Who else are you in touch with?

Thing with catching up with old friends/acquaintances is that you sometimes don’t know if you still connect with them. It might be a while since you last met, and having moved on in different directions, there is a very good chance that you don’t connect with each other at all. Yes, there is the environment you shared several years back that connects you, but when that becomes the only source of connection, it can get rather boring and you might be itching for the conversation to be over.

In order to determine whether you still connect with an old friend/acquaintance, I have a simple test. I must warn you that this test has no predictive power – it won’t tell you before you meet your friend if you connect with him/her or not. It, however, analyzes post the event how well you connected. And can help you make a decision if you have an opportunity to meet them again.

Invariably, I’ve found that when you catch up with old friends, sooner or later, one of you will ask the other, “so who else are you in touch with?”. Between any two people, there are always these “filler lines”, what you say when you realize you have nothing to talk about. With old friends/acquaintances, it is this. Remember that your only connection is the environment you shared a while back, and the other people that inhabited that environment. So, in the absence of anything else to talk about, you end up talking about this.

The metric (I know I’ve been meandering) is this: from the time you meet your old friend/acquaintance, measure how much time it takes before the conversation goes to “so who else are you in touch with”. This gives you an indication of how well you connect with this person. The longer the time gap between you people meeting and this question coming up, the better you connect – it simply means you have so many other things to talk about, so this doesn’t come up.

This afternoon I met  a friend from school and in the hour and quarter we spoke, this question never came up. This indicates that I still connect with him pretty well. At the other extreme there have been people with whom the question has been popped within five minutes of meeting – showing how far we’ve drifted and there’s absolutely nothing to connect us any more.

There are times I’ve been surprised, either way. Once I met a senior from school not knowing if I had much to talk to him. The question was popped only forty five minutes into the conversation. We’ve subsequently met a couple of times. Other people I’ve gone to meet thinking of a dozen things to talk to only for them to start the conversation with “who have you been in touch with?”

I’d once visited Bishop Cotton’s Boys’ School in Bangalore (for a chess tournament) and noticed this board somewhere in the school. It said (paraphrasing):

Great minds discuss ideas,
Middling minds discuss events,
Small minds discuss people.


Networking eatings

Given that I’m a freelancer and do several things to earn my money, and that there is no consistency in my income flow, I need to do a lot of “networking”. Essentially, this is about generally catching up with someone over an informal chat, discussing what we do, and exploring if there were any synergies to exploit. I think this is great option value, for meeting people and getting their perspectives makes you think different, and that can give you ideas which you can potentially make money out of at a later point in time.

The point of this post about the venues for such networking meetings. I don’t have an office – I work from home, and my home office is not particularly suited for meetings, so I prefer to do my meetings outside. Sometimes, when the person I’m meeting has an office, we end up doing the meeting there. I’ll leave out those meetings from this discussion, since there is nothing really to be described about the venue. Most other occasions, though, meetings happen over food and drink, more likely the latter. This post is about good and bad places for networking meetings.

Most of my “networking meetings” so far have happened at the trusty old Cafe Coffee Day. The city is littered with several of these outlets, and for the price of two cappuccinos, they offer excellent place to sit and talk for hours together. The problem, though, is that they have now (for a couple of years or so) gone pre-paid. You need to order at the counter before you settle down at a table, and each time you want something more you need to go up and order again. There are two problems this poses.

Firstly, if you reach before the other person (chances of both reaching at the same instant are infinitesimal), you will need to wait. And in the time when you’re occupying a table and haven’t ordered you have to deal with strange glares from the cafe staff. You need to keep telling them “I’m waiting for a friend”. The next problem is with payment dynamics. It is so much easier to split the bill when you’re paying at the table. It gets complicated when you’re paying at the counter, with the effect that more often than not one of you will end up paying for both of you. That’s not exactly a problem, but starting a meeting with discussions on who will pay is not exactly the best way to go.

My initial meetings with the person who has turned out to be my biggest client so far happened in the coffee shop of a five star hotel. I must mention here that in most five star hotels in Bangalore, you get remarkably good filter coffee nowadays. Coffee shops of five star hotels are good places for these meetings, for they are usually quiet and you are served at your desk. They come at a cost, however – though you might argue that paying two hundred rupees for filter coffee at Vivanta is not so much more than paying a hundred rupees for a cappuccino at Cafe Coffee Day.

Breakfast at a five star hotel, however, isn’t that great for networking. Recently, I did a breakfast meeting at a five star hotel. As you might expect, we had the buffet. However, the problem with doing a meeting over a breakfast buffet in a five star hotel is that you simply can’t do justice to the spread! You can’t keep going for refills, and you would want to stick to things you can eat without creating much of a mess. And when you’re doing a professional meeting you don’t want to be eating too much also.

Then there are South Indian restaurants. I’ve done some meetings in those, also. The problem, however, is that such restaurants rely on quick table turnover and even if you go in off-peak times you get strange looks if you stay too long. This has to be mitigated with staggered orders through the course of your meeting. The advantage is that these places are cheap and the food is great.

I don’t usually do networking meetings over drinks. It has nothing to do with my capacity – it is just that most pubs are loud and not particularly conducive for conversation. And you don’t want to be screaming at the top of your voice in a professional meeting. That doesn’t mean I haven’t done meetings in pubs, though, but it’s usually after a certain degree of familiarity has been established.

Finally let us come to the lunch meetings. Here, it is important that you choose a cuisine that is high density. Again you don’t want to spend too much time eating, so you should prefer food that you can eat little of but will still fill you up. Also, you need to choose a cuisine that’s not messy. On both counts, North Indian is NOT ideal – it’s not very high density, and you need to eat with your hands which can become messy and that’s not something you want at a meeting. A further problem is that North Indian food in most restaurants comes in shared portions – and when you’re meeting someone professionally it can get a little uncomfortable.

These problems are there in East Asian also. South Indian restaurants (in Bangalore) are mostly quick service and thus not great for networking lunches (and south indian food is low density). So the ideal choice in this case is European – portions are small, the food is filling, you can eat it all with a knife and fork and it comes in individual portions.

I’ll put more fundaes on this matter as I get more experienced in the matter of networking eatings. I’m off now – need to rush to a lunch meeting!