12 tips for a successful Zoom video call

Zoom is my venue of choice for a night out during the lockdown – and it’s also perfect for family chats, Competition Club meetings and quiz nights. Lots of my friends are trying a Zoom video call for the first time, so here I’m sharing a few tips to ensure your call runs smoothly and is a success!

To join a Zoom call, you can simply click the link in the invite from your host, then type your name – you don’t need to register for a Zoom account (although registering your information allows you to use the Zoom app, which is recommended). Zoom calls can be joined using a computer, tablet or mobile phone – and if you’re shy, you don’t need to allow access to your camera or even talk! You can simply join with no camera or microphone and still enjoy the call, and use the chat box to type anything you’d like to contribute.

Zoom calls can have two people, or hundreds of people – some musicians and DJs send out a public invite on Twitter, so fans can watch their set. Fans are muted when they join the call – and unable to unmute themselves, to ensure it’s not chaotic!

Here’s some tips to help you make the most of Zoom.

By default, Active Speaker is the default video layout for a Zoom call. Guests will see a large video of the speaker – and with a lot of people chatting at the same time, the constant changing between speakers can be annoying! The Gallery view, where all participants are shown at the same time, is much better for most social calls – but unfortunately there is no option to use the gallery view on the Zoom website.

If possible, download the free Zoom app at https://zoom.us/download for the best experience, then when a guest clicks a Zoom link they can then select to open zoom.us and use the app. Note that the app download is NOT the easiest process – check the Support pages on the Zoom website if you need help.

On the Zoom app, go to the top of the screen and tap the small boxes icon to switch between Gallery and Active Speaker views. On a mobile using Gallery view you’ll only see 4 people on screen at a time (on a tablet it’s 9) and will need to swipe to see the others. There’s screenshots on the Zoom support pages if you’re struggling to change to Gallery view.

2. Warn guests about the 40 minute limit

If you’re the host and are using the free version of Zoom, you’re limited to a 40 minute call with any more than 2 people (2 people can be on a call for as long as they like). If you’re new to hosting on Zoom, you’ll probably have your first couple of Zoom calls extended for free – but after that, you’ll see a countdown when you’re approaching the 40 minutes cut off time! Some of my friends have panicked about this, so if you’re hosting, warn your guests that this will happen, and tell them when they get kicked out they’re able to to come back to the meeting by clicking on the same link again.

3. Use the Mute button

I’ve been in many Zooms where one guest has been having a full conversation with their family while on a call, and it’s been very distracting!

On a Zoom call, the meeting host is able to mute/unmute all microphones, and mute/unmute the individual guests. Guests can also choose to mute their own microphones, and if you’re planning on doing more listening than talking you might prefer to do this – it can save you the embarrassment of interruptions… or unexpected burps!

To mute yourself, just look for the microphone icon in the bottom left of your screen – click or tap it so it has a line through it. A keyboard shortcut is Shift-Command-A on a Mac (Alt + A on PC). You can quickly unmute yourself on a computer by pressing and holding the spacebar while you talk (this is called the Push to Talk function).

Digital Trends have a full list of other helpful Zoom keyboard shortcuts

4. Plug in your earphones

If you’re on a call on your own (rather than a group of you in one room), the earphones from your phone are perfect to use for Zoom – simply plug them into your device. Nobody else in your house will be able to hear the other guests, and because of the small microphone on the cable, your voice should be heard clearly above any other background noise in the room.

5. Add a virtual background

Zoom offers a fun ‘virtual background’ option – there are a handful of options available in the app, but you can actually upload any photo or video of your own, or find something on Google. The virtual backgrounds work better if you’re in a well lit room and contrasting with a plain background so that Zoom can separate your head and shoulders from the background. To enable a virtual background, click the small arrow to the right of Stop Video, then Choose Virtual Background – choose a background, or upload your own by selecting the small plus sign to the right of the pop-up box. Choose None to remove the background again.

If you’re hosting a quiz I have created a couple of simple backgrounds you can use – click on the images below to open them in a new window, then right click to save them to your device!

6. Look your best!

Don’t sit in the dark with your tablet on your lap – make sure your appearance is the best quality you can manage. If it’s a daytime Zoom, look at a window so the light is on your face. If you sit facing away from the window, you’ll be a silhouette. In the evening, try to sit in front of a light so it’s shining towards your face. Angle your device so it’s somewhere stable and looking directly into, or slightly up at your face, rather than putting it down on your lap.

Zoom also has the option to activate a filter, which softenins and smoothes your features! To turn it on, click the up arrow next to Stop Video. Click Video Settings, then check the box for Touch Up My Appearance.

If you’re using a mobile or tablet, holding your device upright means you will appear much smaller to the guests viewing on a computer – hold your screen sideways to increase the size of your video.

7. Put your guests in the spotlight

If you’re hosting, and one of the guests is talking but you don’t want to mute the rest, click in the corner and select Spotlight video. This will automatically make that guest the focus for the other guests – the other guests can still talk, but the speaker focus won’t change between them. To stop the spotlight, click on Cancel spotlight video at the top of the screen.

8. Use the same link for regular meetings

You don’t need to set up a new meeting with the same friends – simply set a recurring meeting in the Zoom app, then just share the link with your mates and let them know when the meeting is. They can use the same link to join every time.  It saves the guests scrabbling around looking for new links and passwords in their inbox!

9. Share your screen

Zoom allows you to switch from the camera view of you, so you can instead share your computer, tablet or phone screen with the other guests. To screen share, tap the green Share Screen icon at the bottom of the screen, allow Zoom access to your screen and then select the content you would like to share from your open apps. To stop sharing, click the red Stop Share button at the top of the screen.

Screen sharing can be handy for:

  • Giving a presentation
  • Showing quiz questions, photos or clips on screen
  • Helping a friend to do something on their device – for example, showing them how to use Twitter or Instagram!

10. Use the chat window

Tap or click on the chat bubble at the bottom of the screen for a pop out chat box – you can type in a message to everyone, or send to an individual. It’s handy for asking questions or sharing links.

11. Stay safe on Zoom

There have been problems with Zoom-bombing, where people join Zoom meetings and spam them with videos. To avoid this, there are some precautions you should take.

  • Keep Zoom invites private – don’t share details on a public forum
  • When all your guests are in the Zoom, tap Safety and then Lock Room to prevent anyone else from joining.
  • Use a password for meetings (passwords are case sensitive)
  • Add participants to a waiting room – the host can only approve guests they know

12. Record a Zoom call

You may want to record a Zoom meeting, especially if you’re giving technical advice to someone while screen sharing! The host can record meetings, but only using the Zoom desktop client (it doesn’t work on mobile) – simply tap Record on the bottom toolbar during a call. Make sure you tell people you’re recording the call and what it will be used for! Find out more about recording on the Zoom website.

I hope these tips help your next Zoom call run smoothly!

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