Helpful Zoom tips and tricks to master every online meeting

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Some people pride themselves on being work meeting masters—and frankly, we all should!

Did you know employees are said to attend 60+ meetings per month? Quick math tells me that’s at least two per day. Two meetings at an hour each is 25% of an eight-hour work day where you'll be tied up in meetings. 

Not to mention that mid-level managers to those higher-up may spend 35%-50% of their days in meetings

Knowing that, we should all be striving towards being the best, most efficient hosts and attendees as possible.  

Maybe that's why you're here?

Because if you thought it was hard enough to get people to shuffle 20 feet from their desks to a nearby conference room on time, and then to simply sit there and at least pretend to look interested, imagine the difficulty we are facing in getting new remoters to hold productive meetings from the comfort of home.

And really, this is more than just a phase.

Some companies have been operating fully-remote for their entire existence, more are following suit each year, and now that organizations are getting a taste of just how successful their teams can be from home, that number is sure to accelerate. 

Zoom tips for efficiency & engagement

So, the importance of mastering the Zoom meeting can’t be overstated.

The first step is to figure out if meetings need to be held in the first place, but if you’ve been there done that, and now need to maximize meeting time, here are a few tips and tricks to help you do so with Zoom.

1. Embrace the lighter side with virtual backgrounds

I have to lead with this tip to just get it out of the way, because what’s a Zoom tips blog post or article if it doesn't mention the ability to set awesome virtual backgrounds’?

In terms of value, Zoom isn't simply providing a way for remote workers to chat with each other just as they would in person. No, it’s actually providing new and fun ways to elevate those experiences, and it's all thanks to technology; tech that just doesn’t have a place in physical in-person meetings. 

Online, things like virtual backgrounds are possible, and keep things fresh and different. And the more you can get participants to smile, the better chance you'll have at getting them to remain interested for a meeting's entirety. 

To set virtual backgrounds, just go to your personal settings and then to the "Virtual Background" tab to see your options. 

Alternatively, if you're already in a meeting, simply hover your mouse over the caret next to “start video” and select “choose virtual background.”

From there, you’ll see yourself on camera, with the option to choose from scenes like the Golden Gate Bridge or a tropical beach, or, you can even upload your own image (or even video). 

2. Schedule meetings, and add them to your calendar

Back when only some of the company was working remotely, it was a common occurrence for a meeting to be scheduled by those “in office” where they'd forget to add conferencing details—which of course wasn’t realized until everyone was trying to join.

(On the flip side, remoters would often schedule a meeting for those in office, and forget to reserve a conference room!)

With that, one good thing about everyone being remote right now is the fact that scheduling the video conferencing bit is a key component, and is tougher to bypass. 

But, to make this foolproof, here is the tip: schedule your Zoom meetings from the Zoom interface, as opposed to scheduling on your Google calendar, etc. and then copying and pasting conferencing details after the fact. 

All you need to do is open Zoom and go to the “Schedule” button. Once clicked, you’ll be presented with a number of different options. Set up everything as you wish, but also be sure to click the radio button that corresponds to your organization’s calendar provider. 

Now, once you click “schedule” you’ll be redirected to your default calendar where you can tinker with the details further, and then save as you normally would. 

3. Utilize annotation when needed

If you’re in a design meeting or need to share a piece of creative for feedback, meeting participants can utilize Zoom’s annotate features for on-screen markup. 

Now instead of having to go through the back and forth of, “You see that green box? No, not that green box, the other green box to the left. No, no, my left,” you can simply have people circle, highlight, and add text to the areas of focus. 

When all is done, the presenter can even save and capture the image with annotations. 

4. Don’t get “Zoomdoozled”

One thing that frequently bit us when we were first getting started with Zoom meetings here at iD Tech was that pesky 40-minute meeting timer set by default. 

Meaning, without fail, someone would be in the middle of a key point, or going over action items, or something else important and then boom, once 40 minutes had passed, meeting over; like, completely closed and wiped off earth as far as meetings are concerned; no trace. 

They were, as we coined, zoomdoozled. 

Think about it. You usually don’t start meetings on time, so say that’s 5 minutes passed, and then there is chatter once everyone logs in, that’s another 5 minutes. Then you get into the meat of the meeting, and after about 30 minutes eyes start to gloss. (In fact, experts say 45-minutes is the optimal meeting length, so there you go.) 

