Building Your Zoom Skills

OK, so you’ve gotten past the basics of participating in a Zoom meeting, and you want to learn more. You can try any of these on a call you’re on with friendly folks, or you can do a test meeting, as described in our Zoom Basics guide.

You’ll notice several times I say “you MAY see.” That’s because Zoom displays a little differently depending on what device you’re on (PC, Mac, Chrome book, iPhone…) and on what settings your meeting host has enabled. So sometimes you just won’t have an option that I describe here. Use the Zoom support guides for more information.

Improve your Connection

If you notice that one person in a meeting is freezing a lot, that’s the fault of their connection, not yours. But, if you’re noticing that everyone but you freezes, or if people tell you you’re freezing or you’re getting notices that you’re dropping connection, you may have a poor connection. Go to https://fast.com to check your internet speed. I find anything 3Mbps and up can work well for participating in Zoom. If I’m running a meeting, I like 12Mbps and up. If I’m streaming video, then the more the better – I get 80+ when plugged into ethernet.

If you can plug into the Ethernet at the router, do! If you’re on wi-fi, try moving around the house to find a better signal. Also, try shutting down every other program on your computer that might be taking processing effort. You can also try turning off your camera to reduce the demand you’re putting on the connection.

Adjusting who you see – Gallery and Speaker View

In the top right corner of your screen, you’ll see a toggle button which goes between gallery view and speaker view. When you see images of several meeting participants, up to 16, 25 or more, (depending on the size of your screen), that’s called gallery view. The person who is speaking will have a yellow box around their picture. Or, you may just see one speaker. That’s speaker view. Whenever someone new starts speaking (or coughs loudly or has a dog barking in the background), the screen will switch to them. In some meetings, the moderator will “spotlight” the main speaker so they stay highlighted in speaker view even if other people are talking. You can always switch your view back to gallery view by clicking on the words “gallery view” or switch to speaker view by clicking on “speaker view” at the top.

  • When someone is sharing their screen, on the left hand side, you’ll see a large image of their slides, and a few participants’ images (usually on the right, but maybe across the top). You can adjust your screen so you can see more participants. Move your mouse cursor to be in the area between the shared screen and participant pictures – you’ll see a gray vertical line. In the center of that line, you’ll see two white lines. Click on that to move it till the screen is divided as you wish between the shared slides and the participants.
  • In gallery view, if there’s more people in the meeting than you can see, you can swipe left or right to see all the other participants. Move your mouse to the center of the screen on the right edge and a white arrow will appear – click there.

Communicating Your Reactions

  • You might see a “reactions” option in the command bar. Click on this and you’ll see a thumbs up or clapping hands appear on your image – that’s another way to communicate with others in the meeting.
  • Some meetings will have additional reactions set up. Click on the participants list. At the bottom, there will be icons, and three dots you can click for more icons. You may just be able to choose simple things like raise hand, but you may also be able to choose yes, no, like, don’t like, go faster, etc.

Share Screen

Generally you won’t do this in a meeting you’re attending. I cover the basics in Hosting a Basic Zoom meeting, and have more details in the post on PowerPoints on Zoom.

Change your Display Name

At the top right of your image, you may see three dots. Click on those, and it will give you options, including “rename”. Click on that and type in the display name you want. Or: open the participants’ list. Mouse over your name, and it may display options to rename.

Change How You Look to Others

  • Use a virtual background: Next to the camera icon in the command bar, click on the up arrow. Click on “Choose Virtual Background” – you can use one of their images, or upload any photo, gif, or video you want. If your actual background in the room you’re in is really cluttered, this may not work well, and you might have weird fuzzy edges or parts of you may blur in and out. For the best results have a “green screen” – hang a plain green cloth behind you.
  • Look better on screen by changing your set-up. Lighting is super important. If you’ve got a brightly lit window behind you, you’ll be a dark silhouette. If you have stark lighting overhead, parts of your face will be shadowed. So, play with the lighting and lamps as needed to get it right (again, you can do this in a test meeting or just start hosting your own empty meeting any time to test it out.) Camera angle is super important. Some people will set their device up on a stack of books to get a more flattering angle. There are lots of videos with more tips for looking good on zoom.
  • Look better on screen by changing your setting: You can also change a setting… next to the video camera icon, click on the up arrow. There’s several things you can adjust. Many people like using the “touch up my appearance” button. This is kind of like the old movie-making technique of smearing vaseline on the camera lens – it just smooths your image out a little.
  • Think about your clothing. Solid colors work best. Black can be too dark, white too stark. Avoid really busy clothing – plaids, stripes, dots.
  • Think about your background. Looking at people’s houses and bookshelves in their Zoom background has become quite the hobby. What do you want people to see? What don’t you want people to see? Is clutter behind you distracting from the image you want to present? I know some people who hang a cloth behind them to block things out. I teach so there’s a blank wall behind me to avoid distractions, and it also means my sound is much better than when I had my back to a big room and there was nothing for the sound to bounce off of. (I also added some fabrics elsewhere in the room to soften the sound.)
  • Mirror image. You may notice that the writing on your shirt, or the writing on a book you’re holding up is mirror imaged in the view of yourself that YOU see. Don’t worry – it looks right to the other participants.

Change how you sound

  • Improve your mic. Some computers have decent microphones built in, most are not great. If consistently people tell you they’re having a hard time hearing you, you can test your mic – use the “voice recorder” app on your computer and record yourself talking, then play it back. If you can hear it with your speakers at any setting, it’s fine. But if you can only hear the recording if you crank your speakers up to 80 or 90 out of 100, then consider buying a mic. I’ve been happy with one I happened to own for podcasting – a Samson Metorite. At $65, it may be pricey for  casual users, I’m sure you can find recommendations for cheaper options if you do an internet search. I also have a headset that I’m happy with – a Plantronics 270. At $99, that’s pricey for a casual user, but I teach classes online for Bellevue College and for Outschool, so it was worth the investment for me to be able to hear my students well, and have a good noise cancelling mic. (Note: both those product links are Amazon affiliate links, and I do get a small referral fee at no cost to you if you click through on them and end up buying something.)

Chat

Chat often appears on the right sidebar – if you’ve got the participants list up, it will be the top half of the sidebar and the chat will be the bottom half. I often have a hard time reading long chats in this format. In the chat window, next to the word chat, you’ll see a down arrow. Click there, and choose “pop out” and it will make chat a separate window that you can then maximize to fill the screen. When you want to make it small and return it to its original location, then look for the three dots near the bottom of the chat window – click there, and choose “merge to meeting window.”

Some meetings will disable chat. Some will only allow you to chat with the meeting host. Some allow you to chat to everyone. Some allow you to also send private messages to one individual that no one else can see. After you’ve typed a chat, but before you send it, make sure you’re sending it to the person you mean to send it to!

You can save the chat… in the chat box, there’s three dots – click there and choose save. It will save it on your computer – in my case, it created a folder in my documents called Zoom, then creates a folder for the meeting and the chat is in there.

Tips: if you paste a link in the chat, then people can click on it to go to that website. You can also click on the word “file” in chat and it will let you send a file to everyone from your computer, google drive or one drive.

Learn More

To learn how to use more advanced skills in Zoom, check out the other articles in my Zoom Guide.