Nikhil Jois

Experiments, Learnings and Inspiration

A guide to effective networking

As someone who has founded a company with the word ‘event’ in it, I get invited to my share of tech and startup events as well as conferences. Over the years, I’ve learned to reject some of the invitations and accept only a few. That’s a topic for another day though.

In this post, I want to talk about how you can make the most of any gathering. I am not a fan of the verb ‘networking’ and prefer to think of it as ‘connecting’ but feel free to use any term that works for you. Several of us, including myself, think of ‘networking’ as a dirty word thanks to ineffective salespeople and mindless conversationalists.  This guide is not for the average attendee. If you are a leader or aspire to be one some day this is for you. You already know how precious your time and mind space are. I wrote this guide to remind myself of the handful of tips and tricks that have worked for my over the years. 

Since you’ve already clicked on the title and landed on the page, I don’t have to tell you about the benefits of attending meetings, parties, events, and gatherings. However, since I am a kind-hearted person I will do so anyway.

Attending events or conferences  is a great way to broaden your perspective on topics you may deem familiar to you, while learning about topics you’d never imagined to appeal to you. It is also a great way to meet new people and add value to an ecosystem or two. 

Below are seven of the most effective habits and tricks that have helped me make the most of my time at events. I hope this helps you up your game.

  1. Do your homework

    I’m appalled by the number of people I meet at conferences or events who haven’t conducted some basic research about the event. If you’re going to be spending time commuting to an event and meeting people there, please invest at least an hour on some background homework. Find out who the speakers or panelists are.  Learn more about their companies or organisations and their past. Basically, check to see if you have mutual connections or friends. I know that this may seem like common sense to you, but it is surprisingly rare to meet people who have done their homework.

  2. Befriend the organisers

    Your homework and research must not be limited to the speakers and panelists. The real heroes of the event are the organisers themselves.  These folks usually toil hard for several weeks and interact very closely with the speakers, panelists, and guests who make it to the event. I’ve often seen people rush towards the speakers after a panel or event reaches it end while completely ignoring the organiser or moderator who is usually standing right there. A trick that has worked for me is to walk up to a friendly-looking volunteer, introduce myself to her and ask her if there’s anyone from the panel or guest list she thinks I ought to meet. Works like a charm every time. Another key reason to befriend the volunteers – they’ll host an event again some day. Don’t  you want a heads up and an invite?

  3. Volunteer help

    Planning and executing any event is a Herculean task. Even the most veteran event organisers won’t deny that.  The world-famous author and angel investor Tim Ferriss started off his career as a nobody. In his early 20s nobody knew his name and he knew very few people. Tim went on to build his now-limitless network by volunteering at the local TiE  chapter. By volunteering for a non-profit organisation that invited the best investors and founders within his ecosystem, Tim befriended stalwarts he wouldn’t have been able to reach out to on his own.  Similarly, my co-founders and I followed this approach when we started up a few years ago. The organisations of our choice were TiE and NASSCOM. If you’re serious about growing your network, discard any inkling of ego you may have and volunteer your services in exchange for entry and a chance to interact with the guests up, close, and personal. I’ve handled social media for events. We’ve served water and tea to the VIPs at an event.  I’ve also offered to be the emcee/anchor at an event for free several times.

  4. Find yourself a partner

    I like to treat events and conferences like video games.  However, I don’t like to play single-player games. Team up with a friend, co-founder, or new friend and split up or treat each other as wing(wo)men. If you’re shy, moving around in a group makes it easier to approach new people. However, if you aren’t the shy types, you can cover more ground and exchange notes. If you haven’t collected business cards, make sure you have a note-taking app open and make notes about the most interesting people you meet. Your brain is amazing at coming up with ideas.  Unfortunately, it sucks at keeping those ideas there for a long time. Make notes and exchange them with your partner.

