Imagine the scene. You spend weeks coordinating an important meeting: preparing a presentation with key information, making sure the “right” people are invited, and clearing your calendar so you are not double booked on the big day. And then the morning of the event arrives, and one by one, meeting attendees change their response from “accept” to “decline.” You are left with just you and the "Zoom room".
You are crushed, the project may be delayed, and your day is thrown off course as you scurry to follow up with attendees to reschedule. This scenario is not unique in the corporate world. And while no one likes a last-minute cancellation, there are a slew of good reasons to decline a meeting with notice (emphasis on the notice!). It proves to be beneficial for all if you practice brutal honesty when evaluating meeting invites. Professionals can learn how to assess meeting invites by utilizing a few quick check techniques to evaluate whether the time and meeting are necessary.
It is easy to forget that inviting someone to a meeting is, in essence, asking them to donate their time. This ask likely means they will invest time above and beyond the meeting preparing to participate, which reduces their availability to contribute on other projects. It is all fair in love and work if the meeting is a high priority on their list. But what if the topic does not take precedence? In this situation, it is worthwhile to check out the attendee list to see if others from your department or team have also been invited. Can you designate one person to report out after the meeting instead of all attending? This quick check helps your team plan accordingly and is a good example of how you would like your team to evaluate future meetings.
Another quick check technique is to review the agenda prior to accepting a meeting. This strategy allows you to consider whether your presence is needed for the entire duration of the meeting or just a specific portion. By communicating openly with the meeting planner, you may be able to identify a shorter block of time for you to join to cover an agenda item. You may even be able to negotiate moving your agenda item to the beginning or end of the meeting so you can slip in and out of the call. It is important to work with the planner to ensure this alteration doesn’t conflict with the flow of the material.
The final technique is to assess whether the meeting is set up for success. Is there a clear outline or itinerary to cover? Does the meeting have a clear purpose with necessary background? In short, you are testing the adage, “could this meeting be an email?” You can vet this by reviewing the materials available for the meeting and having a short conversation with the meeting coordinator. While this may seem pushy at first, it shows support and care if done in the right way. For example, use this conversation as a coaching opportunity if speaking with a less experienced colleague.
Learning to say no early and often not only preserves your time, it also shows respect for those around you. It increases communication and feedback with the meeting planner so they can plan accordingly. The techniques described above don’t just dump the problem in the planner’s lap. The quick checks help them identify alternatives and prepare for a well thought out meeting agenda. And that seems like time well spent.
Davey, L. (May 17, 2016). Polite Ways to Decline a Meeting Invitation. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/05/polite-ways-to-decline-a-meeting-invitation?registration=success
Johnson, W. (September 19, 2018). You Have to Stop Canceling and Rescheduling Things. Really. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/09/you-have-to-stop-canceling-and-rescheduling-things-really