Blogging from the SPC

– By Anoop Singh, Education Program Intern, Summer 2010
From the moment my internship with the Sikh Coalition began, to the day after participant evaluations, my top priority was the Sikh Presenter’s Course (which I will, at times, affectionately refer to as the SPC).  After four weeks of planning and three days of execution, I can safely say that the Sikh Presenter’s Course was an experience I won’t soon forget.  My first day as an intern, I compiled a list of restaurants in the area, thinking that it would be a fairly easy task to figure out from where we could get breakfast and lunch catered.

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  However, being a naïve Midwesterner (I hail from small town Ohio), I didn’t account for non-English speaking workers; the first phone call I made was answered by a guy who told me to call back the next day because he couldn’t speak English and the manager wasn’t in.  Similar episodes were repeated throughout the day, leaving me wondering how best to go forward.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-diversity (that would be ironic).  In fact, I’m a big fan.  I would “Like” it on Facebook.  But it wears on you when every other phone call requires questions to be phrased in three different ways to get the gist across. It was truly a New York City experience for me. Needless to say, the process was more difficult than I expected and, when the first day of the SPC came around, I was a little nervous that I might get squid stew instead of Subway sandwiches.

Another of my tasks was revising the training materials by incorporating feedback from the first SPC and creating new manuals with the edited materials.  The task itself was stuff I enjoy doing – reading, offering thoughts on sentence structure, word choice, grammar, relevance of information, etc.  However, once the editing process was complete and the manuals actually needed to be assembled, I started having problems.  Basically, the printer decided, of its own accord, that things had gone too smoothly and it needed to make my life miserable.  It took me nearly two weeks to do what should have been a two day job because the printer jammed and jammed and jammed and jammed.  It jammed in every single place it could jam.  It said it was jammed when it wasn’t jammed at all.  It found places to jam that I’m sure had never jammed before.  It was terrible.  I mean, I would classify myself as a fairly confident person – this printer nearly broke my spirit, and it’s an inanimate object.  I was about three more paper jams away from breaking down and crying like Tim Tebow.  But, in the end, it worked out and we had some solid manuals.

To the Course itself: in short, the purpose of the Sikh Presenter’s Course is to teach a group of motivated Sikhs how to present Sikhism to non-Sikh audiences.  The participants were given a variety of presentation tips and tools on both their presentation style and ability to convey the essence of Sikhi to non-Sikhs.  I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to help in both areas.  On the first day of the course, I videotaped a five minute clip of each participant giving a presentation on a non-Sikhi topic.  I then sat down with each person and helped them analyze a few strengths and weaknesses about their presentation style.  Many thought this to be helpful because they not only received feedback from evaluators, they were also able to self-critique and draw their own conclusions about their performance.  On Day 2, I presented a section called “Coordinating a Presentation” in which I outlined the steps that need to be taken in order to communicate with a school or workplace about giving a Sikh Awareness Presentation.  I also introduced the participants to materials that the Coalition has prepared to help facilitate this process and talked about what needs to be done after the presentation is given.  Among the many things I was entrusted with, preparing for and delivering this section was one of the most useful.

Even though the Sikh Presenter’s Course was designed with the important objective in mind of eradicating ignorance about Sikhism, the mood of the course was never one of stress and tension.  From word games during breaks, to nonsensical mnemonic devices, to inadvertently “odd” elementary school presentation hooks, to mock spreadsheets created for buying the perfect gift, I would classify the atmosphere as participant-friendly.  And while some may see this as a problem or as a lack of urgency, I would argue, as one who was there, that the atmosphere was perfect for this group of presenters.  Sure, there were folks who would have done well in any environment.  But I would say three participants in particular benefitted tremendously from this participant friendly atmosphere at the Sikh Presenter’s Course.

Allow me to put the significance of three capable presenters in context. Let’s say that a Course participant contacts a high school in New Jersey and asks to give a Sikh Awareness Presentation at the next teacher’s meeting, knowing that New Jersey recently included Sikhism in its public school curriculum.  Let’s say that five teachers at this meeting will be teaching their students about Sikhism as per the new content standards.  Each of those five teachers will be passing on the information they learn to the 75-100 students they have in their classes per year, meaning that at a minimum, 375 students will be directly affected by the content of presentation.  Since each of the three presenters will be giving (at least) two presentations a year, you have a minimum of 2250 (6 presentations x 375 people/presentation) people who will be significantly influenced by the three presenters who I believe benefitted from the relaxed, learning-friendly environment at the SPC.

Nothing illustrates the transformation a course like the SPC can make better than a real-life story.  A case study, if you will.  One of the participants, who I’ll refer to as Participant X, had the most compelling transformation of this Course.  Participant X is one of those soft-spoken, goodhearted, really nice people.  He/she didn’t have too much experience presenting to non-Sikh audiences, and we worried during the participant pre-screening interview that he/she might be a little “too gentle.”  But, Participant X lived in an area where the need for presenters is very high, so we knew that if X passed the course, he/she would be a tremendous asset.  Our worry about Participant X’s personality was validated during the mock presentations, where he/she came across as pleasant, but nervous and unsure.  We left on Sunday, the last day of presentation instruction, with a sinking feeling that this person may not pass the final evaluation.  But, overnight, X studied the materials and reviewed his/her feedback from the course, because he/she walked in, took just five minutes to prepare, rocked the evaluation, smiled, said thank you, and walked out a certified presenter.  It is for reasons like this that I think the Sikh Presenter’s Course is a necessary initiative for the Sikh Coalition.  Aside from creating a group of people capable of giving meaningful presentations and enlightening this country about Sikhism, it helps empower and give confidence to people like Participant X who represent Sikhi every waking moment of each day.  So, if you muddled through my blather and made it to this point, please take my advice and host a Sikh Presenter’s Course in your area – you’ll be amazed at how it affects the community.

I would be remiss if I ended this blog post without a few notes of thanks to those people without whom this course could not have taken place.  Many thanks go out to Manbeena Kaur for walking me through the process of putting the course together and answering all of my questions, as painfully obvious and inane as I’m sure they were.  Also, to Fred Polirer at Intentional Focus for taking the time on all three days to provide excellent instruction and evaluation of all involved.  Thanks to Amardeep Singh for coming in and presenting on one of the most important aspects of the course — hooks that relate to Sikhism.  Thanks to my predecessor, Satjeet Kaur, for letting me bounce questions/ideas off of her, helping me throughout the entire organizing process, and for doing a fantastic job making all the training manual materials for the first Sikh Presenter’s Course so that all I had to do was change a few dates.  Thanks to Victor Tobar at The North Star Fund for graciously allowing us to make use of their office space for the weekend.  Thanks to Ajit Singh from Ajit Singh Photography for coming and snapping some phenomenal photos (definitely some profile picture-worthy shots in the album – click here or on either inset picture to see for yourself!).  Thanks to everyone who participated in the LeBron/World Cup discussions during break (and sometimes the Course itself).  And, at the risk of this sounding like a particularly long-winded Ardaas at Sunday divaan, I’ll wrap up this up by giving a particularly emphatic thank you to each and every participant of the second Sikh Presenter’s Course for making it a tremendously enjoyable, educational, and fulfilling experience!

If you would like to learn more about the Sikh Presenter’s Course or are interested in hosting one in your area, please send an email to spc@sikhcoalition.org.

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