OOF checklist

Fri, November 16, 2012, 02:05 PM under Communication

When going on vacation or otherwise being out of office (known as OOF in Microsoft), it is polite and professional that our absence creates the minimum disruption possible to the rest of the business, and especially our colleagues.

Below is my OOF checklist - I try to do these as soon as I know I'll be OOF, rather than leave it for the night before.image

  1. Let the relevant folks on the team know the planned dates of absence and check if anybody was expecting something from you during that timeframe. Reset expectations with them, and as applicable try to find another owner for individual activities that cannot wait.
  2. Go through your calendar for the OOF period and decline every meeting occurrence so the owner of the meeting knows that you won't be attending (similar to my post about responding to invites). If it is your meeting cancel it so that people don’t turn up without the meeting organizer being there. Do this even for meetings were the folks should know due to step #1. Over-communicating is a good thing here and keeps calendars all around up to date.
  3. Enter your OOF dates in whatever tool your company uses. Typically that is the notification to your manager.
  4. In your Outlook calendar, create a local Appointment (don't invite anyone) for the date range (All day event) setting the "Show As" dropdown to "Out of Office". This way, people won’t try to schedule meetings with you on that day.
  5. If you use Lync, set the status to "Off Work" for that period.
  6. If you won't be responding to email (which when on your vacation you definitely shouldn't) then in Outlook setup "Automatic Replies (Out of Office)" for that period. This way people won’t think you are rude when not replying to their emails. In your OOF message point to an alias (ideally of many people) as a fallback for urgent queries.
  7. If you want to proactively notify individuals of your OOFage then schedule and send a multi-day meeting request for the entire period.image Remember to set the "Show As" to "Free" (so their calendar doesn’t show busy/oof to others), set the "Reminder" to "None" (so they don’t get a reminder about it), set "Low Importance", and uncheck both "Response Options" so if they don't want this on their calendar, it is just one click for them to get rid of it. Aside: I have another post with advice on sending invites.
  8. If you care about people who would not observe the above but could drop by your office, stick a physical OOF note at your office door or chair/monitor or desk.

Have I missed any?

Responding to Invites

Sun, November 11, 2012, 05:40 PM under Communication

Following up from my post about Sending Outlook Invites here is a shorter one on how to respond.

  1. Whatever your choice (ACCEPT, TENTATIVE, DECLINE), if the sender has not unchecked the "Request Response" option, then send your response. Always send your response. Even if you think the sender made a mistake in keeping it on, send your response. Seriously, not responding is plain rude.
  2. If you knew about the meeting, and you are happy investing your time in it, and the time and location work for you, and there is an implicit/explicit agenda, then ACCEPT and send it.
  3. If one or more of those things don't work for you then you have a few options.
    1. Send a DECLINE explaining why.
    2. Reply with email to ask for further details or for a change to be made. If you don’t receive a response to your email, send a DECLINE when you've waited enough.
    3. Send a TENTATIVE if you haven't made up your mind yet. Hint: if they really require you there, they'll respond asking "why tentative" and you have a discussion about it.
    4. When you deem appropriate, instead of the options above, you can also use the counter propose feature of Outlook but IMO that feature has questionable interaction model and UI (on both sender and recipient) so many people get confused by it.

BTW, two of my outlook rules are relevant to invites. image

The first one auto-marks as read the ACCEPT responses if there is no comment in the body of the accept (I check later who has accepted and who hasn't via the "Tracking" button of the invite). I don’t have a rule for the DECLINE and TENTATIVE cause typically I follow up with folks that send those.


The second rule ensures that all Invites go to a specific folder. imageThat is the first folder I see when I triage email. It is also the only folder which I have configured to show a count of all items inside it, rather than the unread count - when sending a response to an invite the item disappears from the folder and hence it is empty and not nagging me.

Sending Outlook Invites

Sun, November 11, 2012, 05:18 PM under Communication

Sending an Outlook invite for a meeting (also referred to as S+ in Microsoft) is a simple thing to get right if you just run the quick mental check below, which is driven by visual cues in the Outlook UI.


