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Become the master of Zoom with these simple tricks to give a professional look when video conferencing, as well as these tips and tricks for using the Zoom application.
We’ve written a few times lately about video conferencing solutions, but we wanted to take this opportunity to really dig into one of the more popular video conferencing solutions out there: Zoom. The chances are that you have found yourself a participant of multiple Zoom calls in the last few months, but there may be some parts of the application of which you aren’t aware. There are some tips and tricks that can help you master video conferencing in general, and Zoom in particular.
Video Conferencing Best Practices
We are going to begin with some general suggestions that will help you do your best, no matter which service you choose for video conferencing.
Keep Your Background Clean and Professional
Many of you find yourselves working from home, and when you use video conferencing to meet with your clients and colleagues, you are essentially inviting people into your home. You are inviting people into an area that typically isn’t designed for guests, since your home office or study may be more optimized for your family and you, rather than for entertaining guests, and especially your clients.
We recommend that you take some time to arrange the area behind where you sit when you do video conferencing to portray an air of professionalism if at all possible. If possible, have the background mostly empty, shooting against a blank wall.
Watch out for backgrounds that are too busy with lots of items. When you are having an important meeting with a client, you don’t want the client distracted by what is behind you. Just as many attorneys like to have bookcases in their offices because it conveys an air of professionalism and intellect, bookshelves make a great backdrop for almost any professional video conference.
Lighting is Key
When you set up the lighting in the room where you work, the odds are that you set up your lighting where it is convenient, or you set it up to make it easier for you to work. When working with video, however, the arrangement of your lighting matters more than you might think.
Avoid too much lighting behind you when you are doing video. Accent lighting is likely fine, but a large window behind you with daylight from outside can result in it being difficult to see you. The best lighting setup for video would have the lights located either behind or next to the camera and aimed at you; this will make sure that the camera is able to capture you without any unexpected shadows.
That said, we recommend that you avoid having lights that are too bright shining directly at your face. If possible, the light should be diffused so that you aren’t washed out by the bright lights.
It is a good idea to start a video conference with someone whom you trust and adjust the lighting until they think you look best.
Pay Attention to Camera Positioning
The odds are that you are using the camera located on the top of your laptop monitor, or a webcam attached to or sitting on top of your desktop monitor. While this is convenient, it can result in the camera either being too high and aimed down on you, or being too low and aimed up at you. If you are using your laptop’s camera, consider putting books under your laptop to raise the screen up. Ideally, the camera should be roughly at your eye level.
Also, make sure that you are looking at the camera when conferencing. If you have multiple monitors, position your video chat window on the same screen of which the camera is on top, and position the chat window so that the person talking to you is directly underneath the camera. This will give the illusion that you are making eye contact with your client, which will help to keep them engaged in the conversation.
Invest in Good Sound
We strongly recommend wearing headphones or earbuds when video conferencing. If you use speakers, the microphone can pick up the sound from the speakers, causing the other party to hear themselves echo. This echo effect is extremely distracting and significantly reduces the professionalism of your meeting. Using earbuds will eliminate this echo effect. Also, avoid using the microphone that is built into your laptop or into the webcam. Either use the microphone on your headphones or invest in a good USB microphone that you position close to your mouth.
If possible, have sound dampening in the room to reduce the sound of your own voice echoing into your microphone. While expensive sound dampening foam is often recommended, you can accomplish the same task by hanging blankets or towels on walls to absorb sound.
At this point, you have probably seen instances, either purposefully done in jest or done by people who honestly thought that they wouldn’t be seen, of people who are not wearing pants while in a video conference. Even newscasters who have been broadcasting from home have had a tendency to think that they won’t be seen from the waist down.
Things can happen in a meeting; you back up in your chair, or the camera points a little too far down. Make sure that you are dressed professionally when meeting with clients, even if you think that they can’t see all of you.
Zoom Tips and Tricks
Keep Out Unwanted Guests
Zoom Meetings can be set up in one of two ways: either as a scheduled meeting with its own unique ID or as a permanent “Personal Meeting ID” where people can save a link to a meeting and join it at any time. Until recently, the default was to have no security for these meetings to keep out unwanted guests, although you could set an optional password for the meeting if you wanted.
