Using Zoom? Here are 10 tips to get the most of it
If you're like the rest of us, Zoom has become a prominent new fixture in your life.
The video conferencing tool has been a backbone of enterprise. But now keeping our distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic has sent students and workers home, and people are climbing the walls looking for things to do. Zoom has soared to the top of the Apple iOS app chart as the No. 1 most downloaded app and No. 6 on Google's Android chart.
Zoom is similar to Skype and FaceTime in that it's used for video conferences. However, Zoom has expanded into new uses like teaching, book clubs and just general hangouts. Zoom is free to use, for meetings under 40 minutes, and charges monthly subscriptions, starting at $14.95 for longer meetings and larger groups.
New to Zoom or wondering how to get the most out of it? We've got 10 tips for you.
First, you'll need a laptop or computer with a webcam, an accessory webcam, or a smartphone or tablet with a built-in camera. (Which is pretty much every model nowadays.)
Begin by going to the Zoom website or downloading the app and registering your account. From there, once registered, click "Host a Meeting" and send out the invite URL to others to join. (Or you can await your invite on the other side, if you're a participant. The meeting can be joined on a host of devices.) Invitees don't even need to be on a laptop, or use the app. They can simply call in on a phone number as well.
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1. Do an audio test
Don't skip over this step. Your meeting won't go very well if people can't hear you. Zoom will ask you to confirm that you've heard a tone and then playback sample voice audio.
2. Have good lighting
Participants have a choice of appearing on camera or not. But if you're going to replicate the meeting experience, then you want to have the camera on. Otherwise, the conference table is empty. Or the class is devoid of students. People want to know who they are speaking to. So look your best! Dress well, comb your hair, sit up straight and place yourself in a great spot that's not full of distractions.
Michael Oldenburg, a marketing executive with drone maker DJI, suggests starting the meeting as a participant with the video off. This will give you a few moments to see yourself on the screen and make yourself look presentable. Then, when satisfied, turn on the video button. And be mindful of lighting. Be sure not to be sitting in front of a window, as the cheap optics of the webcam will expose for the window and turn you into a silhouette. Face the window, with the laptop (or phone) facing you.
3. Gear suggestions
If you're going to take meetings using the phone app, invest in a cellphone stand or mini-tripod with a phone attachment. AirPods or some other form of headset will let you be hands-free during the meeting and will help eliminate distracting background noise. You may also want to invest in a higher grade webcam, as a good, accessory camera will give you better audio and video. Logitech's C9205 ($69.99) records in 1080p high definition. But if you're willing to spend more, the Brio ($199.99) is touted as the "widest, sharpest, fastest" webcam, one that adjusts for backlight, records in 4K resolution and can zoom around the room if you're a pacer.
4. Multitasking could get you in trouble
Speaking of privacy, Zoom offers an "attendee attention tracking" feature that lets the employers check to make sure we're all paying attention. So if you're tweeting away during a meeting, or answering a personal e-mail, big boss will know.
5. Mute, mute, mute!
One of the cool features of Zoom is the ability to mute your mic when you're not speaking. This is a vital thing to stay on top of. Because otherwise, as the speaker talks, they could be accompanied by the sounds of typing, rings or kids screaming in the background. It's an easy fix. Mute is the first thing you'll see on the bottom left. Click "MUTE" to go silent, and unmute when it's your turn to talk.
6. Bored with the standard look? Adjust it.
In Zoom's preferences section, it lets you add a unique background, like the green screen you see weather reporters stand in front of on TV. Zoom does an admirable job of cutting you out and sticking you over another location. (See the accompanying shot where I appear to be at the beach, when in fact, I'm actually in the home garage.) To use it, go to "Preferences" and upload a photo. Make sure it's not one with distractions that will send the participants looking at the background and not you. (Note, you can also use video as your background.)
7. Share a screen
Hosts can share from their computer, everything from word documents, spreadsheets, Photoshop, Adobe Premiere and Apple Final Cut Pro editing programs, to opening cloud-based files from Dropbox and Google Drive. The share button is on the bottom tab, in the middle of the screen. Just click it, and choose which program you want to share.
Zoom has a chat window for you to offer text comments during a meeting, or you could respond like they do on Instagram and Twitter with graphical images. Zoom offers thumbs up and applause icons.
9. Record the meeting for later
Click record to keep the meeting archived, and when the meeting ends, Zoom will download the archived file to your hard drive.
You can stream the meeting to Facebook and YouTube, but you'll need to be a paying subscriber. There are a number of steps involved, which Zoom points out on its support page.
Finally, with Zoom experiencing massive demands and so many new users, there have been complaints on Twitter about the Zoom network being overloaded and calls cutting out or freezing.
Steve Brazill, an independent IT professional from Riverside, California, recommends closing all outstanding programs on your computer when using Zoom. "Avoid multitasking," he says, to minimize interference.
Zoom says it hasn't experienced serious outages and can handle the traffic, no matter how bad the coronavirus gets.
"We have always ensured that we have enough capacity to handle double our average daily peak," the company says. "This has always been our policy, even before this global health crisis.
"In the case of an unprecedented, massive influx of demand, we have the ability to access and deploy tens of thousands of servers within hours."
Follow USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham on Twitter: @jeffersongraham