How to convert a ‘No’ to a ‘Yes’ – R. Umashankar

(This is our first guest post and the person who has been kind to write this is Mr. R. Umashankar.  Mr. Umashankar is the Executive Director of ASSET India Foundation ( He won the prestigious Purpose Prize in 2008: The Purpose Prize is  for people over 60 who are committed to change their communities and the world.  He  is also Assistant Dean in the College of Engineering at the University of Arizona, USA. His firm view: “Success, doesn’t require any special skill except passion.” )

In the fast paced, high technology environment we live in, established practices for formal ways of meeting people must take the back seat to innovative approaches to meeting people you want to meet.

Let’s start with a large public event you plan to attend which has a panel discussion that is of interest to you. You are very impressed with a couple of the panelists and would really like to have a word with them. The only problem is that other attendees will have the same idea as well and the panelists will be mobbed After the event and you may not stand a chance of even getting close to them.

To get around this problem, you can find out ahead of time which hotel the panelists are staying and meet them in the lobby or get to the event venue early and scout out the entrance that will be used by the panelists. On one occasion, I followed a panelist to the men’s room and waited by the door- he could not go past me.

On another occasion, the President of a foundation I wanted to meet kept giving me the runaround, repeatedly postponing meeting dates. I was going to be at a wedding a few kilometers from where this person lived and I called her for an appointment. All the familiar excuses came out again- too busy Saturday morning, have to take daughter to her piano lessons, son to his soccer game etc. I said I will have a rental car and will be glad to pick her up and her children and run all the errands. This way it will give me time to talk to her. She relented and agreed.

On the day I showed up at her door, it was raining and the soccer game was canceled and the daughter went to her piano lesson with a friend. I got an hour with the president and left with a hefty donation check.

In another instance, a prominent venture Capitalist in Silicon Valley was featured on the cover of Siliconindia magazine and one of my projects got two lines somewhere inside. I used this joint appearance to establish contact and kept sending him information about my work. In one of my emails I expressed interest in meeting him and he stopped replying. The red flags must have gone up inside his head, sensing a pitch for funds. After his ignoring my eighth email, I called his office and asked his secretary when her boss was planning to take his next business trip.

She wanted to know why I was asking and I told her that since her boss would not reply my e-mails, I wanted to buy a ticket and be on the same flight with him so we could talk.
She put me on hold and came back a couple of minutes later saying “ You don’t have to be on the same flight with him. He will see you for fifteen minutes on March 23. ”.

Executives, CEOs the world over are stretched thin for time. Instead of asking for appointments with them in their offices, I offer to meet them at airport lounges between their flights. Works every time.

Many of the Engineering Student clubs come to me for funding for travel to conferences. In order to teach them the importance of networking and overcoming shyness, I tell them that
they can travel together but once they get to the conference, at breakfast, lunch and dinner, they must sit with total strangers and as proof, they must bring back business cards signed in the back. They come back and tell me that it was scary in the beginning but they are glad I pushed them to do it.

Who do you want to meet? And what innovative ways will you try to move this person from a ‘no’ to a ‘yes’?

” Quite unusual. How do you know Mr. Umashankar?” asked  Prasna**

“We go back a long way. I have known him for over 60 years now.”

“You do not seem to listen. I asked how do you know Mr. Umashankar?”

“Well, he is my elder brother.”

**Prasna Rao is an unusual friend. He appears every time I start writing something. He is almost always there when I am writing my blog. He asks questions that are razor sharp and often makes me uncomfortable. He is relentless till I answer his questions in simple, clear terms. You might find that he is most of the times asking questions that you want to. Therefore he is on your side, while he is putting me in the dock. I call him my Uninvited Coach


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