  5. Stand out

    At most conferences and events, diversity (or lack thereof) is a huge issue. Like it or not, the likelihood of everyone else looking and sounding like you is very high. Learn to stand out via your behaviour and body language.  Be confident, dress sharply, maintain eye contact, and speak clearly. Merely being the best version of yourself can help you stand out because most people tend to live life on a low-energy mode. You must be unapologetic about being excited to be at the event.  Most importantly, be a keen listener. It’s crazy how many of us can get lost in conversations where we keep talking and selling ourselves. Engage in conversations where you are an active listener as well and people will love you for it.

  6. Go prepared 

    Apart from the basic homework and research I mentioned previously, make sure you go prepared for other situations as well. For example, please carry enough business cards if you’re going to be meeting a lot of people. I know that this sounds pointless, but a future point will help you understand why. Also, if you’re planning on live-tweeting or posting pictures or videos on social media, carry a portable battery pack.  Lastly, if the venue is not a hotel, resort, or office, carry enough water and maybe some snacks.

  7. Follow up

    Remember those cards you collected and the notes you made? Time to put them to use. Sit down with the stack and shoot a simple email to the most interesting people you met. A simple and effective email contains three parts – a reminder of who you are and where you met (context), a value-add or offer to help/ request to stay in touch, and a call to action.  Here’s a sample:

Hi, Tejovanth,

I’m so glad I got to meet you at the founders-who-look-like-Greek-Gods meet up last evening. My friend and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing you narrate the story of your event-planning startup.

I’d love to stay in touch and occasionally shoot you an email or two in case I need help with tech-related problems. Feel free to reach out to me in case you want to discuss any marketing or sales-related experiments.

Regards,

Nikhil Jois

P.S: I write a weekly email to a bunch of friends about habits, productivity, leadership, and more. It also contains links to articles, podcasts, books, and videos I enjoyed learning from. If you’d like to be on this exclusive list, let me know or sign up here.

 

Bonus tip – Add value

The key to maintaining your friendships is by constantly adding value in any way you can. We live in a pay-it-forward world where you can almost never repay those who help you in a direct manner. However, you can help retain karmic balance in the world by helping others out when they need your time, resources, or expertise.

In my quest to make the world a better place, I try to add value by sharing my weekly learnings with a bunch of friends who aspire to be a better version of themselves. Most of the people who read my weekly emails are those who love to lead from the front and upgrade their skill set every day in order to set a better example to those that surround them. If that sounds like you, sign up here and you’ll receive the next email I send out.

 

Asking for help – A ‘How to’ guide

If you’re anything like me, the number of things you’re bad at is way greater than the number of things you’re good at. Most of us are like that. We need help. “Man is a social animal” is a lesson engraved into our young minds during primary school and you’d think that these would be signs of a need to learn how to ask for help. Especially since almost all of us have watched Yuval Noah Harari’s now-famous Ted talk.

 

Yet, as adults, we kinda suck at asking for help. This is my humble attempt at helping you ask for help. I know it sounds meta, but trust me – this’ll help you. Here we go:

Do your homework

If you wish to ask for help, you better do your homework. I’ll elaborate.

You’re the one who needs *my* help. Please have the decency to do some basic research before reaching out to me for help. Am I the right person to be asking for help? Are you sure I will not have to put in additional effort to make your life easier? Have you looked for other, easier, options such as …you know… asking Siri, Bixby, Alexa, Google Assistant, or some other sentient being?

You have? Good.  Another important point on the same lines – please don’t assume that I have prior knowledge about the topic you’re referring to. If there’s an explanation I may need, make sure you provide it. Don’t make me spend an hour on Wikipedia just so I can help you.

Listen to the great Dr Perry Cox and remind yourself of his mantra – “Help me to help you. Help me to help you. ”

 

Be specific

Please do not beat around the bush. All of us need help and we have our own problems to deal with. If you need me to introduce you to someone, please don’t hint at the need for an introduction by boring me with a long story. Just ask for it in a succinct and direct manner.

Bonus tips: ‘Yes or no?’ questions are awesome. Get to the ‘ask’ ASAP and save yourself and me time. In other words, let your request be action-oriented. If I read your email or text and still have to put in effort to understand what you’re asking for – sorry buddy, you’re not getting whatever it is that you were looking for.  Spell out exactly what I can do for you. It’ll save both of us time.

