Nikhil Jois

Experiments, Learnings and Inspiration

Tag: Personal growth

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 want 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 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:

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