I know that some folks don’t do this often or are new to Outlook, so if you know one of those folks share this blog post with them and if they read nothing else ask them to read step 7.image

  1. Add on the To line the folks that you want to be at the meeting.
  2. Indicate optional invitees. Click on the “To” button to bring up the dialog that lets you move folks to be Optional (you can also do this from the Scheduling Assistant).
  3. Set the Reminder according to the attendee that has to travel the most. 5 minutes is the minimum.
  4. Use the Response Options and uncheck the "Request Response" if your event is going ahead regardless of who can make it or not, i.e. if everyone is optional. Don’t force every recipient to make an extra click, instead make the extra click yourself - you are the organizer.image
  5. Add a good subject
    1. Make the subject such that just by reading it folks know what the meeting is about. Examples, e.g. "Review…", "Finalize…", "XYZ sync up"
    2. If this is only between two people and what is commonly referred to as a one to one, the subject would be something like "MyName/YourName 1:1"
    3. Write the subject in such a way that when the recipient sees this on their calendar among all the other items, they know what this meeting is about without having to see location, recipients, or any other information about the invite.
  6. Add a location, typically a meeting room.
    1. If recipients are from different buildings, schedule it where the folks that are doing the other folks a favor live. Otherwise schedule it wherever the least amount of people will have to travel. If you send me an invite to come to your building, and there is more of us than you, you are silently sending me the message that you are doing me a favor so if you don’t want to do that, include a note of why this is in your building, e.g. "Sorry we are slammed with back to back meetings today so hope you can come over to our building".
    2. If this is in someone's office, the location would be something like "Moth's office (7/666)" where in parenthesis you see the office location.
    3. If some folks are remote in another building/country, or if you know you picked a time which wasn't free for everyone, add an Online option (click the Lync Meeting button).
  7. Add a date and time.
    1. This MUST be at a time that is showing on the recipients’ calendar as FREE or at worst TENTATIVE. You can check that on the Scheduling Assistant.
    2. The reality is that this is not always possible, so in that case you MUST say something about it in the Invite Body, e.g. "Sorry I can see X has a conflict, but I cannot find a better slot", or "With so many of us there are some conflicts and I cannot find a better slot so hope this works", or "Apologies but due to Y we must have this meeting at this time and I know there are some conflicts, hope you can make it anyway". When you do that, I better not be able to find a better slot myself for all of us, and of course when you do that you have implicitly designated the Busy folks as optional.
  8. Finally, the body of the invite.
    1. This has the agenda of the meeting and if applicable the courtesy apologies due to messing up steps 6 & 7.
    2. This should not be the introduction to the meeting, in other words the recipients should not be surprised when they see the invite and go to the body to read it. Notifying them of the meeting takes place via separate email where you explain the purpose and give them a heads up that you'll be sending an invite. That separate email is also your chance to attach documents, don’t do that as part of the invite.
    3. TIP: If you have sent mail about the meeting, you can then go to your sent folder to select the message and click the "Meeting" button (Ctrl+Alt+R). This will populate the body with the necessary background, auto select the mandatory and optional attendees as per the TO/CC line, and have a subject that may be good enough already (or you can tweak it).

Long to write, but very quick to remember and enforce since most of it is common sense and the checklist is driven of the visual cues in the UI you use to send the invite.

How I Record Screencasts

Thu, November 8, 2012, 11:51 AM under AboutPresenting

I get this asked a lot so here is my brain dump on the topic.


A screencast is just a demo that you present to yourself while recording the screen. As such, my advice for clearing your screen for demo purposes and setting up Visual Studio still applies here (adjusting for the fact I wrote those blog posts when I was running Vista and VS2008, not Windows 8 and VS2012).

To see examples of screencasts, watch any of my screencasts on channel9.


  1. If you are a technical presenter, think of when you get best reactions from a developer audience in your sessions: when you are doing demos, of course. Imagine if you could package those alone and share them with folks to watch over and over?
  2. If you have ever gone through a tutorial trying to recreate steps to explore a feature, think how much more helpful it would be if you could watch a video and follow along.
  3. Think of how many folks you "touch" with a conference presentation, and how many more you can reach with an online shorter recording of the demo. If you invest so much of your time for the first type of activity, isn't the second type of activity also worth an investment?
  4. Fact: If you are able to record a screencast of a demo, you will be much better prepared to deliver it in person. In fact lately I will force myself to make a screencast of any demo I need to present live at an upcoming event.
  5. It is also a great backup - if for whatever reason something fails (software, network, etc) during an attempt of a live demo, you can just play the recorded video for the live audience.

There are other reasons (e.g. internal sharing of the latest implemented feature) but the context above is the one within which I create most of my screencasts.

Software & Hardware

I use Camtasia from Tech Smith, version 7.1.1. Microsoft has a variety of options for capturing the screen to video, but I have been using this software for so long now that I have not invested time to explore alternatives…

I also use whatever cheapo headset is near me, but sometimes I get some complaints from some folks about the audio so now I try to remember to use "the good headset". I do not use a web camera as I am not a huge fan of PIP.


