I wrote a version of this post four years ago, but given the hectic nature of today's tech markets, I thought it was worth revisiting and updating.

Canceling meetings is a part of modern-day life. I seem to get so overprogrammed that if I ever want to have a breakout unplanned trip somewhere, I have to reschedule meetings. Not fun, but a reality.

People reschedule meetings with me on a regular basis, too. If done correctly, I never have any problem with it at all.

When you need to reschedule a meeting, make sure to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Give reflection to what inconvenience you may be causing. Make sure you're mentally aware of whether the person might have made special plans around your meeting. Basically, don't be cavalier about rescheduling meetings.

Let me give you an example. A couple of years ago, an entrepreneur had requested a meeting with me to present his business. A friend that I respect had introduced me and asked me to meet with the guy. I always try my best to take meetings like this, in which a friend has clearly committed some political capital in promising to help get someone a meeting.

The meeting was set for a Wednesday at 11 a.m. A few days before the meeting, the CEO asked me if we could change the meeting to 11:45, because "he was going to be wrapping up a meeting in Pasadena [California] at 11 a.m." and it would take 45 minutes to get to Century City, where my offices are. "No problem," I replied.

As the day approached, I noticed that there was a conference in L.A. that I wanted to attend. The day before the conference, I thought about rescheduling this meeting but then thought, "Oh, well. It's too close to the meeting date. I'll honor the commitment I made."  So I didn't go to the conference. At 11:15 a.m. (30 minutes before our meeting), my assistant got a call from the CEO's assistant requesting that we reschedule the meeting. I was furious. Less than 30 f---ing minutes before the meeting! Really!

I wrote directly to his assistant asking why he had canceled and made it clear that I had not attended a conference in town because of my having accepted this meeting. She responded that (paraphrasing), "He had gotten stuck at a conference with a very important potential adviser to his company. It was a big industry luminary and he needed to see whether he could meet with this adviser."

They were stuck at the same conference that I had wanted to attend. And that's why he stood me up! He was the one asking me for a meeting to raise money, and then he canceled to be at the conference. Aaaargh.

I wrote him the following email:

"As an entrepreneur myself, I completely understand that you wouldn't pass up the impromptu and opportunistic chance to meet somebody so important to your business. I would have done the same.  

But as a gentleman, I would have picked up the phone in advance and personally called the appointment to apologize for canceling at the last minute--no matter whom I was meeting. It's just professional courtesy."

And I meant it. I would have totally understood. Customers do come first. And this person was so important to his business that he should have stayed. But to have his assistant call my assistant was chickenshit.

The problem with rescheduling meetings at the last minute is that people plan their calendars around your meeting. They might schedule what part of town they'll be in or whether they'll even be in town at all! A last-minute change inconveniences the person with whom you're scheduled to meet. It still happens, but always weigh up whom you're meeting with and understand whether the person could be largely impacted by your change.

Here is how you cancel a meeting:

1. A few days in advance: 

Whether you do your own scheduling or whether you have an assistant, a polite email to reschedule a meeting with a few days notice is usually acceptable. I always ask my assistant to be vigilant about knowing whether anybody has planned travel to attend a meeting with me or our firm. We write that into the calendar entry so that I (and any of my partners) know this and would only reschedule if urgent.

2. The day before:

This starts to get problematic. You really need to know the person you're meeting and how big a problem it causes to reschedule the day before. People who live locally to you and whom you know don't have calendars full of meetings every day you can more easily reschedule. You can reach out to them and see whether it's OK. We usually try to re-slot them quickly. We try to be very accommodating on timing. Often if they were going to come to my office, I'll offer to go to theirs to make up for rescheduling so late. I assume that I owe them one.

And if we need to reschedule the day before, it's usually for a compelling reason. It's often because I have some last-minute unplanned travel. If it creates a big problem, we'll often stick by our initial commitment.

3. The day of the meeting:

It better be a great freakin' reason, such as travel problems, you're sick, or there's some burning issue you can't avoid. And obviously, it is far worse if you are the person who originally requested the meeting. In this case it warrants a personal email (or better yet a phone call) from you and a Herculean effort to reschedule the meeting.

Recently a team flew to meet me. They came from New York City. I assume they also had other meetings in L.A., but they really wanted to meet me. I had been introduced by a friend. Their plane had to land in Las Vegas unexpectedly to refuel. I had no other open slots to meet them that day, and they missed their window. So I ended up doing a dinner meeting, because I know what it's like when you travel to meet somebody about fundraising and might not get to have the meeting after all.

4. Within an hour of the meeting:

The sky better be falling. You better be eating humble pie. You better not be the person who asked for the meeting. You should grovel. You should call personally to state your sincerest apologies. If the meeting is first thing in the morning (e.g., it's hard to get ahold of the person), don't even think of it. The person has clearly planned the morning around your meeting.

5. If it's the third reschedule:

If you've rescheduled once, obviously it's best to try and not reschedule a second time. If done in advance, it's manageable. But the third time, it starts to get pretty annoying for the recipient. At a minimum, you owe the person lunch, or to do something surprising like sending cupcakes to the person's office with an apology note.

6. If multiple people are in the meeting:

Do your best not to reschedule when meetings involve multiple people. I'm not talking about two people from the same company (such as co-founders) or two partners at a VC firm, but when you have a board meeting that has five people there or when you've scheduled a meeting with three or four companies. Board meetings do get rescheduled, but when they do, it's best to do it as far in advance as possible. Last-minute changes with multiple people involved just exacerbate the inconveniences to others.

This article was originally published on Mark Suster's blog, Both Sides of the Table.  

Published on: Sep 15, 2014