Over the past few months, many of us have gotten to know the Zoom teleconferencing platform well, as we do everything from attend church to teach preschool, from business meetings to happy hours, pub trivia to meetings with professionals. Different people may have different levels of understanding, but most of us are still trying to work out some glitches.
Here is a huge and hopefully comprehensive list of tips for each of these levels, from simplest tasks to more complex. If you’re a brand new beginner, just read the first 4 topics and feel free to ignore the rest! (Or just print this Zoom basics PDF and read it.) If you’re a more advanced user, it’s still worth skimming through the early portions of this post, and you may discover tricks you didn’t know! Italicized comments are the least vital (though still interesting) info. Or, you can skip straight to what you’re looking for:
- Getting an Invitation
- Joining by phone audio only
- Getting ready for your first Zoom call on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, (download the app, do a test call, learn to mute/unmute, and chat)
- Joining a meeting
- Becoming a more skilled Zoom participant (gallery view vs. speaker view, changing your name, looking better, and sounding better)
- Hosting a Meeting (starting a meeting, inviting people, scheduling a meeting, security issues and reducing Zoom bombings, muting, recording
- Advanced Meeting Management
- Sharing Screens and Showing Videos
- Leading Songs
- Playing Live Music
- Screen “hygiene” for prolonged use – reduce Zoom fatigue
- Or you may receive an email (or calendar appointment) that looks something like this – we’ll come back to this example when we talk about how to join a meeting.
Joining by phone audio only
Just use your phone to dial any of the numbers listed at the bottom of the invitation. It will ask you to type in the meeting ID from the invite. If there was a password included in the invitation, you’ll type it in to. If you have an iPhone, you should just be able to use the “one tap mobile number” which will dial the number, the meeting ID and the password.
Then you’ll be on a phone call where you can hear everything that happens in the meeting. (You won’t be able to see anything.) It is best to mute the mic on your phone, so that people don’t hear all the sounds that surround you.
Setting up for a call
To get the fullest functionality out of Zoom, and to be able to see shared images well, and to see as many of the other participants as possible, you should plan to use a desktop or laptop computer. (Most have webcams and microphones installed. If they don’t, you’ll want to add a microphone at least.) Or, you can use a mobile device like a tablet or smartphone. Your first step is to install the app. If you’re on an Android device, you’ll find it in the Google Play store. If you’re on IOS device, find it in the App store. (Here’s a video if you would like to be walked through this process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lO206_NezaY) Important note: Mobile devices are fine for many Zoom needs, but they don’t have access to all of the features that I describe in this article.
If you’re on a computer, to download the app, go to https://zoom.us/support/download. Zoom will start downloading. You’ll see something like this:
When it’s downloaded, click on that thing at the bottom left that says “open file.”
That will open the app.
Do a Test Meeting
Now, go to http://zoom.us/test. Click on a big blue button that says “Join” meeting. A pop-up window may prompt you – choose to open the Zoom app.
It may ask you to type in a display name. If it does, most meetings prefer that you type in your real name so they know who is coming into the meeting. (There have been issues with malicious folks “zoom bombing” meetings with offensive images, so we are all a little cautious about who we admit in.)
The test meeting will display a pop-up window to test your speakers. If you hear the ringtone, click yes. If not, try turning up your computer volume. If you still can’t hear it, click no, and switch speakers till you hear it.
It will then test your microphone. Speak for 5 – 10 seconds, then pause – do you hear a replay? If so, click yes, if not click no – check if your mic was muted and/or switch mics.
Then to join the meeting, click “Join with Computer Audio.”
Practicing a Meeting
Most of the commands for a meeting are in a black bar at the bottom of the screen (on a mobile device, some may be at the top of the screen.) Yours may look slightly different than this. If you don’t see the black bar, try moving your mouse or tapping the screen to display it.
In the test meeting, try out these skills.
- Turn off / turn on microphone – at the bottom left corner of the screen, there’s a picture of a microphone. Click to mute it – you’ll see a red line over it indicating you’re muted. Click again to unmute it. Now click again to mute it. Try holding down the space bar and talking – this will temporarily unmute it. When you’re done talking, release the space bar. (Note, next to the mic button, there’s an up arrow – clicking on that will take you to advanced audio settings – you’d need this if you wanted to sing or play music… see below.)
