How to Create Calendar Invites That Don’t Piss People Off


Get Shift Done: Management

You’ve sent the emails, made the pitch, and landed the meeting. Big meeting, big stakes. So when you send a calendar invitation to hold another person’s valuable time, don’t be a noob — especially if you want the right people to show up at your meeting, at the right time.

In a perfect world:

  • You create the invitation in a calendar program…
  • which emails the invitation to the people you invite…
  • who accept the invitation…
  • at which point you are notified that the meeting is all set.
  • If the meeting’s time, place, or details change, that change is reflected on everyone’s calendar.

If you think about it, there’s a fair amount of internet plumbing involved in making all that happen — and with most things having to do with internet plumbing, a lot of things can get sideways in unexpected ways. Although invitations all follow the iCalendar format (called .ics), a technical standard is not the same thing as a standard implementation. Understanding how calendar apps interact is important.

The problem is, calendar programs don’t agree on how to handle invites, either on the sending or the receiving end. This would be fine if everyone used the same application and had a single workflow. Most of us live in the real world, though, where inviting someone to a meeting is not as simple as just inviting someone to a meeting. There’s a certain amount of Goofus and Gallant to doing this, and as with in any business interaction, it’s better to favor practices that edge on graciousness and kindness.

The first and most obvious failure point is in naming the appointment. For your purposes, it makes perfect sense to name an appointment, “Phone Call with Jane Client.” But if you send that meeting request to Ms. Client, it appears on her calendar blissfully devoid of any glance-able information that could help her out three days later, when she blearily tries to recall the time commitments to which she agreed. Give her a break. Better to name the meeting something like “Jane Client/My Agency Discovery Call.” Ms. Client knows her own name perfectly well; she wants to know what block of time she’s committed to whom and why.

Misnaming an appointment becomes even more problematic when an invitation is locked, as many are. A locked invitation means the recipient can’t change the name, the time, or the place of a meeting. If Jane Client wants to move the meeting back by half an hour, her only option is to send you an email message (which you might not see in time).

You may well not know if the invitation you’re sending is locked, because many calendar apps don’t tell you.

Google gives you the most explicit control. When you create a meeting in Google Calendar, there are some checkboxes — easy to overlook, but at least they exist — that let you decide if the other party may change the event, invite other people, and see who else is expected. Other programs are less accommodating.

Even so, it’s a pain. An invitation created in Apple’s Calendar app can’t be edited in Outlook, for instance, but it can be edited in Google Calendar. Time and place changes entered in Google Calendar are sent to other attendees; title changes can be sent but could also be strictly local.

An invite sent from Outlook allows the meeting subject to be edited in Apple Calendar, but it locks the time of the meeting. Google Calendar allows the time of an Outlook invitation to be moved, but only on the invitee’s calendar; the change isn’t reflected on anyone else’s calendar. (It’s not clear why you’d want to do that, though.)

One more thing. Don’t be afraid to put information into the Description, Comments, or Email sections of your invitations. However, because that information is sometimes easy to miss — again, calendar apps differ — don’t be surprised if your recipient overlooks it and you have to repeat it under separate cover. Or the person has to dig up the original email invite. Several clients send me meeting invites with Google Hangout links, for instance, and those don’t show up in Apple Calendar.

Yes, this is confusing, but it’s easier with practice, if you understand in advance what you’re dealing with. The short version: be explicit with the subject lines of the invitations that you send; know that the multi-platform world is imperfect; and keep in mind that it’s the sender of an invitation who’s usually (but not always) in control.

Photo via tigerlily via

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