With so many people social distancing as we try to curb the spread of COVID-19, many people are resorting to different types of video communication to keep in touch with each other. There are many options available for 1 to 1 connections, but not so many available for small or medium groups that need to have regular meetings, but don’t have a lot of capital to throw at a solution.
I’m the “unofficial tech support” for a non profit group, and their secretary contacted me with a request to help with setting up a solution she had found, that they wanted to try out. Until this point I had never heard of Zoom before. I’ve used other Video chat software before this, (Skype, Facebook messenger, Facetime and one or two online based solutions) but nothing that was designed for larger groups like Zoom was designed for.
So, being the diligent person that I am, I went out and created a free account (which allows 24 hrs. video meeting as long as you only have two participants, and a maximum of 40 mins per meeting if you have three or more to a maximum of 100) and proceeded to read thru all the getting started FAQs, as well as most of their advanced tutorials. Once I was sure I knew what I was talking about, I contacted the secretary and proceeded to teach her how to use Zoom and get things set up.
Zoom Meetings (has paid plans starting at $20.00 CAD per month per host) turns out to be in top leaders among video conferencing tools. You can make video calls while working from home, and use it for other kinds of virtual get-togethers as well. I have seen/ heard mention on Twitter That some have even mentioned attending funerals remotely using Zoom. I may not have heard of it before now, but the app has certainly caught on with a lot of people as a solid solution to social distancing.
A representative for Zoom said was heard saying that in December 2019, Zoom saw an average of 10 million daily meeting participants. In March 2020, that number was 200 million.
I’ve come to believe, that Zoom is among one of the better video calling apps I’ve had the chance to use, but I really encourage newer users to take a few moments to acquaint themselves with the tool’s features. Zoom Meetings is a go-to choice for work-related meetings due to its stability and reliability. It can be a great option for personal use. And a real lifesaver for businesses of all sizes that don’t currently have a meetings solution in this time of restrictions due to Covid-19.
Getting Started With Zoom Meetings
What I find really cool/useful about Zoom is that if you’re invited to a meeting, you don’t need to create an account. However, you will see a prompt to download the Zoom Meetings application. Downloading the app is optional as you can connect via a web app if you prefer, but the installed app does give you a more optimized experience. Zoom Meetings has apps for Android, iOS, Linux, Windows, and macOS.
On the other hand, if you want to use Zoom Meetings to host a meeting and invite others to join, then you need to create an account. You can authenticate with Facebook or Google, or sign up the old-fashioned way using an email address and password ( I signed up the old fashioned way, as I don’t like having too many 3rd party “app services” having access to my Facebook or Google accounts).
When you create an account, you get a Personal Meeting ID (PMI), which you can use at any time to start a meeting. It’s handy because you can send your PMI to participants without advance notice and get on the call quickly. You also have the ability to generate a unique meeting ID for each new meeting, which is preferable for security reasons, although there are times when using the PMI is much more convenient, especially among small groups that meet regularly.
You and the participants have the option to use the audio from your computer or mobile device for the call or dial in by using a standard rate or toll-free number where supported. There is not a toll-free number for the US or the UK, although there are toll-free numbers for dozens of other countries. Depending on your settings, participants may be able to join the audio portion of the call via Microsoft Skype for Business. It’s also possible to set up a third-party audio system of your choosing and include instructions for dialing in the meeting invitation.
As I stated earlier, the Zoom Meetings’ free account is generous. You can host up to 100 people on a call for free and you can see as many as 49 people on an active call in a gallery-style view. Group calls for free users are limited to 40 minutes, but one-on-one calls can be as long as you need. There’s no limit on how many meetings you can host. You get all of the most important features and tools, but you don’t get reports, user management, or administrator controls. This tier also does not include any cloud space to store recorded calls. You can still record calls and store the final videos locally, however.
Settings differ between the locally installed app and the web app, and it’s in your best interest to explore both. The settings are plentiful and worth revisiting from time to time as you become more acquainted with Zoom Meetings. For example, some options let you put attendees on hold, give remote control to another person while sharing content, and even have co-hosts on a call. (That last one is limited to paying subscribers.)
Setting Up a Zoom Meeting
To set up or start a meeting using Zoom, you have many options. As mentioned earlier, you can snag your Personal Meeting ID or unique link and send it to participants. They either click the link, or launch Zoom and enter the PMI, and you’re off to the races.