- Turn off / turn on video – next to the mic picture, you’ll see an image of a camera. You can turn it off by clicking it, and turn it back on by clicking. (Note, next to the camera, you’ll see an up arrow for more options. We’ll look at some of those below.) Some participants may want to keep their camera blank for privacy reasons, or because they’re in their pajamas with bedhead, but many meetings may request that you turn your camera on because being able to see each other’s faces helps humans to feel connected.
- Participants List: Click the ‘Participants’ button to see everyone in the call. If you see a ‘raise hand’ button, click on it. If not, at the bottom of the participants list, you may see three dots. Click on those, and you’ll see the option to raise hand. That lets the speaker know you have a question or want to share something. It will put you in line with others who have raised their hands. (Note, you’ll also see other ways to communicate, like clicking to ask the speaker to go slower or faster.)
- Chat. Click the ‘Chat’ button and type ‘hello!’ into the chat box. This will send a chat message to everyone in the meeting. In some meetings, you will be given the option to choose one specific person to send a chat to.
- You’ll see a reactions button and “share screen” – you’ll learn about those later.
- Leave Meeting. When you’re done, click on the red button at the right of the command bar to leave meeting or to end meeting if you’re a host.
Joining a Meeting
If you got a link to the meeting in an email, calendar appointment or on a website, you just need to click on that, or copy and paste it into your browser. You’ll get a prompt asking if you want to open Zoom, agree to do so. You’ll get a prompt asking if you want to use computer audio, agree to do so. You’ll be placed in the meeting.
If the host has enabled a waiting room, you’ll get a message that says “Please wait, the meeting host will let you in soon.”
Sometimes, instead of a link, someone will give you a Meeting ID and maybe a password. If so, then go to https://zoom.us. Click on “join a meeting” and it will ask you to type in the meeting ID.
Getting More Skilled
OK, so you’ve gotten past the basics, 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 above to test them out.
- Adjusting who you see. 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. Whenever someone new starts speaking (or coughs loudly or their dog barks), the screen will switch to them. In some meetings, the moderator will “spotlight” the main speaker so they stay highlighted even if other people are talking. You can always switch your view back to gallery view by clicking on the words “gallery view” or “speaker view” at the top.
- When someone is sharing their screen, you can make their 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Share Screen – generally you won’t do this in a meeting you’re attending.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 silhouetted. 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 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.)
- Improve your mic. Some computers have decent microphones built in, some are not great. If consistently people tell you they’re having a hard time hearing you, consider buying a mic. I’m sure there are lots of recommendations. I’ve been happy with one I happened to own for podcasting. (A Samson Metorite, but at $65, it’s pricier than I would want to recommend for casual users.)
- Check your connection. If the screen is freezing a lot, or you’re getting notices that you’re dropping connection, go to https://fast.com to check your internet speed. I find anything 3Mbps and up can work 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. If you can plug into the Ethernet at the router, do! If you’re on wi-fi, try moving around to find a better signal. You can also try turning off your camera.
Hosting a Meeting
Starting a meeting: Go to https://zoom.us. Sign in. (Or create an account, and then sign in.) If you don’t have a paid account, you can do free zoom calls. One on one calls are unlimited. Group calls, for up to 100 people, are limited to 40 minutes. (For info on free calls vs. paid accounts, go to pricing.) Click on “host a meeting” and choose “with video on.” Then you’ll get a pop-up prompt – agree to open the Zoom app, and a meeting will start.
Inviting Participants. Go to the participant list. At the bottom, click on “invite”. You can either choose to “copy invitation” which will include all the info you need to send, including the password. Or you can choose “copy link” to get the link. (If there’s a password, you’ll also need to copy and send the password.) Or, you can see at the top of the invite window a meeting ID. If I’m trying to coordinate a zoom meeting with someone via text, I look at the meeting ID on my computer, and type it into a text on my phone. (If there’s a password I text that too.)
Scheduling a meeting. You can also schedule a meeting in advance, so you can send out the links in advance. Go to https://zoom.info. Sign in. Choose “schedule a meeting”. (If you don’t see this option, click on “my account.” Then choose to schedule a meeting.)
Fill out the fields there to set up the meeting. For security’s sake, for meeting ID, generate a random ID, don’t use your personal ID; ALWAYS require a password (Zoom will give you a random number as a password – you can change it to a word if you want to, I don’t bother), do NOT enable join before host, and DO enable the waiting room.
Just an FYI: the times you set on the schedule don’t mean a lot other than being what is included in the information in the invitation. People can join a meeting before the start time – like days before the start time. So, if you’ve enabled join before host (not a smart move in most cases), people could use the meeting at other times. The meeting will NOT end when it hits the scheduled end time. It will keep going till the host ends the meeting (or till the last participant leaves in a meeting with no host.)