So, the 40-minute mark is usually where most important points are communicated as you start to wrap up! 

To get around this, there is good news and bad news. Bad news is 40 minutes is the max meeting length for anyone on the Zoom basic plan. So, you’ll need to upgrade (pay) to be able to schedule meetings for longer. 

The semi good news is, for many K-12 schools that have been closed due to the coronavirus, the 40-minute limit has been lifted. View details

5. Join “dark” by default

Would you ever walk into and sit down at a meeting rocking out to headphones or finishing up your lunch salad? Well, maybe, but you probably shouldn’t make a habit of it. 

Online, the equivalent of doing so in a Zoom meeting is joining and not really being ready to join; meaning the area behind you is a mess, or you’re wrapping up a phone call, etc. 

So, to avoid any embarrassing mishaps, or to simply offer common courtesy to your co-workers, go into your settings and make sure to mute your microphone and turn off video when joining a meeting. You can easily do so in your personal settings under the “video” and “audio” tabs.

Now, you can join on time, every time, but you won’t make yourself available to the rest of the group until you’re 100% certain you’re ready to do so.

6. Maintain valuable eye contact

One big, valuable piece of a meeting is wrapped up in non-verbals. Head nods, eye contact, quizzical looks, raised hands, etc. When you’re meeting in person, these are all readily available and viewable components. 

But depending on your “view” in Zoom, you might be missing out on a lot of that.

So, depending on what’s unfolding, whether that’s someone sharing their screen or one person talking to the larger group, you can toggle your view between the gallery/grid options so you can see everyone’s face, or at least a vertical/horizontal strip of 4 attendees at a time. You can also minimize the attendees list in order to focus only on the person who is actively speaking. 

7. Pay attention to the cues Zoom is giving you

“Can you all see my screen?”

I say it, you say it, we all say it. 

If you don’t want to say it, though, paying close attention can help. Meaning, once you share your screen, you’ll see a green border around the screen you’re sharing. 

For instance, I use three monitors. So, when I share my screen, I’m asked which screen I want to share...when I make my selection, I’ll see a green border around that particular screen's contents, and not around others. 

(Look closely.)

Now, you can still ask whether or not everyone can see your screen, but perhaps silently to yourself to remind you to check and find the green outline. 

8. Touch up your appearance

This is one of those things I mentioned above about just not having access to in your in-person meetings. 

Some of us go to great lengths to treat the remote workday as we would as if we were headed into the office. That includes showering, wearing work appropriate clothing, eating breakfast, etc. 

But no matter what, you still just might need a touch up, and in that case, Zoom is your best friend, offering a “touch up my appearance option.”

(Warning, it’s kind of freaky to see yourself go from current-day you to a smoother, perhaps 10 years younger version...but if you’ve messed around with social media filters, it’s the same idea.)

Again, just hover your mouse over the caret next to “start video” and this time select “video settings.” Then, just click the box next to “touch up my appearance.”

9. Get to know keyboard shortcuts

There are two camps with keyboard shortcuts...

One is comprised of those who know keyboards exist and use them occasionally, but are still fearful the shortcuts won’t work or they’ll confuse them for another action. And then there are those who are complete wizards with shortcuts, have embraced them fully, and look like they are composing a symphony with the way they move across their keyboards. 

No matter who you are, you’re probably sick of having to click to mute, click to un-mute, click to mute, etc. 

So, there are a number of keyboard shortcuts to consider in order to master your next meeting. Here are a few I find to be most helpful. 

  • Command(⌘)+Shift+A: Mute/unmute audio
  • Command(⌘)+Shift+V: Start/stop video
  • Command(⌘)+Shift+S: Start/stop screen share

View all shortcuts here

Feeling like a Zoom meeting master?

I’m hoping the above has given you the confidence - and inspiration - to be a better Zoom meeting host and attendee. 

Have any additional tips or tricks you’ve found useful? 

And for those of you who are parents, and are dealing with Zoom and kids, or want to see how your child does in a different kind of Zoom environment alongside other like-minded learners, check out our Virtual Tech Camps—live, weeklong sessions on relevant tech topics where kids can learn to code, design games, and more, and socialize with others in small groups of 5 students per instructor. 

A photo of Ryan

Ryan manages blog content at iD Tech, starting with the company in 2008. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn!

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