An email is the perfect method for telling somebody you can't go to a business meeting or presentation that you have been invited to or have already accepted an invitation to attend. The problem is, if you don't write it well, it can cause you problems.
But if you know both what to say and how to say it, you can write an effective email which not only reduces how annoyed the person will be with you, but will also stop them trying to change your mind and get you to go.
The type of email you would write differs depending on what the situation is. The email you would write for turning down an invitation to a meeting is going to be different in some aspects (the structure and some things you say) to what you would write if you are informing someone you can't go to a meeting that you have already agreed to go to (you will see these differences in the examples below). Having said that, there some things which any type of such email have in common.
What these type of emails should be like
All emails saying you can't attend a meeting:
Should be short and say at the beginning you can't go
Should generally give a non-specific reason for not attending
Should be apologetic
Shouldn't over explain the reason for not attending
This last point is important because the more you go into detail about why you can't attend, the more it sounds like you are lying. And as the person receiving your email is not going to be happy to hear what you are telling them anyway, you don't want to make them think this. To learn more about good reasons to give, read my article on 'excuses to not attend a meeting'. This explains what type of excuses to use and (more importantly) when and when not you should use them.
In the below exercise, you'll learn how to write your own emails to tell people you can't attend a meeting or an event. Through reading the three different email examples in the exercise and doing the test at the end, you'll learn not only effective things you can write in your own emails to get out of going to a meeting or an event, but also English phrases/vocabulary to make your emails both professional and polite.
Examples & Exercise: Can't attend a meeting emails
Read the following three short emails where the writer is informing the person they can't attend/go to a business meeting. Two are written in a formal style and one in a less formal style. The first email is turning down (not accepting) an invitation to a meeting, whilst the last two are informing someone they are no longer able to attend after they have accepted an invitation.
You will be tested in the quiz that follows on the words/phrases that are in bold in the three emails. So, from the context try to guess what both the meaning and the purpose/use of these words/phrases are.
Dear Mr Smith,
Thank you for the invitation to the review meeting on the 12 July. Unfortunately, due to a prior commitment that I am unable to change, I will not be able to attend the meeting.
If you need to contact me, please do not hesitate to do so on my mobile, 6902341899.
I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.
I hope that everything's going well over there?
I'm afraid that I can't make tomorrow's meeting. Something very important has just come up and I'm going to be very busy tomorrow.
I'm sorry for the short notice, but I just found out this morning.
Is there any chance we can put the meeting back until Friday?
Let me know if that's OK for you.
Dear Miss Garland,
With reference to the upcoming review meeting on Thursday the 13 November, I am afraid that due to personal reasons, I will not be able to attend.
Would you object if we postponed the meeting to next week? If this is appropriate, what day would be convenient for you?
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me on my mobile, 1902341892.
Allow me to apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.
Below is a definition/description of each of the words/phrases in bold from the above text. Choose the word/phrase which you believe is the correct answer for each question. Click on the "Check answer" button next to the answer box to check your answer.
When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question which you can press/click on. In the first icon, , you can find extra information about the word/phrase (e.g. when, where and how to use etc...) and a Spanish translation. In the second, , is where you can listen to the word/phrase.
An informal way to say 'I can't attend' a meeting or an event, is
I can't make: (verb) In this context 'to make' has the same meaning as 'to attend'. Although it seems strange to use the verb 'make' in this context, it is very common (more common than using 'attend' which sounds more formal), e.g. 'I can make the meeting'. It is also used for parties, meals, presentation etc... In Spanish: "no puedo ir a".
A reason you can't attend a meeting/event because something serious has happened in your private life (e.g with your family etc...), is
Due to personal reasons: (phrase) It is polite to give a reason when you can't do or attend something. But it needs to be a good reason and something that won't offend the person you're informing. 'Due to personal reasons' is a very good reason because people generally won't ask you for more inform on the subject. In Spanish: "por razones personales".
When someone is informed of changes to something just before it is planned to happen, it is
Short notice: (noun) It is often used as an apology, when there is little time between being informed of something and it actually happening, e.g. 'I can't come this afternoon, sorry for the short notice'. In Spanish: "poco antelación".
A reason you can't do/attend something because you already have a previous arrangement/plan, is
Due to a prior commitment: (phrase) It is polite to give a reason when you can't do or attend something. This is an excellent phrase to use as a reason, because it doesn't specify what the commitment or arrangement is. This phrase should only be used when you are not accepting an invitation. It should never to be used to say you can't go to a meeting after you have already accepted the invitation. In Spanish: "por problemas de agenda".
A very formal way to apologise that is used at the end of an email, is
Allow me to apologise for: (phrase) It is very polite due to the 'allow me', which makes it sound like asking permission. If you have apologised before in the email then it is custom to add 'once again' to the phrase and write it at the end of the email, e.g. 'Allow me to apologise once again for any inconvenience caused'. In Spanish: "permítame a discuplarle por".
A very formal way to ask if it's possible to have the meeting on a later day, is
Would you object if we postponed: (phrase) This is very professional, because it allows you to make a suggestion to someone and at the same time it informs them that it's their decision. Remember to use the second verb in the past simple, e.g. 'Would you object if I didn't go tonight?'. In Spanish: "le molestaria si aplazamos".
A reason why you can't attend a meeting that means you have to do something urgently (but doesn't say what), is
Something very important has just come up: (phrase) This basically means that something very serious has unexpectedly happened and you have to focus on it. It's a good reason to use with colleagues, but people may ask you what the reason is and it may not sound very professional to clients. In Spanish: "acaba de surgir algo importante".
A formal way to ask someone what day they would prefer to have a meeting on, is
What day would be convenient for you: (phrase) This is formal and has the same meaning as the more neutral 'what day would suit you'. You can replace 'day', with 'time' or 'place'. In Spanish: "qué dia te viene bien".
An informal way to ask someone if it's possible to have a meeting later, is
Any chance we can put the meeting back: (phrase) It is the informal equivalent of 'Would you object if we postponed the meeting', asking the person receiving the email to decide. 'to put back' has the same meaning as 'to postpone'. In Spanish: "alunga posibilidad que podemos aplazar la reunion".