Tips on using Zoom well

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Well, this week I’ve been a Zoom with 20 people for a happy hour, countless Zoom 1:1s, then two Zoom Webinars and then a Zoom college reunion gathering for nearly 200 people. What a learning curve it is, but here are some notes on how to use it:

  1. You pretty much are going to have to get the month by month zoom plan. It’s $15/month and then every month you do a webinar, it is $40. There is a free plan that limits you to 40 minutes, but this isn’t really enough time (full disclosure, some of us may own a bit of Zoom stock which is probably crazy to say as the stock market crashes down 🙂
  2. I also was on a Google Hangouts call, Facetime, Skype for Business and Webex as well. I have to say, I don’t know what magic Zoom has, but they are really good at holding call quality and not bouncing all over the place. I think the Zoom share at least for me was upwards of 90%.

With that being said, here are some tips on using it well:

  1. Get a fast enough computer to use the Virtual Background feature. You get this by clicking on the up arrow next to the Video feed and clicking on Video Background. Do this beforehand because they have to load a bunch of stuff. I like to have a background that works for the occasion. It handles JPEG and most other formats, so if you are in a college reunion, find a college photo.
  2. With a virtual background, the computer is guessing what is behind you based on colors and it is sort of right. For the hardcore, you will want to order a green screen. You can one that is right behind your chair and attaches to it. If you are going to be walking around, then spring for a big backdrop (which is actually cheaper btw) which needs a hanger. If you are really going to town for $160, you can get a hanging system, a green screen, and some special lights.
  3. Get a nice even light in your room. Normally I turn all the lights on and you want to make sure that there are no lights directly in the way of the webcam.
  4. Have a good webcam. You need one which is 1080p HD at least and which isn’t vulnerable to flaring and other artifacts. I’ve used both the Logitech Pro 920 and the later versions with equal effect.
  5. If you have a really fast computer and high-speed internet, then consider using a video background. The effect is gimmicky but cool. The best ones I find are the non-distracting ones. The default view on the beach is just about perfect. You want something that looks like the outdoors. Look at your CPU speed when you are doing this and also how much upload bandwidth you have.
  6. When you are using Zoom, you have to be really aware of what is using your upstream bandwidth. Most cable systems are very asymmetric so this matters. For instance, here we are 200 Mbps downstream and just 8 Mbps upstream. When I’m online, I like to have my routers upstream performance up and running (it varies by router brand, but this is a key parameter, normally routers have a web page where you do management and the good ones have statistics.
  7. Zoom uses between 1-5Mbps upstream so use as fast a computer as you can find. I’m not quite sure why, but different computers seem to have different bandwidth requirements. I’m pretty sure it is making a tradeoff, with a fast CPU, you get less upstream. We found that with Intel 9700K with eight cores overclocked at 4.6GHz, the upstream was as little as 1Mbps, but the same image on a MacBook Pro running at 2.4GHz with four cores was 5Mbps.
  8. If you are having trouble, then you need to debug your home and see what is drawing bandwidth. Something as simple as your phone can suck up 5Mbps of your bandwidth just doing photo upload, so it pays to check before you use Zoom.

Happy Hour Advice

For Happy Hours, it is a bit weird to sit there nose to the monitor and watch faces pop in and out. What works way better is:

  1. Put the thing into the “Hollywood Squares” mode. That is what they call Gallery mode.
  2. You need a big ass screen to do this. At least 32 inches and a 65-inch monitor (yes it’s really a TV, but we use for games) is actually pretty ideal.
  3. You want a good microphone system. The Airpod Pro sound is actually remarkably good, but for the best quality having a professional microphone and headphones really makes it easier to hear and reduces noise. I use a Rode NT-1 and it really gives good quality output.
  4. You want a wide-angle camera system. The ideal one is at standing height. That’s because it is going to be much more natural (and you will want either a nice background (so make your bed!) or get a green screen thing is you really are worried about this.
  5. During most of these, you want to move around and be natural because it is socially uncomfortable to start at people.
  6. Put all your zoom meetings into your calendar and stick the zoom address in the location field. Windows, Mac, and iPhones are do really well if they see a Zoom address, they immediately start in Zoom.
  7. I normally like to set it to don’t wait for the host and use my Private Meeting number all the time. It reduces the confusion of many different id’s. The default is to use a different id for every meeting for security reasons, but for most that aren’t as important.

Work Meetings and 1:1s

Ok some tips for work and 1:1s where you are trying to present things and get things done (not internal meetings):

  1. First of all the bandwidth thing is pretty important as you really want your presentations and things to work. Really, if you have to shut down every computer in your house, you should do it 🙂
  2. Make sure to practice screen sharing. Many people do their presentations voice only. I’m not sure that it is really effective. You want to be able to see people. So if you are presenting to one person, Pin the Video, so you can see them and watch their faces for queues.
  3. Leave a lot more time for confirmation. You are not in the room, so you have to ask, “what do you think?”, “do you agree or not?” much more.
  4. Most presentations are PowerPoint slides filled with words and words. If you are going to present this way, then get used to using the annotation feature. Or better yet convert your talk into a “Ted Talk” format. That is one idea per slide with more slides.
  5. These are definitely meetings where backgrounds are distracting, so if you are doing business meetings, please invest in a green screen and a nice background video that is calming. Even still, your company logo works. As an aside, you can use Unsplash to pick up some nice backgrounds.