As more and more people started using Zoom during this pandemic, however, the practice of “Zoom Bombing” became a prevalent problem. For nefarious or humorous reasons, people would “guess” the meeting IDs of others and join random meetings, popping in unannounced. To combat this problem, Zoom now requires passwords on all meetings and Personal Meeting IDs, but there are still ways in which you may end up with unwanted guests.
Personal Meeting IDs are useful for impromptu meetings, but if you use them for meetings with clients, you should be aware that unless you rotate the password, someone who joined one meeting can join additional meetings in the future, even if you are busy meeting with someone else. This can result in accidental leaking of information.
Whenever possible, use the scheduled meetings mode to prevent this. Since each scheduled meeting has a unique meeting ID, there is no worry about someone joining the wrong meeting.
In addition to scheduled meetings, be sure to enable the Waiting Room when you are using your Personal Meeting ID. The Waiting Room feature means that when someone joins a meeting, they actually first enter a holding area and then you must move them into the actual meeting. This ensures that people cannot join a meeting room too early and potentially hear something that they should not. To enable the Waiting Room, click on the Security button on the bottom of the meeting screen and select the option to enable the Waiting Room.
While you are in a meeting, you can get even more peace of mind by locking the meeting to prevent anyone from coming in, even with the password. Click on the Security button and then click on “Lock Meeting” to prevent anyone else from joining the meeting at all.
Users of the Pro or Business plans can customize their Personal Meeting ID and change it on the fly.
Record Meetings, But Ask First
Even users of the free Basic plan can record meetings on their own computers. If you upgrade to a Pro or Business plan, you can have your meetings recorded on the Zoom server. When you record meetings, all participants are notified with a “REC” indicator that the meeting is being recorded, but be aware if your state’s laws require prior notice of recording.
When to Upgrade to Pro or Business
Zoom offers a lot of features in their free plan, but there are a few limitations. If you need to have group meetings regularly, be aware that the basic plan has a 40-minute time limit, after which the meeting will be automatically terminated. You can have longer meetings that are one-on-one, but if you need to have long meetings with a group, you need to upgrade to the Pro or Business plan, which will increase the time limit on these meetings to 24 hours.
The Business plan lets you set a vanity URL for your meetings, which can help give an additional air of professionalism when you are sending out invitations to your colleagues and clients.
Avoid Virtual Backgrounds
The Virtual Backgrounds feature in Zoom is entertaining when having a meeting with your friends and family, but it is distracting in a business setting. We recommend that you put some thought into a real background (see above) rather than playing with virtual ones.
If you must use a virtual background, invest in a green screen (or blue screen if you typically wear green), and opt for uploading your own virtual background image rather than using one of the default animated backgrounds. Try to keep your background professional. Swing by the office and take a picture behind your actual desk to give colleagues and clients the comforting feeling that they are visiting you in your office, even when they are not.
If you are going to use Virtual Backgrounds, pay extra attention to making sure that you are well lit without excessive shadows and try not to move too quickly because it disrupts the virtual background.
Share Single Windows When You Share a Screen
Screen sharing is an effective way to show your client something. You can share a document, a web page, or a PowerPoint presentation remotely. When you use the Share Screen feature (from the Share Screen button on the bottom of your Zoom window), you can choose to share either your entire screen or a single window.
As a general rule, we recommend that you show only a single window at a time so that you don’t risk your client accidentally seeing something that they shouldn’t see, such as an email from another client in your email window.
Send Files Through the Chat Feature
Zoom’s built-in Chat feature lets you communicate with participants of the meeting through text in addition to voice and video, but the Chat feature serves a useful purpose even when you are communicating primarily audibly. With the Chat sidebar open (by clicking on the Chat button on the bottom of the screen), you can click on the File button on the bottom right corner of the Chat window to upload a file from your computer to your participants. This is useful if you need to send a copy of a document to a client for review.
If you find yourself doing a lot of meetings on Zoom, you may want to learn the keyboard shortcuts that you can use to do things faster. Zoom has a full list of shortcuts and hotkeys on their website, which are often much faster than going through menus. For example, if you have a lot of people in a meeting, you can use Alt+M on your keyboard (Command+Control+M on Mac) to mute the audio of all of the participants simultaneously, rather than needing to click on each person to mute them.
If you are muted, rather than clicking through menus, just press the spacebar to quickly mute or unmute your mic.
We hope that the suggestions that we’ve given here will help you become a master of Zoom and convey a professional image to colleagues and clients.