Gone are the days of reporting to the office solely because you have a meeting. Now more than ever before, people are dialing in remotely from the comfort of their own homes — and thanks to Zoom, it's almost like the whole team is there together. So what, exactly, is this magical software, and how do you host a Zoom conference from your apartment or house?
First, a little history lesson: Zoom was founded in 2011 with the intention of creating a frictionless, easy-to-use, cloud-based video conferencing platform. In just several years, it's succeeded and then some. Now, it's the most popular remote conferencing service in the world, having reached the top during the Coronavirus pandemic. When people began to quarantine and socially distance, Zoom became an invaluable tool for maintaining relationships from afar.
It's not just meant for professional relationships, either. Yes, a huge variety of businesses use it to host both team meetings and one-on-one check-ins — but Zoom is a great tool to facilitate social interaction with your friends and family. You can catch up with each other or play games on a virtual Zoom party. Some people are even using Zoom to attend online yoga classes or stream concerts from their favorite artists.
Finally, the best news of all: There's a free version, and for most people, it more than meets their needs. The Basic plan offers unlimited HD one-on-one meetings, or you can host group meetings of up to 100 participants for 40 minutes or less. (Several cool features are included, and you can read more about those below.)
Higher-tier plans, which start at $15 a month per host, allow for 24-hour time limits, cloud recording with ample storage, and a ton of other useful features. The Enterprise plan, which is $19 a month per host and requires 100 hosts to start, is capable of conducting video calls with up to 1,000 people at a time. So, now that you know your options, it's time to get started with your video call.
How To Use Zoom
- First, if you're on a computer, you'll want to download the Zoom app from the website.
- You can also get extensions for specific web browsers or get the mobile app on your phone.
- Follow the download prompts until the software is installed.
Create an account:
- This section will ask for your e-mail address and your birthday, and will then send a verification e-mail to the provided account.
- Open the verification e-mail. When you click "Activate Account," it will bring you to a new page where you can type in your full name, choose a password, and invite some colleagues. That last step is optional.
- Now you're ready to start your first Zoom meeting.
Start a Zoom call:
- After signing in, you'll be on the Zoom Client's main page.
- Click the orange button that says "Start Meeting," or go to the Zoom website, where you can find the "Host A Meeting" dropdown on the top right.
- Before your first meeting, you should test your speaker and microphone. This will play a little jingle (to ensure that your speakers are working) and relay your voice back to you when you speak (to ensure that your microphone is working).
- Once the test is done, click "Join With Computer Audio."
- If your video isn't showing, click the "Start Video" button in the lower left-hand corner. (Note that this button, as well as all of the others, disappear when your mouse is idle for several seconds.)
Invite Coworkers or Friends:
- Now it's time to invite people. Click the "Participants" button on the bottom center of the screen.
- This should bring up a white sidebar where you will see your name. Click "Invite" at the bottom of the white sidebar.
- Another window will pop up where you can choose your preferred e-mail host or copy the invite link. The former pulls up a pre-written e-mail, so you can simply add e-mail addresses into the "To" bar. The latter copies the link to your clipboard so you can paste it in an e-mail or a messaging service (like Facebook Messenger, Slack, or WhatsApp).
- Once participants click the link, they should be directed to your Zoom meeting. Then you can start chatting!
Free Zoom Features
Zoom has a chat feature built right into it. This feature is especially helpful if you want to share links or files. You can also send the group a message while someone else is speaking; this is considered a more polite way to share your thoughts or ask a question, because it does so without interrupting the presenter.
To type in or read the chat, click the "Chat" button on the bottom center of the screen. This will bring up a white sidebar where you can type out a message, paste a link, read the chat log, or attach a file.
Another polite way to share your thoughts is through Reactions. Similar to Likes on a live Facebook video, these little icons pop up on the screen (without interrupting the presenter) and then disappear after five seconds.
To send a reaction, click the "Reactions" button on the bottom-right of the screen. Then choose between the clapping hands or the thumbs up.
Note that you can also set the skin tone of your reaction by clicking on your profile picture in the Zoom Client, clicking Settings, and going to the General tab. There, you can choose between six different skin tones.
When hosting a Zoom call — especially in a professional setting — your environment should be neat and bright. (More on this topic below). If none of the rooms in your house are suitable, you can set up a virtual background that makes it look like you're in a designer-created space. The foreground (you) will remain the same.
