The best tips for using Zoom

Zoom allows you to virtually meet with friends, family members, and co-workers. With a couple of clicks, people you want to see all pop up on your screen, each with whom you can collaborate or even just chat.

Remote workers often use Zoom, but now it is becoming known for connecting students, families, and offices. If you have never used Zoom before, here are a few tips and tricks to make using Zoom a lot easier.

How to apply a background in Zoom

Zoom virtual background
Apply a virtual background to your Zoom videoconferences.

If your workspace at home isn’t quite so tidy, you can apply a background to virtually clean up the real clutter. It’s like being a news anchor sitting in front of a green screen. Zoom’s selection of landscapes can add a bit of whimsy to your meetings too.

Executives who need to portray a more professional appearance when doing video calls with clients can even upload their company’s logo for use as a background, making it look like you’re having the call in an actual conference room at work.

The feature is simple to use, and the camera on your handset or computer can apply the background even if you’re not sitting in front of a green screen. Here’s how to get started:

Step 1: Launch Zoom on your computer

Step 2: Go to the cogs button on the upper right-hand corner of your display to launch the Settings menu.

Step 3: Select Virtual Background in the left menu pane.

Step 4: After you do that, you can choose from a number of built-in background, like a scene from the beach, a view of San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge, or even the Aurora Borealis. A live preview will show how you will look in front of the background.

Step 5: To choose your own custom background, click on the + icon next to Choose Virtual Background. The option will let you upload your own custom video or photo for use as a virtual background. If you have a video of an aquarium, you can conduct your meeting in front of what would appear as a live fish tank, as an example. If you need inspiration for some fun animated backgrounds to use, Lightricks, the maker of popular photo editing app FaceTune, has uploaded some content to Dropbox that you can use.

Using a live background will reveal some artifacts around the edges, which can look choppy if you’re moving around a lot during video calls. Additionally, virtual backgrounds shouldn’t be used if you’re planning on demonstrating or pointing to things with your hands — hands get canceled out with the use of virtual backgrounds. The background will appear more smooth if you’re sitting in front of a green screen.

Step 6: If your video looks a little weird, you should try adjusting brightness in the video settings. It’s a relatively new feature in Zoom that can help your backgrounds look a little more natural.

How to use shortcuts in Zoom

Zoom shortcuts
Popular keyboard shortcuts for Zoom

From years of experience using a computer, we all know popular keyboard shortcuts for copy, paste, and undo. Zoom has its own set of popular shortcuts that help you quickly mute and unmute the microphone, start or stop your camera, and more. There are a number of shortcuts that you can enable and use, but here are some of the most popular shortcuts to get you started in Zoom.

  • Mute or unmute audio: Alt + A
  • Mute the entire group at once: Alt + M
  • Start or stop video: Alt + V
  • Pause or resume screen sharing: Alt + S
  • Start recording a meeting: Alt + R
  • Pause or resume screen recording: Alt + P
  • Switch camera: Alt + N
  • Raise or lower hand: Alt + Y
  • Open the invite window instantly: Alt + I

The shortcuts commands are listed for Windows PC users. Mac users will want to substitute the Apple or Command key for the Alt key above.

A full list of the keyboard shortcuts can be found by navigating to the Zoom settings menu and choosing Keyboard Shortcuts on the left pane.

Touch up your appearance in Zoom

Zoom video conferencing
Look like your best self on your Zoom meeting

You may not be a newscaster on the evening news, but you’ll still want to look your best during your virtual meetings with colleagues. A feature that’s borrowed from the beauty mode from the selfie cameras on many popular Android smartphones, Zoom’s Touch Up My Appearance helps to smooth out your skin, remove the dark bags under your eyes, and help you look your best.

Best of all, the results look fairly natural, so you don’t look like an over-sharpened blob of pixels when viewed on the screens of fellow collaborators.