Authenticity matters

It is shameful that I even had to mention this point.  It’s a weird world we live in. Please be authentic and ask for help only when you really need it. Don’t do it to test me. Don’t ask for help because you’re lazy…and please don’t ask for help because you need to show off. Your need for validation and ego massages must not affect my life.

Respect the concept of time

This is a huge point. Please be respectful of my time if you’re asking for help. This means that if you can call instead of knocking on my door – you call. If you can text instead of calling – you text. Just in case you can email instead of texting – you get my drift.  Choose your medium based on the level of urgency.

If possible, mention the time frame along with your request. For example, If you send me an article you need edited – let me know if this is something that can be done tomorrow. If it can wait for a week, please make sure I know so that I don’t drop something else that I am working on to do something that is neither urgent nor a priority.

Since we’re on the topic of time, I’d like to mention the concept of ‘follow-up’ as well. If you’ve asked for help and haven’t heard back, it is perfectly ok to want to follow up and check for updates. However, please be realistic and wait for a day or two before you pounce on me to ask if I’ve gotten around to dealing with your request. We all have our own set of problems and tasks to deal with.

Provide a reason

This may sound super obvious but you’d be surprised at the sheer number of people who ask for help without mentioning why they need something done. If you want me to help you, the least you can do is trust me with the reason. Tell me why and include a sentence that looks like this –  “I’d really appreciate your help. I’m asking because…”

If I have a sense of belonging, I’m way more likely to help you.

 

Provide a way out

This sounds counterintuitive especially because several of us are taught to include phrases like “awaiting your positive response” or “thanks in advance” in our emails.

However, the kindest thing you can do is to provide some sort of an escape route. Some examples:

I’d love an introduction to X, but I completely understand if you’re not comfortable with an introduction at this point of time. 

I’d really appreciate it if you took a look at my cover letter before I send it out to a few recruiters. However, if your schedule is too full – I’ll understand. 

I see from your Facebook feed that you’re vacationing. However, if I didn’t ask, I’d feel like I did not even try. I completely understand if you’re not willing to pick up the phone while you’re on vacation. 

Providing a way out eases the pressure on the person you’re asking for help. If you put people in a tough situation where they aren’t comfortable declining help, your relationship may feel some strain because suddenly – the request feels like a command. Trust me – you don’t want that.

This brings me to my final point.

 Be generous and helpful

While I’m a huge proponent of the Karma theory, we live in a world where we pay it forward more often than we pay it back.  All of us get to where we are with help from several people.

The least we can do is pay it forward by helping others out. By becoming a connector of people and a generous helper, your credibility goes up by leaps and bounds.  Reciprocity is a huge motivator. The people who help others most often are the ones who are most comfortable with asking for help.

This is why I have no qualms at all about asking you for help with sharing this article. Do you know someone within your friend circle or family who would benefit from reading this guide? Share it with them. Do you think this would help your Facebook pals or Twitter followers? You know what to do.

One last thing. Every week,  I send out an email to a bunch of my friends. This email contains a summary of my favourite learnings from that week. It may include a quote, a book recommendation, a podcast recommendation, and other such cool resources. Does this sound like something you’d enjoy reading? If so, sign up below.

 

 

 

Why the ‘Best friend treatment’ is essential

I miss my best friend all the time.  We still talk on Twitter, and hang out every time we’re on the same continent. We even try to call each other at least once a month.  However, nothing can replace the feeling of having him nearby. I used to go to him whenever I had something to be happy about. I’d rush even sooner when I had something to be sad about.

Most of us are amazing as best friends. We may be not be very social or even talkative, but we’re amazing people when we’re around our best friends. We’re funny, supportive, naughty, and …well, bearable to them.

I want you to think about how you speak to your best friend and how (s)he treats you for a moment. I know this sounds cheesy, but just trust me on it. Warm, fuzzy feeling there yet? Now think about how you talk to yourself.