- Send the invitation information out to your attendees.
Checking Security Settings
There have been incidents of “zoom bombings” where unexpected people appear, and may say (or chat) offensive things, have their webcams aimed at something offensive, or share offensive videos. You want to take steps to prevent this.
So, when you start a meeting, check your security settings by clicking on the shield in the command bar. Generally it’s best to have a waiting room (for meetings of over 30 people this may be challenging for one person to manage). When people log in to the meeting, you’ll see their names appear in a separate part of the participants list, and you click to admit them to the meeting. It lets you just quickly check to be sure you recognize the name before you let them in. (Also, potential zoom bombers see there’s a waiting room, get bored and move on.)
You can also choose to “lock” a meeting once all your attendees have arrived.
For a meeting with known people/community members, I usually set it so they can rename themselves, and unmute themselves and use chat, but NOT to share screen. In some situations, you may need to have tighter security than that.
- During a call, I find having the participant list always visible is helpful in general, and it’s good for quickly fixing minor problems. By clicking on someone there, I can mute them, or turn off their camera (like when a toddler suddenly streaks naked across the background of a parent’s call), I can put them back into the waiting room (or if the waiting room is not enabled, I can “put them on hold”) or I can remove them from the call. If you think you might have a major problem, be prepared to quickly end the call.I’ve been on easily 150 Zoom calls, and only seen one Zoom bombing, so you may never experience one, but you do need to know what to do if it happens. We had a Zoom bombing at our church (luckily during the rehearsal period before church) when several people dropped in all at once, sharing offensive videos – if I’d tried to remove them one by one, we would have all seen a lot we didn’t want to see, so I just ended the meeting as quickly as possible.If you’re hosting an on-going event (like activities at a church, or camp or whatever), it’s good to have a backup plan. Just tell everyone… “If we ever experience a Zoom bombing we will IMMEDIATELY end the meeting, then we will quickly set up a new meeting and send you all an email with the new link. So, just check your email and re-join us in the new meeting.”
Here’s a Zoom tutorial on Keeping Uninvited Guests Out. Here’s a guide to Zoom security I found really helpful. It’s written for a very specific use, so not everything will apply directly to your needs, but the language / organization of the article is very accessible.
Running a Meeting 101
At the most basic level, you just need to know how to make sure everyone can see and hear and chat with each other.
So, as people join, if they need assistance, teach them how to mute and unmute themselves, how to turn their camera on or off, how to chat with others, and how to raise their hand.
The host can mute people at any time, but with the newest Zoom update, you cannot unmute them without their permission. (Hopefully this will change in the future, as sometimes it is handy to be able to unmute all for group participation, or to unmute a participant who can’t figure out how to unmute themselves.) If someone is trying to speak, but is unmuted, you can go to their name in the participant list, and “ask them to unmute” and that prompt might help them realize they’re muted.
If you hear an awful echoing / ringing sound, it is often because one person is using two devices in close proximity to each other (they’ve dialed in on their computer AND on their phone). If you hear this, just make sure they mute one of their mics. (Or do it for them.)
Sometimes someone on the call is making a lot of noise. (Dog is barking, sirens are going past their house.) And sometimes they don’t realize they are. If most people are muted, just look at your participants list to see if someone has accidentally un-muted, and re-mute them. If that didn’t help you to figure out who is making noise, just switch to gallery view and watch the yellow highlights that show you who is “speaking” (or making noise in this case) and mute them.
Recording. You will have a few controls you didn’t have as a participant. One allows you to record the meeting – just click on the record button, and it will capture everything that is on your screen – speaker view or gallery view of the participants or screen shares. Get people’s permission to record them!
Advanced meeting management
Once you’ve mastered a basic meeting, you can start adding in more skills.
Spotlighting. In gallery view, you can see as many people as fit on your screen. The person who is talking has a yellow box around them. In speaker view, it shows one big image of whoever is talking now. Sometimes though, you want to keep the spotlight on a speaker even if other people are making noise. To do this, go to the participants list, mouse over their name, and where it says more, choose “spotlight”. (Note: Spotlighting is different than “pinning” a video – any participant can do this, and it pins one person into their main view no matter who is talking but it only affects THEIR own personal view of the screen. When the host spotlights, it affects what everyone sees.)
Captioning. You can assign someone to create closed captions.