Step 1: Go to Zoom’s settings menu

Step 2: Click on the Video option in the left panel

Step 3: Under My Video, select the option for Touch Up My Appearance.

Pro tip: If you have the internet bandwidth at home, increase your stream by also selecting “Enable HD” under the Video option. Additionally, if you’re meeting with a large team, you can increase the gallery view of your videoconferencing session by choosing “Display Up to 49 Participants Per Screen in Gallery View.” By default, Zoom only shows 25 participants per screen, but you can view more if you select this option and have fast enough internet at home.

How to record and transcribe your Zoom call

If your business subscribes to a more advanced Zoom plan with cloud recording, you can record your meeting’s audio to the cloud. Zoom’s A.I. will help transcribe your meeting — complete with timestamps — and save the transcript as a .vtt text file. The meeting notes can be edited, if needed, for accuracy.

When you review your meeting video, there’s even an option to display the transcription directly within the video, making it look like closed captioning.

Step 1: Open the Zoom web portal and sign in.

Step 2: Click on the Recordings tab on the left-hand side and choose Cloud Recordings. You’ll need a premium Zoom account to use this feature, so you may have to inquire with your IT administrator or manager to see if your business is a subscriber.

Step 3: Enable Audio Transcript under Cloud Recordings, and save your changes.

Step 4: When you start a meeting, be sure to hit the Record button and choose Record to the Cloud.

Step 5: After the conclusion of the meeting, you’ll receive an email alerting you that the transcript is ready.

How to share your screen on Zoom

Even though you may not have access to a projector, you can still make presentations and show meeting attendees what’s on your screen. You can start a screen sharing by hitting the Alt+S keyboard shortcut, which will cut from your webcam feed to displaying to all meeting participants what you’re seeing on your screen.

This is useful if you’re trying to show an important graphics, for example, in a meeting, or want to display a PowerPoint deck. If you’re the speaker, you can enable additional settings to give an even more polished presentation.

Step 1: From the Zoom Settings menu, navigate to Share Screen.

Step 2: Enable Enter Full Screen When a Participant Shares a Screen.

Step 3: If you want to show a video feed of the speaker along with the shared screen, you can also enable Side-by-Side Mode.

Step 4: Be sure to select the Silence System Notifications When Sharing Desktop. This way, your presentation will not get interrupted by all your alerts and system chimes. Also, pro presenters may also want to enable Windows 10’s Focus Assist feature, which will help hide notification sounds and pop-ups from the system or your email and calendar apps.

If you’re collaborating on a project, you can also use a digital whiteboard to work together. Once you’re in a meeting, you can click on the Screen Share button and then choose Whiteboard. After that, annotation tools will appear, allowing you to draw and plan ideas and projects with collaborators. Whiteboard sessions can be saved as separate images or compiled into a single PDF. In the Whiteboard control, hit the Save button, and you can choose the format you desire. Enter an email address to share the saved whiteboard.

Make sure to have what you’re trying to present queued up and ready to go before the meeting starts. This way, you can jump into the PowerPoint presentation, Excel spreadsheet, or web document immediately when you hit the screen share button.

And if you’re anything like me and have a cluttered desktop, use Windows 10’s Desktop feature to launch Zoom in a new, clean, clutter-free desktop space. This way, you’re not revealing any confidential files you may have saved on your desktop, and you’ll also look more professional in the process.

How to schedule meetings in Zoom

While impromptu meetings are sometimes needed for big changes, if you’re working on long-term projects, it may be useful to reserve some virtual time to have regular Zoom check-ins.

If you have regular standing project meetings, you can schedule them in advance. This way, everyone will have a set time and virtual place to convene on a weekly basis.

Step 1: From the Zoom homescreen, click Schedule.

Step 2: Fill in the meeting details, including time, topic, and duration. You can also set this as a Recurring meeting.

Step 3: If it’s a confidential meeting, assign a meeting password to be shared with participants.

