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The best tips for using Zoom

Zoom allows you to virtually meet with friends, family members, and co-workers. With just a few clicks, people you want to see pop up on your screen, ready to collaborate or just enjoy a nice chat.

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

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How to apply a background or filter in Zoom

Add virtual background on Zoom screenshot

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 with a faux background. Zoom’s selection of landscapes can add a bit of whimsy to your meetings, too. The feature is simple to use, and the camera on your 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 gear icon in the upper right-hand corner of your display to launch the Settings menu.

Step 3: Select Background & Filters in the left menu pane.

Step 4: After you do that, under the Virtual Backgrounds tab, you can choose from a number of built-in backgrounds, like a scene from the beach, a view of San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge, or even aurora borealis. A live preview will show how you will look in front of the background (provided that your webcam is turned on while you try on different backgrounds).

Step 5: To choose your own custom background, click on the plus (+) icon next to Video Filters. 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, for example.

Using a live background will reveal some artifacts (distortions) 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 can look a bit distorted 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 the brightness in the video settings. This can help your backgrounds look a little more natural and it can be done by opening the Settings menu, selecting Video, and then ticking the box next to Adjust for Low Light. A drop-down menu will appear. From the menu, select Manual. A slider will appear next to the drop-down menu, and you can drag it in either direction to increase or decrease the brightness of your video.

Step 7: You can also add fun filters to your video. Here’s how: Open the Settings menu, select Background & Filters, and then select the Video Filters tab. Within this tab, you can choose from a wide variety of image and color filters to add to your video. Certain filters, like the ones that can add fun effects to your face, will only appear if your webcam is on and enabled.

How to use shortcuts in Zoom

Zoom keyboard shortcuts settings menu screenshot

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 (Command + Shift + A)
  • Mute the entire group at once: Alt + M  (Command + Control + M)
  • Start or stop video: Alt + V (Command + Shift + V)
  • Pause or resume screen sharing: Alt + T (Command + Shift + T)
  • Start recording a meeting: Alt + R (Command + Shift + R)
  • Pause or resume screen recording: Alt + P (Command + Shift + P)
  • Switch camera: Alt + N (Command + Shift + N)
  • Raise or lower hand: Alt + Y (Option + Y)
  • Open the invite window: Alt + (Command + I)

The shortcut commands above are listed for Windows PC and Mac users. Mac users will want to use the ones in bold parentheses.

A full list of 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 touch up appearance settings screenshot

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 borrowed from beauty mode in 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. A slider bar will appear next to this option, and you can further customize the feature by sliding the bar left or right to increase or decrease its use in your video.

Pro tip: If you have the internet bandwidth at home, increase your stream by also selecting the HD option within the Camera section of the Video settings page. Additionally, if you’re meeting with a large team, you can increase the gallery view of your videoconferencing session by choosing the 49 Participants option underneath the phrase Maximum Participants Displayed per Screen in Gallery View. You’ll find this option within the Video settings page as well.

How to record and transcribe your Zoom call

Recording a Zoom Meeting

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

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. Then select the Settings tab on the left side of the screen.

Step 2: Click on the Recording tab and enable the Cloud Recording option. 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 within Advanced Cloud Recording Settings, 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 emails alerting you that your cloud recording and your transcript are ready.

How to share your screen on Zoom

Zoom EDU: Screen Share & Annotation

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-share by hitting the Alt + S keyboard shortcut (or Command + Shift + S for Macs), which will cut from your webcam feed to display to all meeting participants what you see on your screen.

This is useful if you’re trying to show an important graphic 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 Full Screen Mode.

Step 3: If you want to show the video feeds of the meeting participants 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 option. This way, your presentation will not get interrupted by all your alerts and system chimes. 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 from 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 the Share Screen button and then choose Whiteboard and select Share. 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 screen’s toolbar, hit the drop-down arrow within the Save button, and you can choose the format you desire.

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 Share Screen button.

And if you’re anything like us and have a cluttered desktop, you may want to use Windows 10’s Desktop feature (within Task View) to launch Zoom in a new, clean, clutter-free desktop space. This way, you’ll look more professional while presenting.

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. This way, everyone will have a set time and virtual place to convene on a weekly basis. Here’s how to schedule meetings in advance:

Step 1: From the Zoom home screen, 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 you’re creating the meeting, you may also want to explore the Advanced Options. This way, you can do things like Mute Participants Upon Entry or Allow Participants to Join Anytime. Mute Participants Upon Entry can be particularly helpful in minimizing distracting background noise. When you’re happy with everything, click Save to schedule your meeting.

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 a breakout room for the marketing team to come up with a marketing plan, a room for 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 be assigned during a meeting — between 50 rooms — and each room will function like a stand-alone Zoom meeting. The cap on the total number of participants assigned during a meeting can be increased beyond 200, but only if you create the breakout rooms during the meeting, create fewer breakout rooms, and have a large meeting add-on for your Zoom account. If you don’t have the add-on, your maximum number of participants is determined by your account’s usual meeting capacity, which may also be less than 200. Cloud recording, however, is limited to the main room.

Step 1: Sign in to the Zoom web portal.

Step 2: Click on Settings.

Step 3: Under the Meeting tab, select In Meeting (Advanced) and then make sure that the Breakout Room option is enabled. You may want to select the Allow Host to Assign Participants to Breakout Rooms When Scheduling option as well to let meeting hosts have the ability to pre-assign participants to specific rooms before the meeting starts. Then click the Save button that appears.

Step 4: To create breakout rooms, first you’ll need to start either a scheduled meeting or an instant one. Once the meeting has started, click on the Breakout Rooms icon on the bottom of your screen.

Step 5: In the window that appears, enter the number of desired breakout rooms in the phrase Create [number of rooms] Breakout Room(s) and then select from three room assignment options for your participants: Assign Automatically, Assign Manually, or Let Participants Choose Room.

Step 6: Once you’ve selected your options, click the Create button to create your rooms.

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

How to always start a meeting with a muted mic

Image used with permission by copyright holder

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

Step 1: If you’re in a meeting, select the upward-facing arrow within your Microphone button, and choose Audio Settings from the pop-up menu. Alternatively, if you’re not in a meeting, navigate to your Zoom Settings menu and then choose Audio from the left pane.

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 My 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.

Upgrade to a (small) Business account: These accounts cost $20 per month per license, but one of the features is upgrading your cap to 300 participants.

Upgrade to 500 participants with the Large Meetings add-on: This costs $50 per month per host (when billed monthly), and 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: 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 when billed monthly.

How to set up a workstation for frequent Zoom meetings

Zoom for Home
Image used with permission by copyright holder

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 these meetings.

Zoom has a product to help with that: The DTEN Me from Zoom for Home. Available to buy for $599 in the U.S., it’s a super-thin, 27-inch computer monitor that comes with a three-camera array, an eight-microphone array to pick up sound as accurately as possible, and a touchscreen with built-in whiteboard 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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Anita George
Anita has been a technology reporter since 2013 and currently writes for the Computing section at Digital Trends. She began…
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