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Easy invitations in Outlook

How to easily make appointments with other people using Outlook.

by Office for Mere Mortals

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Outlook has some great features for making appointments and sharing those details with others. The main features can be used by anyone to setup dinner, movies or any personal event.

Outlook lets you create an appointment in your calendar then email the details to other people. They can reply and have the appointment automatically added to their calendar.

Once it’s in an Outlook calendar, the appointment can show up anywhere you have that calendar displayed like a mobile phone or even some iPod’s – something we talk about in Effective Outlook Calendars.

The advantage of inviting with Outlook is accuracy and speed. You setup an appointment and send it to someone else you know they’ll have exactly the same info in their calendar. Responding to an invitation might only take a mouse click.

I'll talk about meetings and appointments, even though it sounds all business-like and formal. Personally I use these features for much more important and vital arrangements like theatre and dinner dates with friends. Sometimes the original invitation comes via email but the email could simply confirm the details of something already agreed on the phone.

These features work best with anyone who uses Outlook (any version but preferably Outlook 98 or above, but not Outlook Express) and uses the Calendar feature.

If the people you send appointments to don't have Outlook they'll still see the message but won’t be able to use the fast response or calendar features.

SENDING AN APPOINTMENT

Outlook lets you create an appointment in your calendar then email the details to other people. When they receive that message they can read the details but if they use Outlook there are bonuses.

  • the receiver can add the appointment to their Outlook calendar automatically, just click on buttons on the top of the message to accept, decline or accept tentatively.
  • the acknowledgement sent back to the sender automatically updates the sender's calendar. In effect the sender can track RSVP's automatically.

If there are changes to the appointment - a change of time or venue then the change can be sent around to all concerned and their calendars will be updated.

HOW TO SEND

To send an appointment you first create the appointment (not the email - Outlook will do that for you).

Go to New | Appointment. Fill in the subject, location, times etc. Since other people will see these details you might put in more details than you might for something you'd just read yourself.

Tip - anything you put in the large text comments area will go with the invitation. It's a good place to put extra info like directions to the meeting place. You can also attach images (say a street map) in this area.

Then click on the Scheduling tab. This is the part that seems overwhelming; in an integrated office with shared calendars for all you can list people or resources and check availability - there's even an Autopick option to choose the first available time for all the people your list. We mere humans don't want to worry about all that.

Ignore all the calendar view and autopick options – all you’re interested in is the attendees list.

Outlook - sharing appoinment - attendees list image from Easy invitations in Outlook at Office-Watch.com

Just enter the names of the attendees, one per line. Type in names just like you would for an email message, and they will be resolved to Contacts in the same way. You can enter an email address for anyone not in your Contacts list.

( You may get a prompt to join the Microsoft Office Internet Free/Busy service - click the 'Don't show this again' box then Cancel. )

Once the appointment details and invitation list is ready, choose Send from the toolbar or Appointment pane. The appointment will appear in your calendar and messages will go out to the invitees.

HOW TO RECEIVE

If you're on the receiving end of one of these Outlook generated invitations you'll see an email with some extra options.

In the Outlook preview pane you'll see the date, time and location of the meeting. Above that are some buttons - Accept, Tentative, Decline, Propose New Time and a link to your Calendar.

Outlook - incoming appointment email - response options image from Easy invitations in Outlook at Office-Watch.com

Note: these options are different for each version of Outlook - the above list of buttons is from Outlook 2003, earlier versions might not have all these choices.

Accept - the appointment will be added to your calendar and an RSVP sent back to the sender. You get the option to send a response, not send a response or edit the response before replying.

Tentative - the same as Accept except the appointment is added but only with Tentative status.

Decline - nothing is added to your appointment, you can choose to RSVP and explain your inability to attend or to do nothing in response.

Propose New Time - the schedule window will appear and you can select an alternative time or date. This is then sent back for consideration. The original sender can disable this option when sending out the invitation.

Calendar - just opens a window on your calendar so you can see what's already booked.

CHANGES

If anyone in the invitee list changes the date or time of the appointment they'll get an option to notify everyone else on the invitation list. This can be handy when plans can and do change.

Appointments do not have to be single events - recurring events can also be scheduled this way.

I have a weekly exercise and dinner arrangement that is managed that way - when someone can't attend for a single week our respective calendars are updated.

WHO'S COMING TO DINNER?

The sender of the invitation can open their copy of the appointment at any time, click the Tracking tab and see who has RSVP'd under the Response column. You can manually change the response for anyone who can't respond automatically (or engages in that old fashioned habit of calling on the phone to thank you for the invite).

You can also add or delete invitees at any time with invitations or updates going out as required.

Article posted: Friday, 18 December 2009

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