The video conferencing service Zoom has seen a huge surge in popularity and usage since he pandemic began in early 2020. Now it seems like everyone uses it for not only working from home and attending school from home, but also for book clubs, baby showers, birthdays, and hangouts.
Part of what makes Zoom one of the best video conferencing services is its resiliency at keeping calls going, despite wavering Wi-Fi and faltering 4G. Zoom elegantly figures out what to adjust on the backend to keep your call as smooth as possible, despite the occasional freeze.
Aside from its technical prowess, Zoom also has great features for making video calls better and more fun. You can smooth out your skin, drop in a virtual background, and automatically suppress loud noises. And yes, you can turn yourself into a cat, but—more importantly—do you know how to check that those settings are off before your next call?
These 10 tips highlight some of Zoom's best features and will help you get the most out of your video calls, whether you're working from home or just catching up with friends and family.
1. Mute/Unmute, Wear Headphones, Make Sure You're Not a Cat
If you don't typically join a lot of video calls, there are three basic skills you should master:
Mute your mic. When you're not talking and not expected to jump in quickly, mute your mic. With groups of more than three people, it's essential etiquette. Click or tap the microphone icon to mute and unmute, or use these shortcuts:
Use headphones. Headphones and a microphone make calls sound so much better for everyone. Even an inexpensive pair helps. If you don't have a microphone, the headphones alone still improve the quality for everyone else. Really.
Run an equipment check (and make sure you're not a cat). A few minutes before any important call, launch Zoom to check your mic and video camera. In the desktop app, click your profile image > Settings > Audio. Choose the right input and output for your audio and mic. Test them. Then navigate to Video and do the same for your camera. Here, you'll be able to see if there are any rogue video filters or effects on, so you can disable them before you get on a serious call. This is how you avoid the I-broadcast-myself-as-a-cat problem. It's doubtless much funnier when it happens to someone else!
2. Touch Up Your Appearance
Zoom has an option called Touch Up My Appearance that adds a soft focus to your video. In other words, it smooths your skin. There's a slider bar that lets you adjust how much of an effect it has. In the image, you can see it disabled (left) and enabled (right).
Before a meeting, go to profile image > Settings > Video > Touch up my appearance.
During a meeting, click the up arrow next to the Stop Video button and select Video Settings > Touch up my appearance.
3. Change Your Appearance
You can outright change your look, too, with video filters and studio effects. Video filters overlay images and borders on your video, making you look, for example, like you're wearing sunglasses. Studio effects are similar but they're more like virtual makeup, so you can wear virtual lipstick, enhance your eyebrows, or add a mustache.
Go to Settings > Background and filters > Video filters.
Click Studio Effects in the bottom right corner to open a new panel of effects.
Those options are all included with Zoom, provided you have version 5.2.0 or later for macOS, Windows, or iOS and meet additional hardware requirements(Opens in a new window) for video filters.
There are third-party filters and effects you can add as well, such as Snapchat Filters.
4. Set a Fun Password
When you schedule a meeting, Zoom sets a password, a boring string of numbers or letters. It doesn't have to be so dull. You can change the password to be whatever you want, as long as it's no more than 10 characters. Make it fit the theme of your get-together, an inside joke, or a word related to the next holiday on the calendar.
Most of the time, people joining your meeting don't even need to type the password, as it's embedded in the secure link they receive. But they likely will still see it and read it, and it's an opportunity to put a smile on their faces. While you're at it, change the Topic or meeting name, too.
5. Create a Waiting Room (and Stop Zoom-Bombing)
If you're hosting a Zoom call, you can direct anyone joining the call into a Waiting Room, and they won't be able to officially join the call until you let them in. It helps prevent Zoom-bombing. You can let people in one at a time or all at once. You can also set it up so that people you choose bypass the waiting room. How you go about setting up a Zoom Waiting Room(Opens in a new window) varies based on what type of account you have and whether you're an administrator turning on the feature for other users.
