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On Stories and Human Connection: The Fuel for Professional Networking
Written By Helené van Tonder
Written by Helené van Tonder.
This week I spoke to Parisha P about superconnecting. She has a background in fashion and marketing and has worked with companies like Amazon, Cred, and Unacademy. Now, Parisha and her husband have (in stealth mode) started a new venture in the food and agriculture space. 🦸♂️
Parisha had some great stories to share, together with actionable advice on how to authentically connect with others. I learned a lot from her, and I’m eager to share it with you!
I’ve said this before: I knew nothing about networking or how valuable it can be before joining leap.club, but it’s like a whole new world has unfolded for me since I became a member of this community. I’ve discovered that professionally connecting with people can be fairly easy, much fun, and, above all, valuable in unexpected ways.
For starters, I always thought you need to be someone important — or at least have an important or interesting idea — before you could reach out and speak to other people without making a fool of yourself. But this is not the case. You can start wherever you are, and Parisha gave me great tips on how to be better at it.
Now, over to some transcribed snippets from our conversation. I think you’re going to love this one!
You recently had a great evening with a fellow member from leap.club. Can you tell me more about that?
Yes, so this was an evening with Nameeta Garg. It started when I read something related to food on her profile. Since I’m into food now, whenever I hear anything related to it, my ears prick up. I figured it won’t hurt to connect and hear about her story, you know, because she’s really experienced in the field.
We first scheduled a call, and we had a blast talking to each other. It went on for more than 30 minutes. At the end of it, we realised we should definitely meet in person the next time.
She’s not from Bangalore but happened to be here over the next ten days. She gave me a call the next weekend saying, “Hey, are you keen to catch up?” And I said, “Of course, I was waiting for your call!” 😁
My husband heard that I was going to meet her, and he was excited as well. Because, you know, these days everything related to food really excites us!
Nameeta and I met up, got into an auto, and went out for a coffee. ☕️ We had a really good conversation about what she’s been up to so far in the food space — she’s done a LOT of things. As a newbie in the space, I realised that I can benefit from her guidance tremendously. She was so upfront talking about her experience, and I appreciated that a lot.
My husband joined us later in the evening, and the three of us had a great brainstorming session about how we can incorporate her learnings into what we’re trying to do. There’s a big need for sustainable food businesses, but the market is also really big, so there’s a lot to wrap one’s head around. Right now, the idea of getting into this space is often rather daunting for us. But knowing that there are people like Nameeta who are willing to share and help makes it so much easier.
Our conversation just went on and on. Nameeta actually had something scheduled with an old friend of hers, but she ended up inviting him over as well! We wanted to leave so as not to impose on them, but she said, “No, no, no, you guys stay!”
So we got to meet him too! He’s a pastry chef who’s traveled all over the world. 👨🍳 He opened his own cloud kitchen in Bangalore last year, and he told us all about it. You know, it’s just so fascinating to hear the stories of different people, and how they have done different things in the food space.
We had such a fun evening — simply a bunch of strangers coming together around a shared passion. It was very unique and special, especially during these pandemic times.
Afterwards my husband asked: “So where did you meet her again?” I had to explain all about leap to him — how cool it is, and how many great connects one can make through it.
Why is it important to you to connect with other people?
I am a people person — I’m sure you can tell. In general, I like getting to know people. I’m that person who always knows someone. Whenever someone asks, “Who can help us get this or that done?”, I know someone. It’s just who I am. I’ve connected so many people, and I’ve seen the value of it. I think human connections are a very important part of life.
You just never know how you might be able to help each other out — now or in the future. That’s why I love it. 😍
Take Nameeta for example. She can connect me with the most relevant people for a certain aspect of what I’m trying to build. I didn’t know this beforehand, but I discovered it by talking to her. Just the other day I texted her saying, “Hi Nameeta, I read about this regulation. You are into food safety, so I assume you can help me with more material or people I should speak with. Can you help?” And she said, “Hey, just give me some time on this.” Two days later she texted me back saying, “Hey Parisha, I found just the person who knows all about this. Let me introduce you.”
What networking tips can you share that would help people like me?
💡 Tip 1: Try to understand who the other person is
Here’s my first tip: Stop thinking that networking is about being good at small talk. Small talk is not required, and most people are daunted by it. “How do I talk? What do I talk about? I don’t like talking about the weather.” 😨
Just initiate the conversation by asking someone about themselves, and then listen carefully. Share your own story too. That will allow both of you to discover the mutual touch-points.
Remember that the other person is probably just as awkward as you are about talking to someone for the first time. But over time, you learn that that awkwardness is not such a big deal. That part of the conversation gets over, and then you find the mutual interests. No one is expecting to have a blast in the first conversation, it’s just about understanding who that person is. Then, later on, you can think about how you can approach that person in a way that can interest them, and add value. From there, conversations become easy. Because once you find a point that interests both of you, there’s no need or even room for small talk. Conversations just flow from there. If we find a point that interests both of us, we’ll both be invested in the conversation and relationship.
That’s my tip for what to talk about in the first conversation. Now, let’s talk about how you do it.
💡 Tip 2: Give the other person context about where you’re coming from
If someone asks you, “Hey, what have you been up to?” it’s best to not talk about what you’re doing right now. Context helps, chronology helps. Give someone insight into where you’re coming from. That’s a great way to open conversations and explore possible points of connection. Share your story, and ask questions that will allow you to learn about their story.
The aim is to give people something to connect with. If you’re just being brief and superficial, or introduce yourself in a CV-like way, you don’t achieve that goal. If someone tells me, “I’m an entrepreneur in stealth mode doing something in the agri space”, I’ll possibly only be like, “Oh okay, good to know.” There won’t be much else to explore.
But if someone comes with a story there’s much more for the other person to explore. For example: “I’m someone with a background in fashion and marketing. I worked with x, y, z companies. This is what I liked about it, this is what I didn’t like about it. This is what I learned. This worked for me. This made me feel a certain way. That’s what brought me to where I am now — an entrepreneur in stealth mode.” Now that gives the other person a LOT to engage with, including emotions. Emotions are powerful connectors between people, especially if someone else feels good while talking to you.
💡 Tip 3: Be authentic
Here’s the real trick: All of this only works if you’re being authentic. There’s really merit in being yourself because being yourself is easy. Trying to be someone you’re not for the sake of networking doesn’t work. Your own story is what you can build connections around.
Of course, who you are can and will grow, but you can’t start out by faking it. You won’t be able to connect like that. Spend some effort on polishing your story, making sure you know how to succinctly present the interesting parts of yourself to others so that they can connect with it.
Over time, this really becomes easy, because being yourself is effortless. Moreover, your story is unique and it’s yours. No one else can have my same story, and no one else can have the same impact as me with that story. 🔑 That’s the key.
So to conclude: Don’t be scared of having conversations. Share your story with others. Be genuinely interested in other people’s stories. And remember that it’s okay if some conversations aren’t great. No two people are the same, and not everyone hits it off. I can be really unimpressed by a person, but someone else can think they’re amazing. There will be people you don’t resonate with and vice versa. Be generous, either way. Find the people you do resonate with — there are tons out there!