Alternatively, you can schedule a meeting in advance from the Zoom app, which you can connect to your calendar so that all of your appointments end up on Google Calendar, iCal, or even in Microsoft Outlook. Choose a date, start time, end time, and time zone, then select a few other preferences, such as whether you’d like your video stream to activate automatically when you begin the call. If you give your participants the option to join by phone, you can choose which country dial-in numbers to display. A link to all the dial-in options appears on the invitation, too.
You can also password-protect your meetings. Since Zoom enhanced its security features, the unique meeting ID and password options are more prominent and selected by default. If you want to set a password for your PMI, you can do that, too.
With a Pro account, you can also require that attendees register; that is, fill out a short survey before they join so that you can collect information about them. It’s a great option when you use Zoom Meeting for webinars. Zoom lets you enable a waiting room if you need one as well, which is a way to let participants join a meeting when they’re ready, but only show an information screen if the host hasn’t officially started yet. It’s also a way for the host to control who can join the meeting, and when. Having an agenda field included when creating the invitation would have been a nice addition, but there is none, so you’ll have to send your agenda to participants separately.
When you use the Schedule function in the Zoom app to arrange a call, the invited participants receive a calendar invite that includes the relevant information.
The Zoom Meetings Experience
Even with very little experience with the software, joining a meeting took very little effort. It takes a few seconds if you already have the app installed and only about two extra clicks if you choose the web app instead.
When you connect as a guest, you will either see a waiting room notice, or you might go directly to the meeting. What happens depends on how the meeting host has set things up. If there’s no waiting room, attendees can connect and chat with one another before the host arrives. Everyone can choose to enable or disable their video at any time. The host can disable any participant’s microphone or camera at any time as well. If you join using your device audio, then you can mute and unmute by using buttons on the screen.
Hosts see a Security button on their toolbar during active calls. This button gives hosts quick access to important security features, such as locking the meeting, enabling a waiting room for any additional guests who try to join, and giving participants permission to share their screens, chat, and so forth.
One really helpful aspect of the interface is that you can see information about the connectivity of everyone on the call.
As a participant, you can configure your screen to see relevant information panels and a chat box or not. You can also toggle a setting that puts your Zoom window into full-screen mode automatically when you join a call. Zoom lets you add more participants ad hoc. For example, if you’re already on a call and realize that you need to invite more people, then you can send the Personal Meeting ID or unique link to them and they can pop in.
Two features I discovered are Virtual Backgrounds, and Touch Up My Appearance. With the first one, you can make it look like you’re in front of the San Francisco Bay’s Golden Gate Bridge instead of in your messy living room. You can choose one of the backgrounds that Zoom provides or upload a custom image or video, such as a company logo. If you care less about your background and more about whether your face is camera-ready, then the face filter is probably more apt (for iOS, Windows, and Mac OS).
Host controls in Zoom give you complete control over how you run your meeting. As mentioned earlier, you can have a co-host for meetings, which is a fantastic option for businesses that work in tandem with a PR firm. Desktop sharing works well and supports multiple monitors. The host can hand over desktop sharing controls to another participant, too. You can also set up a side-by-side screenshare of your desktop and someone else’s, which is a handy way to literally compare notes. During any screen-sharing session, whether everyone’s looking at an image or video, participants and the host can annotate and mark up whatever is on the screen. Zoom Meetings also has a collaborative whiteboard you can use to brainstorm or map out ideas.
One feature that’s well suited to remote teams is breakout rooms. From a single call, you can divide participants into groups, send them into their own private video chat, and then bring everyone back together when you’re ready. If you need to record a meeting so you can share it with people who couldn’t attend, then you can save the file locally or use Zoom Meetings’ included cloud storage (with its paid plans).
I Definitely Recommend Zoom
It’s incredibly easy to get setup, and start using Zoom for video calls. I recommend new users take the time to explore the app and its settings before creating their first meeting. Putting in even 10 minutes to look over the app before using it is to your benefit. The service has much to explore regardless of whether you use it every so often to stay in touch with friends/family, or use it to host meetings with a large group/team.
If I peaked your interest and you would like to check Zoom out for yourself, here are a few links to the zoom site.
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