Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Cracking The Conference Code- Beyond Suits and Ties

Ironically, the only thing constant about life is change. The clock keeps ticking. The most successful and powerful empires at one time are conquered as the new ones take charge. You might be at the top of your academics or career path for the time being, but in order to stay put, you need to keep yourself constantly updated with the latest in your field. The web holds a large amount of knowledge and most of us fail to use this precisely to our benefit. From online courses that require payment to free webinars and tutorials, it is quite a lot to take in and what's even harder is to filter out that which is relevant to you. 

Interaction is a crucial key to survival. History has presented us with thousands of examples like the Barter trade system where commodities were exchanged in order to meet the needs of different people. Whether your's is a corporate world or a research lab, you will definitely need to exchange ideas. The Google Impact Challenge is an example of how fresh and innovative ideas can change lives with the help of technology but only when they are effectively communicated and shared with the world. One of the reasons why schools are preferred over homeschooling lies in this interaction. When like-minded people learn or work together they become better at critical thinking, problem-solving and not to mention the personal and character development that is achieved in the process.

Conferences are important as they allow discussion on important updates in different fields. Presentations made at conferences are aimed at enlightening people about a recent discovery or a new tool that could make lives easier. Seeing thousands of abstract ideas in front of you and later hearing about the latest topics of debates in your field is bound to trigger the brain more than what could be accomplished while working in isolation. The reason this blog post is aimed towards conferences rather than short seminars/meeting is because the latter is restricted in time and scope. Each year there are hundreds of conferences held across the globe covering various topics. There are those related to blogging too! Most conferences last 2-3days and they are the perfect getaways. It would be taking a break from your work while still learning something. And let's admit it, half of the things you learn at college would not have practical application. However, at a conference, everything is practical.

Five Reasons You Need To Attend That Conference:

1.Stay Smart: Like I mentioned in the introduction of this blog post you need to be on top of your game, at all times. Conferences will focus on helping you achieve that by including presentations and discussions on the current updates. Even the smartest of the physicians need to constantly do their homework as many new therapies are introduced daily and replace the old methods. The active participation that comes with conferences will trigger your brain to ponder on the hot topics in your field and the next time you hear it being discussed over coffee, you will have a lot to say which will impress your fellow colleagues and your bosses alike.

2.Networking: I cannot stress this point enough. Conferences have reputed Professors and people from the industry in attendance for sessions and discussions. It is crucial to take note of them if you desire to work with them in the future. It could be a collaboration between businesses or a group research project but it would all start at the conference when one of you would realize that your topic of interest is not very different. Even if it is different, there is such a thing called as multidisciplinary projects and you never know when your idea would be a game changer in someone's project.

Note: Don't be afraid and think your concepts would be stolen and not participate at all. If needed take measures to protect your work prior to presentation.

3.Inspiration: Daily routine can get monotonous especially when you are surrounded by the same people in the same area. Exposure to new faces, ideas, and a new location all together could be the solution to that problem that you have been stuck on for so long. Moreover, you could meet experts at a conference or even some sales person at an exhibition that would be more than willing to share their expertise and help you with your technical problem. Being with like minded people will surely get your brain juices flowing again and give you the much-needed dose of inspiration.

4.Self Investment: Conferences could prove to be an expensive investment when matters like traveling, accommodation, food and most importantly the conference fee itself are brought into the picture. This investment would pay off as it would equip you with soft skills and sharpen your communication, presentation, public speaking etc. Just make sure that you choose the right conference to attend. Do your homework on the speakers, presenters and make the most out of it!

5.Travel and Explore: Conferences are usually based on fun locations. The conference website would normally have a list of places of interest nearby the venue that you could explore before or after the conference. This would be perfect if you travel with your friends or involve the new acquaintances you have made at the conference. It would leave you with wonderful memories to last you a lifetime.

As I enter the final year of college, I have managed to attend one conference so far where I got the opportunity to make a presentation. The conference had about 700 guests and it turned out to be a memorable experience. It taught me that presentations that were followed by questions from the audience and answers by the author, would stick with you far more than anything you read online. 

I would like to add that a certificate for attending the conference has zero value in my opinion and experience (from sourcing in Human Resources). A mention of the conference in your resume might get you an interview but having no idea of what went on in the conference will clearly leave you embarrassed when you will be questioned about it. If you attend a conference please make sure to do it only if you whole-heartedly are interested. 

I hope you found this blog post helpful and have been convinced in attending the next good conference opportunity that comes your way.

You can check out the Harvard Business Review's post on making the most out of the conference.

-Nishma Khetia.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Not So Small: Small Talk


"There’s nothing small about small talk. Though you may think that making small talk is just a way to pass the time or avoid awkwardness, many great friendships and relationships have started with a discussion about the weather. Small talk can not only help you build a meaningful bond with a person, but it’s also a vital skill that will benefit you in the professional world "-wikiHow on small talk.