You can do this one of two ways: If you haven't started a meeting yet, click your profile picture on the Zoom client, then go to "Settings" and "Virtual Background." Here, you can choose one of the pre-provided options or click the "+" button to upload your own.
Alternatively, if you're already in a meeting, you can navigate to the "Start/Stop Video" button on the bottom left and click the tiny up arrow in the corner. Then click "Choose Virtual Background."
For those on a computer, keyboard shortcuts can make hosting responsibilities much easier. These shortcuts are available for higher Windows, Mac, and Linux desktop versions, as well as iPads with up-to-date iOS versions. If you'd like to edit a shortcut, you can do so by clicking your profile picture on the Zoom desktop client, going to "Settings," and clicking "Keyboard Shortcuts."
You can see a full list of shortcuts here, but these are some of the most useful:
- Alt+V: Start/stop your video
- Alt+A: Mute/unmute yourself
- Alt+M: Mute/unmute everyone except for the host. (Note that only the host can do this.)
- Alt+S: Launch screen share window
- Alt+R: Start/stop recording (local)
- Alt+F: Enter/exit fullscreen
- Alt+I: Open invite window
- Alt+Shift+T: Take a screenshot
- Alt+U: Display/hide participants window
Where Should You Host Your Meeting?
Some rooms of the home are better than others when hosting a Zoom call. For work-related calls, the ideal spot will be private and quiet. This means avoiding common rooms of the house if you live with roommates, kids, or a spouse. It also means avoiding areas with humming fans, rowdy pets, and external noise pollution.
If possible, choose a room with a door you can close behind you, like a multi-purpose home office, a bedroom, or a basement (assuming the internet signal is strong enough there). You should also have access to an outlet and a flat surface so your laptop or other device stays charged and stable.
Also ensure that your backdrop is relatively clutter-free and elicits a professional feel. In other words, point your camera at a bookcase, a greenery-filled window, or a blank wall (rather than at a pile of toys and laundry.) Alternatively, you can choose a chic virtual background for your Zoom call, as discussed above.
Make sure the room is bright and the light source is in front of you, not behind you. If you're sitting with your back to a lamp or window, the camera will likely adjust and significantly darken your face.
What Should You Wear?
This depends on who you're meeting with, but use your best judgment, same as you would with any face-to-face meeting. If you're hosting a Zoom call with friends or family members, any casual outfit or comfortable loungewear set will do.
For more professional meetings, it might be a good idea to dress up a bit. For work calls, experts suggest taking your wardrobe down one level from your regular office attire — but no more. (If you're a blazer person, a button-down should be fine.) For video interviews, you should dress as formally as you would for an in-person interview. This shows your potential employer that, despite the remote setting, you're serious about the job.
Additional Zoom Etiquette
- Be on time: Just like any other meeting, you need to be punctual. When hosting, launch the meeting a few minutes before the designated time so early birds can get situated before the meeting starts. Start and end the meeting as close to the calendar entry as possible to show that you're respectful of others' time.
- Introduce everyone: Assuming the meeting is relatively small and people don't already know each other, introduce all the participants on the call before you start. (You wouldn't rope two colleagues into an in-person conversation without introducing them first, would you?) This helps to stimulate engagement and create a welcoming, friendly space.
-Mute yourself: If you're not currently speaking, always mute yourself (unless it's a small, discussion-based group). This prevents background noises in your home from disrupting the presenter and other video-call members. As a default setting, Zoom will enlarge the video image of anyone who is speaking, so if your microphone detects accidental noise (like typing, a cough, or the wind), it could enlarge your video image over that of the presenter.
-Learn how to pause: Zoom is designed to function as seamlessly as possible, but there's still a slight delay during communication. When asking a question, pause for several seconds to give members a chance to unmute and respond. If you speak too soon, you'll probably end up cutting someone off.
-Wear earbuds: When sound exits your speakers and goes straight back into your microphone, this is called audio feedback. If all participants wear earbuds or headphones, it breaks the loop — so no one will have to hear any uncomfortable noises that get increasingly louder.
-Avoid distractions: In a professional meeting, you should keep your attention on your coworkers and the business at hand. This includes presenting from a quiet, distraction-free room, but it also includes closing your e-mail, turning off the TV, and putting your phone away.
Best of luck with your first Zoom conference!