First you have to know your technology and demo. Once you think you know it, write down the outline and major steps of the demo. Keep it short 5-20 minutes max. I break that rule sometimes but try not to. The longer the video is the more chances that people will not have the patience to sit through it and the larger the download wmv file ends up being.

Run your demo a few times, timing yourself each time to ensure that you have the planned timing correct, but also to make sure that you are comfortable with what you are going to demo. Unlike with a live audience, there is no live reaction/feedback to steer you, so it can be a bit unnerving at first. It can also lead you to babble too much, so try extra hard to be succinct when demoing/screencasting on your own.

TIP: Before recording, hide your desktop/taskbar clock if it is showing.


To record you start the Camtasia Recorder tool


Configure the settings thought the menus

  • Capture menu to choose custom size or full screen. I try to use full screen and remember to lower the resolution of your screen to as low as possible, e.g. 1024x768 or 1360x768 or something like that.
  • From the Tools -> Options dialog you can choose to record audio and the volume level.
  • Effects menu I typically leave untouched but you should explore and experiment to your liking, e.g. how the mouse pointer is captured, and whether there should be a delay for the recording when you start it.

Once you've configured these settings, typically you just launch this tool and hit the F9 key to start recording.

TIP: As you record, if you ever start to "lose your way" hit F9 again to pause recording, regroup your thoughts and flow, and then hit F9 again to resume.

Finally, hit F10 to stop recording. At that point the video starts playing for you in the recorder. imageThis is where you can preview the video to see that you are happy with it before saving. If you are happy, hit the Save As menu to choose where you want to save the video.



TIP: If you've really lost your way to the extent where you'll need to do some editing, hit F10 to stop recording, save the video and then record some more - you'll be able to stitch the videos together later and this will make it easier for you to delete the parts where you messed up.

TIP: Before you commit to recording the whole demo, every time you should record 5 seconds and preview them to ensure that you are capturing the screen the way you want to and that your audio is still correctly configured and at the right level. Trust me, you do not want to be recording 15 minutes only to find out that you messed up on the configuration somewhere.


To edit the video you launch another Camtasia app, the Camtasia Studio.


  1. File->New Project. File->Save Project and choose location.
  2. File->Import Media and choose the video(s) you saved earlier.
  3. These adds them to the area at the top/middle but not at the timeline at the bottom.
  4. Right click on the video and choose Add to timeline. It will prompt you for the Editing dimensions and I always choose Recording Dimensions.
  5. Do whatever edits you want to do for this video, then add the next video if you have one to stitch and repeat.

In terms of edits there are many options. The simplest is to do nothing, which is the option I did when I first starting doing these in 2006. Nowadays, I typically cut out pieces that I don't like and also lower/mute the audio in other areas and also speed up the video in some areas. A full tutorial on how to do this is beyond the scope of this blog post, but your starting point is to select portions on the timeline and then open the Edit menu at the very top (tip: the context menu doesn't have all options). You can spend hours editing a recording, so don’t lose track of time!

When you are done editing, save again, and you are now ready to Produce.


Production is specific to where you will publish. I've only ever published on channel9, so for that I do the following

  1. File -> Produce and share. This opens a wizard dialog
  2. In the dropdown choose Custom production settings
  3. Hit Next and then choose WMV
  4. Hit Next and keep the default of Camtasia Studio Best Quality and File Size (recommended)
  5. Hit Next and choose Editing dimensions video size
  6. Hit Next, hit Options and you get a dialog. Enter a Title for the project tab and then on the author tab enter the Creator and Homepage. Hit OK
  7. Hit Next. Hit Next again.
  8. Enter a video file name in the Production name textbox and then hit Finish.
  9. Now do other stuff while you wait for the video to be produced and you hear it playing.

After the video is produced watch it to ensure it was produced correctly (e.g. sometimes you get mouse issues) and then you are ready for publishing it.


Follow the instructions of the place where you are going to publish. If you are MSFT internal and want to choose channel9 then contact those folks so they can share their instructions (if you don't know who they are ping me and I'll connect you but they are easy to find in the GAL). For me this involves using a tool to point to the video, choosing a file name (again), choosing an image from the video to display when it is not playing, choosing what output formats I want, and then later on a webpage adding tags, adding a description, and adding a title.

That’s all folks, have fun!