Being born and brought up in Dar-es-salaam, I have always had a constant group of friends and new acquaintances, if any, would always be through my current friends and in their presence.  Having said that, I would consider myself to be below average when it comes to making small talk at social events and gatherings. I always tend to come up with various things to say (in my head) while listening to a conversation but can never muster up the courage to actually say the words and communicate. The past month has been excruciatingly painful as I knew absolutely no one in Bangalore city during my month long internship. Whether it was dealing with new roommates at my paying guest accommodation or with seniors and colleagues, I was failing terribly at striking up any sort of conversation. I would describe myself as two totally opposite sides of the same coin, irritatingly talkative once I am comfortable with people but quite the opposite initially.

I was inspired to write this blog post after one such small talk scenario. After accepting the invitation to an office party, I was having second thoughts. Previously, all the coffee breaks at the office had been filled with interesting small talks that turned to good conversations except for the fact that I had sat silently though most of them. I promised myself that I would try to get better at small talk while having a good time at the party. Once I arrived at the party, I noticed that people began conversations with a simple compliment on each other's outfits, or style of dancing or something light and simple. Majority of the people were on the dance floor and I joined them in order to get out of having to make small talk. Later that night, I was told by my seniors who were going to arrange my ride back home that I should get a lift from a guy named Adi. I knew the time had come when I had to make a choice and this time I did not choose awkward silence.

I had not met Adi before since he worked in a different office but under the same Human Resources Department. The journey back home was a good twelve kilometers and I was going to work on my small talk skills. Getting into the car, I introduced myself and so did he. I assumed he was four to five years older than me. He began with the usual question "Where are you from?" and I have now realized that is the most interesting thing about me. On revealing that I am from Tanzania, the curiosity generally develops. I don't know if it was because Adi was from HR and had been taught on how to make small talk (yes, the team gets Learning and Development sessions to teach them such skills) or because I was helping him by answering with elaborative answers and asking a few questions in return, or a combination of both but we continued chatting throughout the ride. The topics included our education qualifications, Tanzanian politics, the need of bigger roads owning to traffic in metro cities and so much more. I also learned that both of our fathers enjoyed rally driving and that we had been taught the basics on fixing cars before we were allowed us to take driving lessons!

In the following week, I felt more confident at small talk. I began talking about simple topics like news headlines (but always on lighter topics), food, the weather, clothing etc. Now before I continue further let me put a

Disclaimer: I love deep and meaningful conversations that could educate me.  I know that there exists a group of people who would be against small talk. To them I would like to say, if you don't want to do it, it's fine as long as 'you' are comfortable with the silence.

In today's world networking is considered as an important key to success. You never know which of your contacts would help you out in the future. Another point of significance to consider before judging small talk (and my blog post) is that if you are ever going to find yourself surrounded by strangers, at parties, social events or anything along those lines, you will definitely need small talk, there is no denying it.

Therefore, I will say this: use small talk to your advantage but don't let all your conversations be like that.  If you think an individual is going to stick around, make meaningful conversation that could benefit both of you and increase their interest in you (if that's your goal).

From my personal experience and a little research on small talk online, I have got the following pointers for anyone who wants to better their small talk game:

1. Start with names and a good introduction: Names are very important and when you familiarize yourself with another individual's name they tend to feel more at ease around you. Try saying their name a few times as you chat with them this will help you remember it better. Furthermore, you should come up with a short but interesting introduction for yourself. You can use the same introduction with multiple people if you think it is working in your favor. 

2. Stick to Simple Topics: Weather (It is boring but when you have nothing to say, it will be equivalent to finding gold!), News headlines, the latest Movies (Music and Books too), compliments on clothing (and asking one where they got it from even if you don't want to buy it), something about your and their general background etc.

Don't: I have had conversations with people who have elaborated on topics such as their past relationships during the very first meeting. Don't do this. Steer clear of controversial topics like hardcore politics and religious debates.

3. Homework Helps: If you have time before an event where you know you will be having to socialize, think of a few things to discuss. It could perhaps be something about the chief guest or the purpose/ reason behind the social event. It should be a common topic relevant to the theme of the event where all parties would be able to contribute to the conversation hence saving you from doing all the talking.

4.Tackling Unpleasant Situations: There are those sad people who have met you before, several times but ignore you on purpose. Give them a lesson on social skills and remind them like so "Hello. I believe I have met you before at..."   At other times you might need to make an exit from a conversation and in such scenarios you can use several excuses like 'getting food', 'bathroom' or simply 'need to make a phone call'.

5. Save Dying Conversations: Yes, there might have been silence for more than a few seconds but that does not mean that all hope is lost. Don't hold back and just keep the conversation going. You can be a good listener and ask a question that would require the other person to elaborate example "What school do your kids attend?" or something about their parents or spouse.

Remember: You should use this only when you have been given some previous information on the same subject (Someone might have lost a dear family member).

Last but not the least, if you find the person interesting and the feeling is reciprocated be sure to exchange contact details so you may be able to keep in touch. If not, a polite goodbye should suffice.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. Thank you for reading :)

-Nishma Khetia.