Breakout Rooms. In a large meeting, you can create smaller “breakout rooms” which are Zoom meetings nested inside the main meeting. Just go to your command bar at the bottom of the screen, and choose the breakout rooms icon – the square with the grid on it:
It will let you decide how many rooms to set up, then you can randomly divide people up into those rooms. When you first create the breakout rooms, you’re just assigning who will go to each room. Then when you’re ready, you open the breakout rooms. Note: there’s LOTS more info about how to assign people to breakout rooms, how to move them around to different rooms, how you can monitor rooms and more at https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/206476313-Managing-Breakout-Rooms
And here’s info on how you can pre-assign people to breakout rooms.
Co-Hosts. If you’re running a complex meeting, you may want to have an extra person along to be a tech assistant. I have worked many church services where we have: a moderator who spotlights and mutes people and sets up the breakout rooms, a projectionist who handles sharing PowerPoints and videos, someone to do closed captioning, someone to lead music, and an usher who lets people in from the waiting room. To make this work, when your team members arrive at the meeting, mouse over their name in the participant list, choose more, and make them a co-host. Co-hosts can do all these tasks, except only the host can manage breakout rooms.
Scripts. If you’ve got this complex multi-host meeting going on, it’s REALLY helpful to have a shared script, which may be ALL the words written out, or it may just have the cues for how one person will end their segment and who they’ll hand off to next. We do a shared script on google drive so we can all edit our own parts, but we’re using the same shared document, and we color code for each person’s role.
Understanding the participant list. Sometimes in a large meeting, it’s hard to find who you’re looking for in the participant list. FYI, here’s how the list is sorted. Host first, co-hosts who are unmuted come next, in alphabetical order. Then co-hosts who are muted, A – Z, then participants who “have their hands” raised A-Z, then participants who are unmuted A-Z, then participants who are muted, A-Z. But that means when someone un-mutes themselves or raises or unraises their hands, they move around in the list. If I’m running a big 100+ person meeting, and I have four or five speakers I’ll need to be able to spotlight during the meeting, I either make them co-hosts, or I have them rename themselves with an asterisk in front of their name. That moves them to the top of an alphabetical list.
Sharing screens / Showing videos
When you’re the host (or when the host has enabled the participants to do so), you can share your screen with other people in the meeting. As a speaker, you might want to share your PowerPoint slides, or a video. As a meeting participant, you might want to share a document you’re working on so others can see what you’re referring to. You can also share a white board that you can draw on, and (if you enable it) others can annotate.
If you plan to share screens, I really recommend that before the meeting, you close down all the windows you don’t want to share, and all the applications you won’t be using during the meeting. Partially that’s so your computer isn’t spending energy processing all that, which could slow down your presentation, partially because it makes you easier to find the one thing you want to sure and makes it less likely you’ll accidentally share something you didn’t mean to share.
To share a screen, go to the command bar at the bottom of the screen, and choose the green button for share screen. It will pop up a window, like this:
Choose the thing you want to share – say the word document on the bottom right, then double click on it, and it will begin sharing. You’ll know it worked if up near the top, there’s a green box that says “you are screen sharing” next to a red box that says “stop share.” That black command bar will disappear while sharing (you can always bring it back by bringing your mouse over it or tapping on the screen), but the red and green should be there the whole time you’re sharing.
- To share a PowerPoint: BEFORE it’s time to share, go to your PowerPoint and start the slide show from the beginning (or wherever you want it to start.) Then (on a PC), press the windows button to see your task bar at the bottom of the screen, and choose the blue icon with the video camera on it to get back into your Zoom call. When it’s time to share, press the share button, then choose the slide show image (the second from the left in that picture above, NOT the PowerPoint slide show where you’d go to edit the PowerPoint (third from left).If you want to show a video, have it all set up and cued. You could show a video off of YouTube or wherever directly. Personally I really prefer to download it (preventing unexpected issues with viewing) and to embed it in a PowerPoint slide show where I can “trim it” to have it set up just right, and ready to go. When you share a video, it’s SUPER important to click those two boxes in the bottom of the share window (see above image) where it says share computer sound (that means they’ll hear the sound from the video not just than the sound from your mic), and optimize screen sharing for video clip. If you click that second box, the video will look SO much better, with less stuttering and stalling than if you forget to click it. If you have multiple co-hosts, plan to have the co-host with the best internet signal share the video for the best results. (Note: you won’t use this “optimize for full screen video option” unless you’re planning to share a full screen video. Otherwise, it can cause the screen to be blurry.)If you choose to share a white board, you’ll have a white board you can draw on and write on.