Webinars and “Virtual Dinners”

Ok, if you have been planning a big meeting with 60 people, then just canceling doesn’t seem like a great idea given it is unclear how much longer this is going to go. So here is some advice:

  1. Spring for the Webinar package from Zoom. It is $40 for a month worth, but just remember that you probably will spend that much on gas and a snack in the real world.
  2. This gives you some important features. You can set registrations and Zoom takes care of reminders. The default is just First name and email and that is enough although asking for the Last name definitely helps. Set it to send reminders like crazy; the day before, the hour before and so forth. No one is ever going to remember all those crazy codes.
  3. The simplest form is that it sends an authentication URL and then when they register, they get the clear text meeting id. Keep that clear text id handy because inevitably someone is going to forget the code. Also make sure you have your phone, Signal, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and all the other crazy ways that people talk to you handy.
  4. If you are going to have multiple webinars then just use the same event for all of it. This means the same PMI is used for it and people can flow to different sessions. Zoom actually doesn’t care when the meeting is, you can just start a webinar anytime you like and when it sends an invite, it is just text that you copy and paste and can change. You won’t know who is signed up for what, but you will get the maximum number of people to attend.
  5. Backup and duplicate! Have at least two people at two different sites with the content and who can control the meeting and the video. Murphy’s Law means that something is definitely going to fail.
  6. Rehearse! This is going to go way better with rehearsal. People’s expectation for videos is way more that they want to see ESPN Sportszone that a bunch of blurry folks and choppy audio. So practice with the whole team. Have a Tech Rehearsal where people learn the controls of Zoom, have a dress rehearsal where you run through the whole thing
  7. Someone should be a “producer” and have a timesheet. Use the timing feature of Zoom so you know how long things go. That person should constantly be chatting to the presenters so everyone knows who is next and what is coming next because when you are speaking there is too much to think about.
  8. Unlike in-person meetings, being even five minutes late is super rude, so make sure that your side of the meeting is up and running 15 minutes before and then when you hit “Broadcast” you are up and running. When you are doing the dress rehearsal make sure to take down the entire Zoom because there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to go back to Practice mode.
  9. You really want to use Videos and cool graphics in a Webinar. It is cheap to produce and reusable. Have someone who is dedicated to showing these things and rehearse the order, there is nothing more satisfying than a clean “cut” to a video. Remember people’s expectations are set by the Superbowl.
  10. Make sure that it is somewhat fun. When people join, have someone watching and being the “greeter”. Hit the allow to talk and say something nice so everyone else can hear. There is nothing worst that uncomfortable silence.
  11. Start the chat early as another welcome mechanism.
  12. During the production, have the producer on a chat set to Presenters only so that everyone knows the queues. That same person should be the host. Make sure that if you have a panel, you keep audio and video muted. That helps performance. Also, with voice activation, you don’t want someone to grab focus away from the speaker. Keep the participant side panel open and make sure that everything is correct. The host can forcibly stop the video and mute people.
  13. When it is time for someone to speak, give them a chat warning and the turn on their video but not their audio. On cue, hit the audio.
  14. For questions, make sure folks know how to use the Q&A button. This is way better than the “virtual” hand raise because it gives everyone time to absorb the questions. Every few minutes, ask people to ask questions so you know where things are going.
  15. When the presentations are done, go to Q&A. Have a dedicated person for the Q&A as that person needs to figure out which presenter will answer and also ideally get the caller to ask the question. You can do this via audio-only by the way which is much cleaner. But if you want, you can turn on their video, but beware that most people won’t have done the network grooming that makes the video look good.
  16. Finally when you are done, have a strong close. There is no way to get applause easily, so instead, thank them. And as you say good buy make sure to use everyone’s name. There is a “kick” feature so you can get rid of people, so the easy way is to just say, “Thanks Fred see you soon!” and then kick them. If you have time, you can turn on their audio for a greeting before they leave.
  17. Finally, record the meetings and have as many as you can. You will be 1000x better at the second meeting. Then you can splice it all together and use it as canned content.
  18. If you have time and it’s a panel (but don’t go longer than 60 minutes!), buy the breakout feature so that you can split the room up.
  19. All of these events are going to have a call to action, so make sure to chat the URL regularly, people will always forget what to do next, so make it easy for them.
  20. We didn’t do it, but video is turned off for attendees, but if you want to see someone, then you can temporarily promote them to a presentor and then demote them. Before you do this though, make sure that their video looks semi-ok. It’s better to have clear audio than a hacky video.

Big Meetings

I only did one of these with nearly 200 people and it was pretty difficult:

  1. You can’t see 200 people in gallery mode, so it is hard to feel like you are part of a chat. Instead, treat the presentation part of the get together like a webinar (see above).
  2. If you are going to do this, have the breakout room feature and also allow people to chat individually, then people can decide to break out themselves.
  3. Have a few named rooms so that people can mingle there and it is OK to exit. Exiting is one of the problems with this kind of meeting.
  4. These are events where people are going to be scanning the names and will have a list of people they want to talk to so enable chat to each individual so someone can make that appointment and schedule a breakout room.

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