This has grown to become one of my favorite consulting lines. I don’t use it often, but used judiciously, it’s a lifesaver. I use it a few different ways:
Using This Line at the Start of the Meeting
If you know in advance that the organizer (or some of the attendees) tend to ramble on or miss the agenda entirely, use this line right at the beginning, but do it quietly to the meeting organizer.
“Just to give you a heads up – I’ve got a hard stop today at 9:45. I need to leave early to prep for my next meeting. I’ll leave quietly so I don’t disrupt the meeting.”
The secret is the word “prep” – it tells the organizer you have work that you have to do to prepare, and that’s not negotiable. If you just say you need to make it to the next meeting, they’re gonna hold you as long as they possibly can.
It also doesn’t mean that your next meeting starts at 10:00 – you’re saying that you have prep work to do. Maybe the meeting actually starts at 10:30, or 11:00, or 11:30 – but you have work to do to prepare for it, and that’s why you have to bail.
However, this also means that you’re prepped for this meeting you’re attending now – and you’ve gotta be when you use this line. You need to have all your homework done and give prompt, accurate answers to any questions that come up. You want to show that you respected everyone else’s time too.
This line turns the organizer into a guardian looking out for your schedule. If the organizer is the problem, then it gives them fair warning that you’re going to bail. (But if the organizer is the problem, AND he’s your manager, then you’re kinda screwed.)
Using This Line During the Meeting
If the meeting’s going way off topic and it’s not relevant to you, this line gets a little harder to use:
“I hate to interrupt, but it’s 9:25, and I’ve got a hard stop today at 9:45. Are there things on the agenda that you need me for, before I leave at 9:45?”
Be warned: this is kind of a jerk move.
Scratch that – it’s totally a jerk move.
It’s like going nuclear. You only want to use this when things are way, way off topic, the meeting isn’t making progress, and there are other people in the room whose time is being wasted. (If you’re the only one whose time is being wasted, don’t even bother saying the line because you’ll get a bad reputation amongst your peers – just suck it up, wait until 9:55, and then quietly duck out. If anyone asks where you’re going, you can mumble the hard stop line, but that’s it.)
The Best Part: Your Family is a Hard Stop Too
If your kid’s got a baseball game after work, and you need to leave promptly at 4PM to make it, then your hard stop is 3:45PM. You just need to say, “I have a hard stop at HH:MM.”
The first time I used that line for personal reasons, I felt so dirty. I felt like I was lying, abusing the line, but it’s honestly true – I do have a hard stop at that time for commitments. I thought somebody would ask what was so urgent that I had to leave for.
And it turns out, most of the time people are actually appreciative of you giving that heads-up warning when you need to leave, and they respect your time more.
Check out more of my consulting lines posts.