Step 4: If you’re creating the meeting, you may also want to explore the Advanced Options as well. This way, you can Enable Waiting Room and Enable Join Before Host to allow attendees to join the meeting early. An important option to select is to Mute Participants on Entry to minimize distracting background noise.

You can also download the Chrome browser extension and Microsoft Outlook extension to schedule meetings without having to launch the Zoom app.

How to set up breakout rooms in Zoom

Useful for managing larger groups, breakout rooms let you split a team into smaller ones to tackle different areas of a big project simultaneously. For example, if you’re working on a new product launch, you can schedule a product launch meeting, and then create breakout room for the marketing team to come up with a marketing plan, the finance team to run models and make sales projections, and a third room for sales to come up with a sales strategy.

Up to 50 separate breakout rooms can be created, and the host can pre-assign attendees to specific rooms. A total of 200 participants can join between all the rooms, and each room will function like a stand-alone Zoom meeting. Cloud recording, however, is limited to the main room. Like some of the more advanced Zoom features, your organization will need to be a subscriber to a paid plan to have this feature.

Step 1: Sign in to the Zoom web portal.

Step 2: Click on Settings.

Step 3: Under the Meeting tab, make sure that the Breakout Room option is enabled. You may also want to select the Allow Host to Assign Participants to Breakout Rooms When Scheduling option as well to give your meeting host the ability to pre-assign you to specific room(s) before the meeting starts.

In a Zoom session, the host will have access to the Breakout Rooms in their videoconferencing menu. The host will be able to jump between the different rooms to talk to the participants.

Whichever advance features you enable in Zoom, remember to always follow common best practices for videoconferencing to ensure all your team meetings run smoothly.

How to use

How to always start a meeting with a muted mic

Zoom also allows you to change settings so that you always enter a meeting with a muted mic. This is a good protocol and polite to other users, since entering with a live mic can cause sudden noises or bursts of static that can be disruptive.

Step 1: Select the arrow next to your mic button and choose Audio Settings from the pop-up menu.

Step 2: In the Audio Settings window that opens, scroll to the bottom where you will find several features that can be enabled or disabled. Make sure that the option to Mute microphone when joining a meeting is enabled.

How to hold larger Zoom meetings

Working remote

A typical free Zoom meeting can hold up to 100 participants. However, for certain organizations or situations this may not be enough: If your web conferencing group is larger than 100 and you still want to use Zoom for your meetings, then you need to increase the meeting cap. There are several ways that you can do this, depending on your circumstances — and how much you want to pay.

Use a school Zoom account: Various colleges and universities have institutional Zoom accounts designed to facilitate online classes. This can usually hold up to 300 participants. If you are a student or teacher at a university that offers these accounts, you may be able to use it for your planned meeting.

Upgrade to a small business account: These accounts cost $20 per month, per host, but one of the features they add is upgrading your cap to 300 participants.

Upgrade to 500 participants with the Large Meeting add-on: This costs $50 per month, per host, but you can greatly expand the number of participants that can join. Browse all add-ons in the Billing section of your Zoom account after you sign in. You can also upgrade to the Enterprise account tier to unlock this option.

Upgrade to 1,000 participants if necessary: An alternative add-on lets you have meetings with up to 1,000 people for particularly large events. This increases the price to $90 per month, per host.

How to set up a workstation for frequent Zoom meetings

Zoom for Home

Are you looking at a future filled with Zoom meetings? If they are becoming a regular feature in your work life and aren’t going away any time soon, you should consider customizing a workspace specifically for web-conference meetings.

Zoom has a product to help with that: the DTEN Me from Zoom for Home. Available to pre-order for $599 in the United States, it’s a super-thin, 27-inch computer monitor that can be set up anywhere and comes with a smart camera array, eight microphones to pick up sound as accurately as possible, and a touchscreen with built-in whiteboarding and annotation capabilities that are built to work seamlessly with Zoom.

You may also want to check out our guide on how to work from home for more ideas about how to set up the right remote workstation.

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