More often than not, we are super mean to ourselves. We’re always nagging. We don’t give ourselves pep talk often enough. We certainly don’t attempt to entertain ourselves. One of the simplest ways to grow and be happy is by choosing to speak to yourself like your best friend would speak to you.

I’ll simplify it a bit more by telling you what a best friend usually does. This list is by no means exhaustive. It’s a rather small list of my best friend’s best traits that help me grow. Here goes:

Solution-oriented advice

One of the best things about best friends is their ability to say, “Alright! Here’s what you should do…”

In a world where people are happy to dole out vague, generic advice – the best of friends are the only ones who give you actionable advice that you can use. It is refreshing and, quite honestly, the only kind of advice we need.

Tough love

Best friends are capable of dishing out tough love when need be. Are you in a relationship that is hurting you? Your best friend will rescue you.  Have you put on weight that you need to lose? Your best friend will insult (or inspire) you till you get fit.  Tough love is a super power that best friends use judiciously and effectively.

High Standards 

No one in my life uses the phrase “You deserve better” more often than my best friend does. These magical human beings also make sure that you never underperform. If you do, they’ll troll you and some random blogger on the Interwebs will call it “tough love” and try to convince you that it is a good thing.

Blatant flattery 

Some times, the perfect pick-me-up is a conversation where vulnerability is not an issue and the response is a no-holds-barred flattery contest.  The best of friends have the ability to make you feel loved even while you know that the pep talk you’re getting is nothing but stevia-coated flattery.

Motivation 

Best friends are amazing at motivating you. Even if the motivation is for a garbage cause, but their “Just do it” will have the intensity you need to get shit done. Some times, all it takes is a voice that gives a little nudge towards the right direction.

The whole point of listing those traits is to remind myself and you that it is not too hard to stop treating ourselves like some frenemy. All we need is an inner voice that sounds like our best friend. I’ve given this a try and the benefits are truly amazing.  I sleep better. I don’t feel as stressed out as I used to. Smiling a lot more often is effortless. I don’t get affected by negativity like I used to.

Newsletter

Speaking of best friends, I send a weekly email to some of my best friends on a weekly basis. The email usually goes out on Saturdays. The themes revolve around leadership, motivation, and stories. I try to summarise my learnings from several sources like books, articles, podcasts, and mentors. Would you like to be on that list? Then, sign up below.

Why I write and 7 benefits that will convince you to too

On most days, the first piece of information I consume upon waking up is via the written word. Now, on some days this is via a text message, some days it is via a newspaper headline, and on the bad days – it is via a Twitter notification. My point is, that we are all large-scale consumers of information on a daily basis.

Yet, so few of us write. Especially in a country like India where most of us are trained stenographers thanks to our schooling system. I, for one, have been writing for a very long time now.  Some of it, publicly and most of it privately.  I know that I am not very good at it, but I continue to write because of the sheer number of benefits it brings along.

I also know that some of the more-sophisticated readers amongst you dislike listicles, but this is the point where I break into that format. It helps simplify the subject and brings structure to the post. Here are the seven biggest benefits to writing (especially in the form of blogs):

Helps you create a better personal brand

Blogging or writing can help you create and maintain a personal brand.  In a world where Garyvee and Tim Ferriss thrive, a personal brand can go a long way. You’d be surprised at the number of old friends I get back in touch with who start conversations with “Long time no see, but I always read what you write and post.” The fact that they read these posts makes them feel and know that they still know and understand who I am. Your personal brand is what people think of when they first hear your name. Writing allows you more control over that narrative than most other things do.

 Helps you become a better communicator

The ability to communicate effectively is one of the most sought-after skills and has been for a while. People who can convey ideas, rally people, tell stories, and connect with others have an edge over the others. Writing helps you become a better storyteller. I once asked a bunch of people on Twitter what a must-have trait was for a leader. The opninions all revolved around communication skills.

 Helps you inculcate discipline

As someone who used to wear the ability to “multitask” as a badge of honour, I know how effective disciplined, uninterrupted, deep work can be. The practice of writing helps me stay away from distractions. This is an act that requires focus and my undivided attention. It also teaches one to think before committing to an opinion.

