Carolyn is a learner-centric instructional designer who is proficient at generating new content and improving upon existing materials.
Before We Get to the Tips
First, I should share that I’m no longer a Zoom Newbie. I’ve been using Zoom for over two years. I’ve used it for business meetings, to chat with family members, to check in with friends, to attend workshops, and even to attend Church. It’s a very versatile program, and it has drastically changed how we humans communicate. Luckily, it was already in place before COVID-19 shut everything down.
Secondly, Zoom is not the only video chat program that I’ve used. In addition to Zoom, I’ve also used other programs, including Skype, Microsoft Teams, and several others. I must say, to me Zoom is just intuitively easier to use. Most of the people I connect with have little or no difficulty installing it and running it. There are some people who struggle with it, but Zoom is generally user friendly.
With that said, I’d like to share five basic tips for using Zoom if you’ve little to no prior experience. These are not directed at the Zoom veteran. I’m addressing mainly those of you who were just thrown into video conferencing without so much as a cheat sheet.
1. Test Your Equipment
I use a Logitech microphone that sits on my desk, along with Logitech speakers. I don’t use earbuds or a headset, although a lot of people do. I just think it makes the experience seem much more natural if you don’t have a headset on. I also use the video camera that came with my computer. You can get a separate camera if you wish, but if you’re just starting out there really isn’t a pressing need.
As with anything electronic, be sure to test your equipment before the meeting. In Zoom, there is a handy “test” feature available. Go to the settings (the little round icon that looks a little like a flower), and drill down to check your video and audio. There are several other settings on that page. Don’t worry too much about those when you’re starting out.
2. Be Early
Actually, I do this with all the meetings that I attend. I show up early, so that I can settle in. If I’m just a participant, I generally show up about two or three minutes early to meetings I’m attending. If I’m hosting the meeting, I back that up to 5 to 10 minutes or more, so that I have time to address any technical issues that may crop up.
It’s a personal pet peeve of mine to have people show up late, and then disrupt the flow of the conversation with, “I’m so sorry I’m late, but I just had to finish alphabetizing my spice rack. What did I miss?” First, I don’t really care why you were late. Secondly, you’ve just disrupted the entire meeting flow with your entrance. Lastly, now we all feel the need to backtrack and catch you up, which is just disrespectful of other people’s time.
3. Be Camera Ready
For the love of God, check out your surroundings before you join the meeting. Look at what shows up behind you and to your sides. Move or cover up anything you don’t want the entire world to see. For example, if you have a file folder labeled “Divorce” clearly visible in the background, you may want to move that off-screen.
Also, take a few minutes before the meeting to check out your personal appearance. Is your hair combed? Did you brush your teeth? Is your clothing clean? Are your glasses smudge-free? These are simple things to check in a mirror before you get on camera. There is no need to “dress up” unless you want to do that. But you should at least be presentable.
I usually pick a solid color top. Since only my torso is visible, I don’t worry about what pants I am wearing (except for the fact that I am, indeed, wearing pants). Some people will advise you to wear business attire for meetings – top and bottom. This is probably wise, just in case you need to jump up from your desk to close a door, turn off a fan, etc. If you’ve forgotten to wear something “bottom appropriate,” you also have the option of turning off your video feed briefly while you take care of business.
4. Actively Participate
Come to the meeting prepared to participate. Ask questions, make comments, and generally join in the discussion. Unless it’s intended to be a “one-way” communication, you should strive to be an active participant. Review the agenda and prepare your notes in advance for any business meeting. Jot down a few thoughts you want to include if it’s something more personal. Don’t just show up and sit there.
Also, try to stay awake. It’s annoying and disrespectful to nod off during a meeting in person, and the same goes double for an online meeting. Drink some coffee, splash some cold water on your face, pinch yourself, or whatever else you need to do to wake yourself up and be alert.
5. End On Time
Just like “in-person” meetings, you should have a designated start and end time. It’s also a good idea to plan more time than you need, as opposed to running out of time at the end. You may want to intentionally specify an ending time that is not “on the hour.” For example, the meeting starts at 2 PM and ends at 2:45 PM. For business situations, this encourages people to stay on point, and gives you time to prepare for your next meeting, if it starts on the hour at 3 PM.
Got Any Hot Tips?
If you’ve got a hot tip, I’d love to hear them. Please include it in the comments section below.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2020 Carolyn Fields
Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on August 05, 2020:
Thank you, Dora. Glad you found value.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 05, 2020:
Been introduced to Zoom only recently, and the tips you give are essential for a good viewing experience. Numbers 2 and 3 especially. Thank you.
Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on July 31, 2020:
Yes, lighting is very important. Thanks for pointing that out.
Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on July 31, 2020:
Thank you for your comments. I had never heard of Zoom sending people into the ether. That's good to know.
A folding screen is a great idea. Thanks for that addition.
Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on July 30, 2020:
Carolyn, I wish I'd read this article before my first Zoom meeting. Dreadful outcome. The morning before the meeting I opened up a Zoom account and then I tested my equipment and signed out. When the meeting time came, I didn't do another test, but I clicked on the invitation and guess what?? It sent me to a meeting where I recognized four other people as attendees. We sat and waited on the host for about 10 minutes and decided to start without her. She never did show, but we were having a good meeting ourselves without her. Thirty minutes into the 45 minute meeting, Zoom explained that we couldn't continue without the host and shut us down.
For some reason, by not testing the equipment again when we 5 people clicked on the invitation, Zoom sent us into the ether, but it was the same ether. The real meeting went well without us, we found out later. So testing the equipment to me is more important that combing my hair before the meeting. LOL
Our computer room is rather messy, thank you husband, so I bought a folding screen and I set it up before any zoom meeting. It also hides the fact that the wall on camera behind me needs repainting.
Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on July 30, 2020:
Great tips Carolyn. I’ve used Zoom quite a lot lately for virtual meetings and I relate to everything you’ve discussed. I had issues with people not being respectful of others just as you described.
You asked for other tips, so here’s one. People need to be aware of lighting and where it’s coming from. I often had people on my meetings with bright sunlight coming in though a window behind them. That made them appear as a dark silhouette that nobody could see. I needed to remind them to make sure the light source was in front of them before attending.
Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on July 29, 2020:
Thanks, Liz. Good observations.
Liz Westwood from UK on July 29, 2020:
This is a very timely article. Zoom has boomed in recent months. Only on Sunday a group of us were commenting on how much more proficient we all are now after several months of using it. Not like the early days when you could guarantee that at least one person would forget to allow microphone or camera access. Modern technology like zoom has made a very positive impact.
Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on July 28, 2020:
Thanks for stopping by, Pamela. Glad you liked it.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 28, 2020:
I like your advice on the best ways to use Zoom for meetings. I think the steps are exactly right for the use of this program, Carolyn.