This page is for brand new beginners on how to get started participating in Zoom meetings. If you see notes in italics, they’re just additional helpful tips – not really essential to understand. If you’re a more advanced user, it’s still worth skimming through this article, and you may discover tricks you didn’t know!
If you prefer to print out these instructions to have next to you as you learn the ropes, just print this Zoom basics PDF.
- 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
Getting an Invitation
You may just get a link to the meeting, like this:
Or, someone may tell you: “Meeting id 733 4481 2743. Password 6tR7Jn”
Or you may receive an email (or calendar appointment) that looks something like this – we’ll come back to these examples when we talk about how to join a meeting.
Joining by phone audio only
At the simplest level, you can treat zoom like a conference call.
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. If you have an Android phone or a landline, just use your phone to dial any of the numbers listed at the bottom of the invitation (under “dial by your location”). It will ask you to type in the meeting ID from the invitation. If there was a password in the invitation, you’ll type it in too.
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.
So, you can do an audio only call, but most people will do video calls:
Setting up for a video call
On a computer
To get the fullest functionality out of Zoom, to be able to see shared images well, and to see as many of the 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.)
If you’re on a computer, you’ll begin by downloading the app. Go to https://zoom.us/support/download. Zoom will start downloading. You’ll see something like this:
When it’s downloaded, click at the bottom left (where the blue arrow is pointing) where it says “open file.”
That will open the Zoom app.
On a mobile device
Or, you can use a mobile device like a tablet or smartphone. Your first step is to install the Zoom 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 most Zoom needs, but they don’t have access to quite all of the features that I describe in this guide. Chromebooks especially have some limitations.
Do a Test Meeting
If you have time before your first meeting, you can do a test meeting to give you a chance to learn all the skills while no one is watching.
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.
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 (or unplugging your headphones). 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.”
Skills to Learn
Most of the commands for a meeting are in a black bar at the bottom of the screen. If you don’t see the black bar, try moving your mouse to the bottom of the screen or tapping the screen to display it. The command bar looks something like this on a computer:
And like this on a mobile device:
In the test meeting, try out these skills.
Turn off / turn on microphone
At the left corner of the command bar, there’s a picture of a microphone. Click to mute it – you’ll now 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 the mic. When you’re done talking, release the space bar and it goes back to mute.
(Note, next to the mic button, there’s an up arrow – clicking on that will take you to advanced audio settings – you’d generally only need this if you wanted to play music.)
As a general rule, if I’m in a meeting with 8 or fewer participants, we keep our mics on (unless we have a dog barking in the background or some other disruptive noise) so the conversation feels more natural and we can hear each other’s laughter and “yes, me too” comments. In larger meetings, most people stay muted.
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 in another article.) 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 and also helps us all feel a little safer as we know who’s at the meeting. (As a teacher, I’ll tell you if I can see your face, the class will be better! It’s just easier for me to connect to faces than black squares.)
Click the ‘Participants’ button on the command bar to see everyone in the call. If you mouse over your name, it will give you the option to rename yourself. (Note: Hosts see lots of options in the participants list, like the ability to mute people.)
Reactions and Raising Your Hand
On the command bar, you’ll see a smiley face that says reactions. Click on that, and you’ll see several options.
If you click on any emoji in the top row, that icon will appear on your camera image for 10 seconds and the disappear automatically. So you can show how you’re feeling with clapping, thumbs up, hearts, cheers and lots more – just click on the … to see all your options.
In some meetings (but not the test meeting!) you’ll have the second row of reactions, which is how you could vote yes or vote no, ask the speaker to slow down or move faster. If you click on these icons, they show up in the participants list, and stay on till you click it again to turn it off.
You can also raise your hand to let the hosts know you have a question or want to speak. It will stay raised till you (or the speaker) lower it. If other people also raise their hands, Zoom will put you in line in the order you raised.. (Note: on a PC, you can also use alt-y to raise your hand.)
If you don’t see the reactions button on your command bar, you need to update your Zoom. On old versions of Zoom, there is this collection of options at the bottom of the participant list.
On your black command bar, you may see a chat icon that looks like a speech bubble in a cartoon. (On a mobile device, you’ll see the word “more” and chat will be one of the options when you click on more.)
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 – where this picture says the word “everyone”, the arrow next to it will open a dropdown menu listing all the participants. (In some meetings, there will not be a chat available, if that’s how the host set up the 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 Real 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.” (If you’re ten minutes early to a meeting, nothing else may happen for ten minutes. Don’t worry! When they’re ready, they’ll let you in.)
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” in the top right corner.
It will ask you to type in the meeting ID, and maybe a password. Then you’ll be placed in the meeting.
Once you join the meeting, you can confidently use all the basic skills you learned in your test meeting.
Once you’ve mastered these basic skills, you can learn more about how to use Zoom, by checking out the articles in my Zoom Guide. Here’s just a few to get you started.
- Becoming a more skilled Zoom participant (changing how you see people – gallery view vs. speaker view, changing your name, updating your app)
- Looking and Sounding Good on Zoom: finding a better internet signal so your calls don’t freeze, ways to improve your audio and video quality
- Hosting a Meeting (starting a meeting, inviting people, scheduling a meeting, security, muting, recording, the basics of sharing screens)