Music on Zoom
The things I do on Zoom include running church services, teaching preschoolers, and running a camp – all of which include “sing alongs” whether that’s hymns or Twinkle Twinkle. Unfortunately, due to lagging signals, it is not possible to sing in unison – you’re all just a little off from each other.
So, for ALL sing-alongs, you have one host or participant provide the music, the rest of the participants are muted and sing along in our own homes. It seems silly, but we do it at our church and in my classes, and I get lots of feedback that singing aloud still gives people joy. To provide the music, there are three options:
- Upload and play pre-recorded (audio or) videos by sharing screen.
- Have pre-recorded accompaniment track and a live singer.
- Have a live musician and a live singer in one household on one device.
Here’s how to make each of those work:
You can get quite good video with an iPhone, or decent video just using the camera on your computer. But the better the camera and mic, the better the final video. Once you’re done, you can save it onto your computer, and then play it from there (or embed in a powerpoint and play from there.) This method can provide the best sound and video quality of the three options and look more professional, but there’s a little less of the personal connection feel with the song leader than there is with the other options.
Recorded Music with Live Song Leader
We tried doing this in various complicated ways with sound mixers, but gradually found that the best results came from simply playing the recording aloud into the singer’s room, using a separate device. (Like a stereo or a mobile device with a Bluetooth speaker.) Then the singer simply sings along to the accompaniment. Just be sure a few settings are correct. You must use “Original Sound”, as described in the tips below for live music settings. Otherwise, Zoom tries to cancel the background noise (aka the accompaniment.)
[Before the meeting, if they haven’t already done so, the host should sign into their Zoom account and Enable Original sound for the account.]
- During the meeting, on the command bar next to the mic, you’ll see an up arrow. Choose that, then choose audio settings, then choose advanced. Then choose enable original sound.
- Before starting to sing, the singer should make sure they’ve turned on Original Sound. When you move the mouse over the zoom window and the control bar (with mute and other controls) shows up, the Original Sound control is in the upper left. You know that it is ON if it’s blue and offers the option to turn OFF original sound.
- Then test it to see how it sounds.
- With some live set-ups, you might also need to go into those advanced audio settings and select (or unselect) “Suppress persistent background noise.” This is a setting that is designed to filter out your neighbor’s leaf blower, but can also suppress beautiful background music.
- It is a good idea to test this in advance to fine tune the placement and volume of the accompaniment (whether that’s a live instrument or a musical recording played over speakers), singer’s volume and the zoom mic levels.
Sound checks. It is a very good idea to do sound checks before a meeting. The musician can check themselves, or the host and musician can meet in advance for a Zoom sound check, or you can do it at the start of the meeting where the performance will occur.
To check it themselves: the musician can just do their own free zoom meeting by themselves any time they want to. They record the meeting, testing various mic placements and levels. When they leave the meeting, the recording is converted to an .mp3. Listen to that, then adjust as needed – the recording will pick up the audience experience of the call.
You can schedule a meeting for a sound check with the host and musician. Or, at the meeting where the performance will occur, either enable the waiting room. The host lets the musician in first, does the sound check then lets everyone else in, OR the host creates a breakout room for the musician and someone to help them with a sound check, and they “step backstage” into the breakout room to test things out.
Reducing Zoom Fatigue
For your eyes:
- Screens should be 18 – 24 inches from eyes
- Use screens in locations with good lighting without a lot of glare (or consider a matte screen filter)
- Adjust brightness and contrast for comfort
- Consider night mode or blue shade mode on devices after 7 or 8 pm to shut out the blue light which can disrupt sleep
- Remember to blink now and then to avoid dry eyes and eye strain
- 20-20-20 breaks: Set a timer – every 20 minutes, look at something 20’ away for 20 seconds (plus spend some time outdoors every day, looking at a far distance)
For your body:
- Use good posture – typical advice is to sit so there’s a 90 degree angle at your ankles, your knees, and your hips, and that your elbows are at a 90 degree angle as your hands rest on the keyboard. Start with that advice, but then adjust as needed for your personal comfort.
- Choose good furniture – that helps you keep good posture and doesn’t hurt your butt.
- Vary seating choices – if possible, have multiple work stations so you’re not putting weight on exactly the same parts of your body all day long every day, or have an exercise ball to sit on, or a standing-desk station
- Stretch breaks – take breaks between activities… at the end of a chapter, after finishing an assignment, every 20 minutes, whatever “signposts” make sense; dance breaks are also great
For your brain:
Take breaks! Get outside! Move!