Hosting great video meetings isn’t just about knowing how to use Zoom. There are other things to be aware of, like how to position your webcam so you don’t appear threatening to your coworkers, or how to make sure you don’t make sensitive content public while sharing your screen.
Screenshot by Marcelle Santos
Running a successful Zoom meeting is a combination of remote work smarts and an understanding of when and how to use Zoom features. In the tips below, we cover both.
How to host a Zoom meeting: the basics
Here are the essentials for making sure your Zoom meetings run smoothly.
- Test your speaker and mic. Go to Zoom > Preferences and choose Audio. While you’re at it, set “Space” as the keyboard shortcut for muting and unmuting your mic.
- Connect from a large screen. Call from a computer, not your phone. Use the Zoom desktop app instead of the browser version whenever possible, as Zoom recommends.
- Join from a quiet location. Host from a quiet, private space. If that’s not an option, use a Bluetooth headset or your Apple AirPods—never your laptop’s built-in audio. You can also try going to Preferences > Audio and choosing a high suppression level for background noise.
- Ensure your internet connection is stable. For Zoom meetings, wired is better and more reliable than wireless—so plug an ethernet cable into your laptop if you can. If wifi is all you have, try these Zoom tips for improving your signal.
Consider safety and privacy
With the rise of Zoombombing—the invasion of video-conferencing calls by trolls—security has become a real issue. As the host, you’ll need to take steps to prevent disruptions.
- Make sure you have access to Zoom meeting controls. If you are leading the meeting but not hosting it—meaning that the meeting was set up by somebody else, under somebody else’s account—make sure you have the host key, a 6-digit PIN that grants essential hosting privileges, such as the ability to eject intruders and to mute all attendees at once.
- Decide who you’ll let in. You can set your meeting to allow only certain people to join, such as those who are signed in or who have the company’s email domain. You can also password-protect a meeting, create a Waiting Room to control who enters, and “lock” meetings after a certain time or a number of people have joined.
- Decide how to let people in. You can allow participants to enter the room before the host or create a Waiting Room.
- Decide how people will participate. You can control whether participants are able to speak, share their screen, annotate, and more. You can toggle these settings on and off during the meeting to give attendees temporary permissions.
Save yourself and others from oversharing
Some of the most epic Zoom fails happen when participants share what they shouldn’t. Here’s how to prevent that so your Zoom meeting doesn’t go viral for the wrong reasons.
Screenshot by Marcelle Santos
- Check how your background looks on camera. Tidy your background if it looks messy—or at least move the stuff out of view. Alternatively, use Zoom’s handy virtual backgrounds to blur your background or create a static background out of a photo you upload.
If you want to look professional, use a branded image, such as a photo of your corporate headquarters. “As nice as photos of the Golden Gate Bridge or the pyramids are, resist the urge to put those in there. That’s kind of like the old computer wallpapers from the 90’s,” says CNET editor Brian Cooley.
- Silence all desktop notifications. Disable your apps to block notifications. If you can’t be trusted to remember to do this, there are ways to automate this task. On Windows 10, you can use Focus Assist. Go to Settings > System > Focus Assist, and toggle When I’m duplicating my display to On. On a Mac, you’ll need a third-party app like Muzzle.
- Careful when screen sharing. Never share your desktop—you might end up showing more than you intended. Instead, have whatever it is you want to display on hand and share specific windows only.
- Use your Host privileges. When others aren’t as careful, you can quickly come to their rescue by muting them (or all), cutting off their video, or even removing them from the meeting.
Look your best
In Zoom meetings, “looking good” means presenting yourself in a way that isn’t distracting.
- Position your webcam at eye level. When your laptop is sitting on your desk, attendees get an unflattering view of you from below—and into your nostrils. “It’s like when you do a movie and you want someone to look scary and menacing it’s a good technique,” says filmmaker Larry Fong. If you’re not trying to scare anyone, place your laptop at eye level. You can use a laptop stand or whatever’s on hand—including a stack of books—to accomplish this.
- Look at the camera. Don’t look at the screen; look at the camera. Looking at the screen makes it seem as though you’re looking the wrong way. Also, resist the urge to look at yourself: it’s bad for your mental health.
- Adjust your lighting. If you’re sitting with your back to a window, close the curtains to avoid creating a silhouette effect, i.e. appearing as a shadow. To improve your lighting, place a lamp on the side of your desk and reduce the blue monitor light on your computer.
- Turn on the beauty filter. Go to Preferences > Video to touch up your appearance. Zoom’s beauty filter works just like the filter on your smartphone, smoothing out imperfections at varying levels.
Keep attendees engaged
Great Zoom meetings are interactive. Here’s how to give attendees a chance to participate.
- Use in-meeting chat. Ask a question live, or display a question on the screen, then ask people to answer in the chat. Some good questions are, “What’s your biggest challenge in regards to…?” or “What has helped you the most with…?”
- Poll them. Use Zoom’s polling feature to gauge people’s level of understanding or focus.
- Use annotation features. Use Zoom’s annotation tools to allow participants to answer a question by writing or drawing something on a shared screen.
Screenshot by Marcelle Santos
- Enable Non-verbal feedback and reactions. Use these features to allow participants to communicate and give feedback. For example, they can add a raised hand emoji if they want to speak or react with “Slower” if they think you’re going too fast.
- Create breakout rooms. Enable breakout rooms to make small group discussions possible. You can create as many as 50 breakout rooms at the same time.
Do these things ahead of time
- Know your attendees—or at least their names. There are different ways to do this. You can make participants register prior to the meeting, or transfer guest details from a platform such as Eventbrite via Zapier—see Zapier’s list of Zoom integrations.
- Customize your Waiting Room. Choose what people see when they arrive. You can add a title, a logo, and a description.
- Pre-assign breakout rooms: Zoom breakout rooms are a great way to engage participants, but assigning them on the spot can be stressful. To save time and prevent issues, assign participants to breakout rooms in advance.
- Let attendees know you’re recording. If you are recording a call—especially if you’re recording everyone and not just the host—it’s best to let attendees know in advance.
- Learn some useful keyboard shortcuts. Learn these three hotkeys to react at lightning speed when duty calls:
- Command + I takes you to the Invite page so you can quickly grab the meeting link—useful for rescuing coworkers on Slack
- Command + M enables you to instantly Mute All—useful for quickly silencing someone who is being disruptive, even when you don’t know who it is
- Command + S allows you to instantly share your screen
- Space to mute or unmute yourself
Plan for better Zoom meetings
With video meetings no longer being the exception, we all need to step up our Zoom game. Showing up isn’t enough: we need to take steps to ensure we can collaborate and communicate just as well as would in real life. If we all make an effort, there’s a chance we can even do better.
For more ways to improve how you work remotely, check out:
- Remote Work Culture: Tips for Engaging Virtual Teams
- Remote Work Etiquette Rules
- How to Host a Webinar: Tips for Recruiters
Note: All the features mentioned are available in the free version of Zoom. Upgrading to a paid plan gives you the power to host more meetings for longer with more people—more details on Zoom.