Last year, it was calculated that organizations spend around 15% of their time in meetings, and during this COVID lockdown, it is likely that there have been more meetings than ever.
Meetings tend to be scheduled in three ways: online scheduling tool, telephone, or email.
Scheduling via email
A typical email would be (this email is between two people):
Subject line: Meeting, Tuesday 6th at 10.00 CET – revised social-distancing measures
I was just wondering if you might be free for a Zoom meeting next Tuesday at 10.00 Central Europe Time.
The meeting is with the full team and the aim is to understand how to implement the new social-distancing measures.
I know that you have other meetings scheduled for Tuesday, but it would be great if you could reschedule them for another time. Discussing social distancing is a priority at the moment.
Attached is a two-page document that all participants need to read before the meeting.
Please confirm by 17.00 today that you will be able to attend the meeting.
Note that the subject line is very precise. Simply writing Meeting is not enough – people have meetings all the time, so such a subject line would be too generic and also very unhelpful. Instead, the subject line in the email above is like a mini summary of the whole email. If possible, all subject lines should contain enough information that if the recipient is in a hurry, they can decide whether they need to read the email now or later.
Structure your email clearly: One sentence per paragraph. White space between each paragraph.
Let’s look at the structure. Each sentence is divided into a separate paragraph. This makes the email easy to read and navigate.
Paragraph 1: time and type (Zoom) of meeting
Paragraph 2: topic of meeting
Paragraph 3: encouragement/reason to attend the meeting
Paragraph 4: explanation of what the recipient needs to do to prepare for the meeting
Paragraph 5: deadline for confirmation of attendance. Setting a deadline is always important, not just when making arrangements, but also when requesting information or tasks. If you simply write “Let me know”, then there is no guarantee that the recipient will be motivated to tell you. Also, writing “Please get back to me as soon as possible” does not help because it gives no precise time. Even saying “I need a reply URGENTLY” is not effective, as what is urgent for you may not be urgent for your recipient.
Arranging a meeting with someone you have not met before
The above email is an internal email between two people who already know each other. But you may also want to arrange a meeting with someone you do not know, for example, a potential client. Here is an example:
Your name was given to me by Rajiv Khan who thought you might be interested in … …
I am the marketing manager at …. and as you can see from our website (www.xxx.yyy), we specialize in …
Next month, I plan to be in your area and was wondering whether you might find the time to meet, so that I can give you more details about …
I know you are very busy, but I assure you the meeting should not take up more than 20 minutes of your valuable time. Please let me know whether you might be free in the first or second week of next month.
From the information about your company that I have received from Mr. Khan, I am sure we could save you up to 20% on your purchases of …
I look forward to hearing from you.
Like the previous email, this email uses a five-part structure:
1) introduce yourself/explain how you got the recipient’s email address;
2) announce that you would like to meet with the recipient and explain the purpose of the meeting;
3) suggest a possible date/time;
4) motivate the recipient to agree to the meeting;
5) use a formal salutation (in the first email, there was no salutation as the two people are colleagues; alternatively, the writer could have put Best regards).
Using the phone
A telephone call is likely to adopt a similar structure, but of course the person you are phoning (your interlocutor) can respond immediately. Here are some typical phrases:
You (introductory question): “I was wondering whether you would be free to meet later this week.”
You (proposing a precise time): “So, would Thursday morning at 10 o’clock suit you?”
You (your reply when your interlocutor says he/she is busy): “I understand, but I guarantee I would need no more than 20 minutes of your time. When might you be free later this month or early next month?”
Interlocutor (suggesting the following month): “Unfortunately, I am extremely busy at the moment.” or “I’m busy right through to the end of this month. Maybe the second week of next month.”
Interlocutor (suggesting a later time the same day): “Just a moment, I’ll check my diary. I could do Wednesday afternoon, but it would have to be quite late. Could you manage around 6 o’clock?”
Interlocutor (suggesting a later time the same day): “Mmm, could you make it 11 o’clock? Otherwise, …”
Interlocutor (suggesting a different time): “Actually, I think I’m going to be tied up all of Thursday. I’ve got to do a presentation and I can’t really shift it at such short notice. What about Wednesday? Would that be any good for you?”
(Note: suit you = be good for you; tied up = busy; could you manage it? = is this a possibility for you?; shift it = move the time.)
When you have used the phone to schedule a meeting, send a follow-up email
When you make a phone call of this type, try to keep it as short as possible as this will reassure your interlocutor that at the real meeting, you will be equally concise and not take up too much of their time. Whenever you make an arrangement via phone, it is a good idea to send a follow-up email in which you confirm everything that you have said during the phone call. This is especially beneficial if you are not a native speaker and want to make sure that you have understood everything correctly. The email should include:
– a reminder of who you are
– how you found out your interlocutor’s name
– the purpose and proposed time of the meeting
– the benefit of the meeting from the interlocutor’s point of view
– your contact details.
Sometimes, meetings need to be rescheduled, i.e., organized for a different time. Typical phrases that you may need for either an email or a phone call:
I am afraid I need to reschedule our meeting. The original time was ____; the proposed new time is ____ . If you could confirm by the end of today, that would be perfect. Once again, sorry for the change.
I am very sorry, but I need to cancel our meeting (arranged for next Wednesday at 10.00). Unfortunately, something unexpected has come up that requires my urgent attention. Would it be possible for you to do Thursday instead at 10.00? Once again, I apologize for having to change our arrangements and I hope this does not cause you any problems.
Online scheduling tools
The time you spend actually arranging these meetings depends on what technology you use. Using email or the phone, how long do you think it would take to arrange a private dinner with four to six participants and a business meeting with six to eight participants?
According to a survey commissioned by Doodle (an online scheduling tool), the dinner would take between 14-17 minutes to organize, and the business meeting 20-25 minutes. With Doodle, the same tasks would apparently take 5-10 minutes, and 13-17 minutes, respectively. In any case, if you adopt the clear structures I have outlined above for emails and phone calls, I am sure you can beat Doodle’s times!