Helps you become more interesting

I still remember high school. Slam books were part of the farewell ritual at every stage of school. There was always a question about one’s hobbies there if I remember correctly. The answers to that question would embarrass most of us if we read them today. Writing is a great hobby.  Once you run out of things to write about, you have to learn some more and that very process keeps you on your toes. I’m yet to meet an individual who can write well but isn’t interesting. Then again, I try to avoid meeting boring people.

Helps you achieve catharsis

A lot of writers compare writing to therapy. The beauty of sitting down and pouring your emotions onto paper or… you know, a keyboard can only be appreciated by those who’ve done it.  If you’ve come across advice that revolves around maintaining a diary or journal, this is exactly why. Writing is a way to escape from reality. A way to trap your inner demons on paper. A way to yell into a pillow without waking up the neighbours.

Opens new doors

It is fascinating how many good things can happen via writing. Some of the most meaningful relationships and friendships I’ve enjoyed and continue to enjoy began thanks to writing. My best mentors agreed to teach me only because I wrote to them. I’ve been invited to dinners, sports matches, and vacations thanks to writing. I’ve gotten chances to speak at organisations I’d only dreamt of entering thanks to the fact that I wrote. One time, I even got to travel to an island nation in Africa with a bunch of models thanks to my writing. True story. Writing leads to opportunities and opens doors.

Helps you be useful at scale

This is probably the most important reason behind why I write. I treat this blog as my personal FAQ section. As a student of life, I attempt to become a better version of myself on a daily basis. One of the approaches that helps me do this requires that I find mentors, peers, as well as students. By writing and keeping a copy of writing accessible via a book or blog, I find it easy to redirect people to my writing instead of risking repeating myself and sounding boring. If someone asks me what my thoughts are on the benefits of writing, I’ll redirect them to this blog post

The best part? It is never too late to start writing. We live in a world where it is so easy to get started. The number of tools and platforms we have at our disposal would have made some of our idols swoon. I’m sure Ernest Hemingway would have gone bonkers had he known that such a time would come to exist. We live in a world where one doesn’t have to pay to get started. You just have to decide to start.

I also write a weekly email on Saturdays. The email usually contains a small list of things I learnt that week and the sources. It can range from book recommendations to podcast recommendations. I also include quotes I find interesting and a story or two. Does that sound like something you’d enjoy? Sign up below:

The ‘plus, minus and equal’ of learning

All of us are always trying to become better versions of ourselves. If you clicked a link and landed on this post, you did so hoping that you learn something new.

The concept I am about to introduce you to certainly isn’t something I came up with. A legendary MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter and coach – Frank Shamrock – coined this particular way of naming the framework.

As is evident by now, there are three parts to this equation.

  1. The Plus – ‘The plus’ is someone who is better than you at whatever you’re trying to get good at right now.
  2. The Minus – ‘The minus’ is someone who you’re currently better than at whatever you’re trying to get good at.
  3. The Equal – No prizes for guessing. ‘The equal’ is someone who is currently as good as you are at whatever you’re trying to get good at.

The Plus

You need ‘The plus’ because you need inspiration. The role of mentors can never be understated. Learning from someone who has been on the journey can certainly be helpful. Mentors can teach us what to do and how to do those things, but more importantly they can teach us what not to do. A personal hero of mine, Bob Proctor, defines mentors thus “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.

The Minus

You need ‘The minus’ because we live in a world that pays it forward. As the great Peter Drucker put it succinctly “No one learns as much about a subject as one who is forced to teach it.” The best teachers end up learning as much or more from the process and their students.  As someone who has dabbled with teaching as well as learning, I can vouch for this. Some of my best sources of inspiration have been my students.

The Equal

You need ‘The equal’ because our peers often bring out the best in us. If you’re competitive, you already know this very well. If you’re not competitive, become competitive. That’s how you start winning. However, being competitive is not the only reason to look for a peer. A peer can help you set benchmarks and measure your growth. So, think of a peer as a person who accompanies you to the gym or a sparring partner and not necessarily the neighbourhood bully who wants to beat you up.  Whatever works best for you.