Friday, 1 July 2016

The Life and Lies of a Paying Guest

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone"
-Neale Donald Walsch

An online search for paying guests will give you a lot of accommodation options but hold on! All those are from the perspective of the PG owner who is marketing his product. Further search showed me very few blogs that spoke about actual PG experience and therefore I decided to share my experience with all my readers. In case you have ever lived in a PG, I am sure you will be able to relate and for the rest of you, my blog post can help you brace yourself for what’s out there in the PG World:

The movie Wake Up Sid is one of my favorites. I love the movie because of the lead female, Aisha, played by Konkona Sen. In the movie she is shown to come to Mumbai from Kolkata to chase her dreams, all on her own. I always wanted to experience living in a Metro city in India, chasing the fast-paced metro life, catching up with it and maybe one day, making it through the maze on my own. Two of my close friends, Paridihi and Rushika live in Mumbai. They reflect strong, brave, independent women who are hustling hard and have become my inspiration. My summer Internship in Bangalore after my third year of B Pharm allowed me to take that first step in that direction.

 My overnight bus brought me to Bangalore early on a Saturday morning. I went straight to the area known as Electronics city which was where the company was located. An online search had given me the liberty of selecting from many Paying Guest options available in my area.
Electronics city was a part of Bangalore which I had never seen before. As I was told on my orientation ‘it was closer to Tamil Nadu than Karnataka’ (it was 25 kilometers from the Bangalore city). On entering my neighborhood, I realized it was packed with industries (over 300 in Electronics city) and buildings which offered PG accommodation.

The notion I had was that PGs were houses were a room would be given on rent. In Indian metro cities, the demand for Paying Guest was sky high. The enormous number of students and young employees that came to metro cities to work, some for multinational companies and others for startups, needed budget friendly accommodation. The answer was living the life as a paying guest. The rent was between 5000-8000 Rupees depending on the choice of room. My PG owner told me he was a Civil engineer who now had left his carrier path to build and run a PG! I soon realized that your life becomes simple if you make friends with the PG owner. The PGs were like a hostel except with fewer rules.

My PG building was newly built and therefore the rooms were clean. The facilities offered were identical in majority of the PGs and included two meals, a bed, a cupboard, a common washing machine and Wifi. I considered myself lucky to have been told beforehand that I had to get my own bed-sheet, pillow, blanket and utensils The single room at my PG was very small and I knew I would feel suffocated in it. I choose the bigger room instead. I had to share a bathroom with three other girls. The girls would also be passing through my room and I would have no privacy but I preferred the ventilation and space over privacy.
The meals (breakfast and dinner) were made according to South Indian cuisine. Three years in Karnataka had taught me to adapt to the local food. I introduced myself to my roommates who were all from a town near Manipal! They were in Bangalore for a month working on a project as part of their MSc Chemistry course. They were all friendly and asked me a bunch of questions which I happily answered. 

The following week was unpredictable. The monsoon showers made life difficult and the roads dirty. My life looked like it was stuck in mud at that point. Every day, I had a new thing that would upset me. Once it was having my milk packet stolen from the common fridge (luckily that’s the only thing so far!) and many times it was the regular power cut in Electronics city (the irony!)). My workplace was a fifteen-minute walk from my PG which was reasonable at first but the weather made it so much worse. The Bangalore-Chennai Highway was right outside my PG and crossing it every day twice was another daily challenge. I had not realized exactly what living 25 kilometers away from the city meant until I actually wanted to go to the city. Traffic was a major problem and obviously the rain brought it to a standstill.

My PG was right at the border of Electronics city and the Industrial Area. The locality ensured that there was no sign of entertainment activity for many kilometers. There was no garden or park where I could go for a walk. The green parks were one of the reasons I loved Bangalore. The evening time was extremely boring since all there was left to do was sleep. My roommates woke up at 5.45am and the morning chatter made it impossible for me to sleep once they were awake.

After the first week, I reminded myself of my inspiration and the whole idea being my choice in the first place. I planned to go to bed by 10pm making sure that I got enough rest. Having my sleep schedule in order took care of everything else. I learned my way around my neighborhood. I knew where I could get food on days when I did not want to eat rice thrice a day!

After two weeks in Bangalore I have learned that traveling to a place as a tourist during a vacation is very different from actually living there. In any case, I believe in stepping out of my comfort zone (even though I might do it with a little complaining on the side). I am looking forward to the coming weeks in this city and making the best out of my time here.

If you are planning to stay in any paying guest facility here are a few points you should consider:

-The Location : try to pick a place close to work/college. It will help you save time and traveling expenses. I recommend checking out options online but making the final call after personally visiting them as you will have many options to pick from.
-Rent plus other expenses : plan your budget and have your rent sorted in advance so you don't face any problems later.
-Security : get a lock and key for your cupboard and any bags you plan on leaving outside. If you get a personal room then  a lock for that as well. Try to ask your PG owner of the timings and security in that area. Be very careful with your precious items!
-Transport: take a stroll around your area or check on the map to locate the nearest bus station/ taxi stop to make your life easier.
-Facilities offered: talk to your PG owner on what facilities are available at the PG.

 After some research I found some more information regarding PGs and I am sharing it with you through the links below (they are mainly for Bangalore but things are more or less same in all cities):

Thank you for reading :) I hope it was helpful for you and if you know any of your friends who will be going to PGs be sure to share it with them.

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