mandarin.

Having witnessed many similar incidents, I always took special notice of how people wrongly "categorized" and interpreted her cultural background. Even amongst people who knew she spoke mandarin, their mandarin interchanges always sounded unnatural, or even forced. It was strange! There seemed to be this clear divide between who she identifies herself as, and who other people persist in identifying her as. Fortunately, she is able to see the light-hearted side in this, and derive amusement from it.

In the process of effective intercultural communication, understanding and adapting towards different cultures is essential to avoiding unnecessary conflict and tension. While it is normal to develop pre-conceived notions about someone's cultural background based on their appearance, we should refrain from overgeneralizing and jumping into conclusions.  With that, we should keep in mind that regardless of culture, every individual is unique, and we should stay flexible and keep an open mind!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Post #3: Application Letter Critique

18 February 2013

Lim Wei Zhe
136B Hillview Avenue #01-01
Mobile: 96377118

To The Hiring Manager
Human Resource Department
Shell Eastern Petroleum (Pte) Ltd 
Shell House, 83 Clemenceau Avenue   

Application for an internship

I am writing to express my interest in an internship position in Shell. I am currently in my second year in NUS, taking a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering (Honours). I am keen on an internship with Shell, because it is a global organization with endless opportunities for growth and personal development. In Singapore, the Shell Bukom refinery is the largest Shell refinery in the world, where innovation and cutting-edge technology is deployed to sustain a successful business model. Beyond that, I am also amazed by the company’s efforts at fostering a safe and environmentally sustainable workplace. I definitely would love to be part of this global organization.

During my internship with Renewable Energy Corporation, I cooperated with process engineers at the manufacturing line. In the 3 months there, I learned firsthand how engineers collaborated to resolve bottlenecks and streamline production processes. Furthermore, I was involved in a project that greatly reduced solar cell waste, receiving the STAR award at the National IQC assessment for the project.
In addition to attaining strong academic results, I actively participated in student organizations. In my first year, I was in the NUS canoe committee, organizing biannual canoeing events, in addition to frequent canoeing sessions. I was also race route in-charge for the NUS RowRunRace 2012 biathlon, successfully managing a team of marshals for a turnout of more than 300 participants.

Currently, I am an active member in the NUS Toastmasters Club, where the positive environment allows me to improve my oral communication and leadership skills. As an engineering student, I understand that strong technical skills are important, but insufficient. Effective communication is essential to articulating our ideas, and working with others. I am confident that the skills I have learned will put me in a good position to excel with Shell.

Thank you for you time to review my application. I enclosed my resume for your consideration, and I keenly look forward to a face-to face interview with you to discuss my suitability for this internship. I can be contacted at 96377118 or at your convenience.

Yours sincerely,
Wei Zhe

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Post #2: Resolving Interpersonal Conflict

National Service is a time when every Singaporean boy undergoes his first transition. It is a place where we are shoved out of our comfort zone, and entrusted with our first responsibilities as adults. Many recruits have had different army experiences, but it definitely represents a long, arduous, yet ultimately fruitful experience.

Personally, I had conflicts frequently during my time, especially with my superiors. My immediate superior, Vincent, was an army regular who was brash, vocal, and extremely irrational — typical traits of many army regulars.

As I was a tank driver and technician, Vincent would frequently assign me repair jobs. This, was where our conflicts would come in. His directions were brash and commanding, but they often made no sense! Often, I would try to clarify his instructions or discuss possible alternatives, but anything except a straightforward "Yes, boss" always angered him.

To elaborate on the scenario, I noticed he always had something against the more educated, university-bound recruits. We were generally polite and friendly, but he would always try to put us in a spot. It was like working with a ticking time bomb! In the army, we also had to obey a high degree of subordination towards our superiors. If we had any form of confrontations with them, we had to be extremely tactful; we didn't want to spend our weekends on guard duty!

As my personal motivations were to get the job done while staying out of trouble, I often avoided instances of conflict. I also tried to maintain a positive, friendly working relationship. However, instances of conflict still occur.

Imagine you were in my shoes for this scenario: Vincent tasks me to replace a tank spare part, which I personally find to be just slightly worn, but still in perfect working condition. Thus, I am reluctant to proceed, as the spare parts are expensive, and the job would take an entire afternoon of my labour.
In this scenario, how would you discourage Vincent from proceeding with the job?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Post #1: Effective Communication skills: Why?

As an engineering student, my first week in ES2007 has been an eye-opener. This might be the most exciting module I have taken to date!

Personally, I find that communication is an essential part of our daily lives, and the ability to effectively articulate our ideas and emotions is an art. Yes, the idea of communication might sound simple! After all, we are in constant interaction with others daily. However, much of our daily interactions are unknowingly lost in translation. Think about the last time you had a sustained conversation. What idea or emotion were you trying to convey? Are you sure your exact message was what they received?

Since every person and interaction is unique, the only way we could improve our personal communication skills is through continuous practice. In this module, the discussions, peer-teaching, and presentations serve this exact purpose. Under the watchful eyes of our entire class, we would be engaging in endless group work. As a feedback session follows, we could definitely use their response to decide what works for us, and what doesn't. After all, communication is learned through doing and improvising.

Different aspects of communication would be studied in greater detail. We often do not realize that the ideas we are communicating could be lost, in a haze of distractions and personal filters. In becoming a skilled communicator, it is important to avoid social and cultural faux pas, as well as to understand the non-verbal cues of the other party.

Personally, I have undergone numerous uncomfortable experiences that could have been avoided with effective communication. Despite my well intentions, business relations that I wanted to cultivate had turned cold. And I am sure many could relate to how easily a conversation could take a really awkward turn. Hence, these experiences motivate me to learn as much as I can from this class, and to emerge as a better communicator.

In conclusion, I would end my post with a quote.