 

By the way, I’m planning a weekly newsletter. The frequency is tentative and may change depending on feedback.  For now, It’ll have content related to my writing, podcast links , quotes, relevant book recommendations and maybe a YouTube video or two that caught my eye. Interested?  Sign up below.

 

 

 

You already know how to transform your life

Most us walk around waiting for special occasions to transform our lives. We rely on the perfection of a moment or its timing to assure ourselves that a miracle is, all of a sudden, a viable outcome. These inner monologues can come in several forms – “I’ll start working out on the first of January” “I’ll stop drinking after my birthday” “I’ll start blogging after I’m done with this project” or “I’ll start spending more time with my family after my job appraisal” among other similar-sounding sentences.

One of my tweets hit a note with several people who privately reached out and thanked me for triggering action.  Derek Sivers said something that has stuck with me – “If more information was the answer we’d all be Billionaires with a perfect set of abs.” The problem is almost never that we don’t know how to do something. We know exactly what to do and how to do it. We don’t do it right away because we tell ourselves one convenient line “I don’t feel like it.” In her famous TEDx Talk, Mel Robbins talks about how we are experts at succumbing to our inner snooze alarm. On a  daily basis, we postpone the things we know we ought to be doing.

There is a rational voice inside our heads that tells us to get shit done.  Listening to it may just allow you to transform your life today. Unfortunately, there is a much louder voice that tempts us to go get a shot of dopamine instead. This shot comes in various forms. Distractions lead to instant gratification and this can come in the guise of a video game or a YouTube binge-watching session.  The fact that most of us have access to every bit of gossip, negativity, pornography, and other means of abusing oneself at arm’s length doesn’t help.

There can be absolutely no change in the status quo if we train ourselves to settle.  As cliched as it may sound, ideas are a dime-a-dozen. It is execution that matters more than anything else. This does not mean you take hasty calls that risk everything all at once.  A sensible path is one where you are aware of your goal and do something to move towards it every single day.

Transforming your life can be done by doing something to be a better version of yourself in at least one department.

 

The aspects of my life I attempt to focus on:

  1. Physical Health – Staying healthy is an important aspect of reinvention. If you’ve ever felt depressed  – you know that this is a period during which you let go of your physical wellbeing. Bounce back and transform your life by eating a wee bit healthier. Cut those dirty carbohydrates. Stop yourself from eating that piece of candy that you know isn’t good for you. Move a little. Go out for a walk. Lift some damn weights. Drink more water.  Do something today that improves your physical health.
  2. Mental health – Mental wellbeing isn’t a topic that is as taboo as it used to. Thank god for that. Seek help if need be and if not, daily practices such as guided meditation or an occasional social media detox can help keep your mind sharp, focused, and healthy. A lot of successful people also use journalling as a way to maintain their mental health and it is certainly worth a try.
  3. Spiritual health – This may seem iffy to several of you and it is a very personal aspect. However, I have found that staying away from negativity is easier said than done. I  surround myself with people who love me , trust me, and cherish my company has done wonders to my life.  This holds good for your online personas as well, by the way.  You cannot complain and be grateful at the same time. I find myself making a conscious choice to find things and people to be grateful for in any scenario. This helps in unimaginably amazing ways.

 

If you go through each day taking care of these little aspects and improving by even 1% on a daily basis, you can reinvent yourself and transform your life.

 

What next?

I will certainly write in-depth posts about each of these aspects in the future. Do you have any suggestions for topics I ought to be writing about? Do you have tips that fellow readers can use to become better versions of themselves? Leave a comment.

 

I’m also starting a newsletter. I’m yet to decide upon the frequency, but the emails will contain blog updates and other doses of inspiration that can help you become a better version of yourself.  This can be via favourite quotes I come across, links to podcasts or YouTube videos I found fascinating. Do subscribe if you feel that is something you’d like to read more about.

 

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