With a Zoom Pro account owned by you (not managed by an organization), look for the checkbox to add a Waiting Room when you schedule a new meeting from the Zoom app. To customize a Waiting Room, meaning change the text and graphics in it, you must log in at the Zoom website and go to Settings > Meetings > Security.
6. Create Breakout Rooms
For large meetings, classes, and events, a feature called Breakout Rooms lets you divide participants into groups where they have a private video call separate from the main one. It's the virtual equivalent of breakout groups. Only meeting hosts and co-hosts have the power to create and manage Breakout Rooms.
Zoom gives you tools for assigning people to specific groups or making it random, giving each group a name if you want. You can set it up for a scheduled meeting, before the meeting starts. You can also apply a timer so the participants rejoin the main meeting after so many minutes, or you can let them come back at will.
7. Protect Your Privacy With a Virtual or Blurred Background
With Zoom, you can be on a video call while you're in a messy room and hide it by adding a virtual background or blurring the background. It's good for not only hiding messes, but also for protecting your privacy. You might not want participants to get clues about where you are or your personal life by seeing all the items in your environment. Adding a virtual background or blurring your background lets you show your face while masking everything else.
This feature works best if you have a green screen and if you have only one person in your camera frame at a time, but it's not bad even if you don't. Whatever image you set will save for your next call unless you actively disable it (which is why it's important to do that camera check in tip no. 1!).
Zoom gives you a few backgrounds to use, including a blurred option, and you can upload additional images, too. To enable this feature and add your images, go to Settings > Virtual background.
During a call, click the upward facing carrot next to Stop Video > Video Settings > Background & Filters > Virtual Background.
8. Add a Poll
Add a poll to your Zoom meeting to collect responses from people about a topic or make it more fun with an interactive icebreaker. Or use polls for more pertinent information, like to get feedback about work.
You cannot make a poll for attendees on the spot. First you have to enable polls in Zoom web account (not desktop app). The instructions for how to enable polls(Opens in a new window) vary slightly based on whether you have a personal account or are an administrator of a group account, but in both cases, you start at Account Management > Account Settings. There, you can also create polls that will save to your Zoom app so you can quickly launch them in your next call.
During a meeting, click on Polling from the toolbar, then select the poll you want from the ones you've already created and save.
Free accounts do not have this feature, and you need the Zoom desktop app for Windows, macOS, or Linux, 5.4.7 or higher. Also, it only works in scheduled meetings and instant meetings that use your Personal Meeting ID.
9. Automatically Soften Loud Noises
In the audio settings, you can choose how much Zoom tamps down noises around you. The automatic setting is fine for normal sounds, but you can bump it up if you anticipate a yapping dog, shrieking baby, or nearby jackhammer.
Before a call, go to Settings > Audio > Suppress background noise.
During a call, click the upward carrot next to the Mute button > Audio Settings > Audio > Suppress background noise.
10. Collect Attendee Info and Track Who Joined
If you use Zoom to host large meetings or public events, you might not know who joins your calls or why. One way to collect information is to require attendees to fill out a form before joining. You can ask for general information, such as name and email address, and add your own questions.
This option isn't available to free Zoom accounts; you need a paid account. Also, the meeting cannot use your personal meeting ID.
If you meet those requirements, open the Zoom web app and choose Meetings. Either pick an upcoming meeting to edit or schedule a new one here. Check the box next to Registration: Required. Save these changes, then from the Meeting page, select the meeting again.
Now scroll to the bottom where it says Registration. At the far right, click Edit. Now you can customize the registration form.
Registration happens before a meeting, and you can see who registered any time. After a meeting, you can download a CSV file of who actually attended. The way to get that list is to run a report after the meeting ends. Not everyone can generate this report. You must be 1) the host of the meeting, 2) in a role with Usage Reports enabled, or 3) the account administrator or owner. Additionally, you need a licensed account (not a free account).
Open the Zoom web app. Go to Account Management > Reports. Under Usage Reports, click Meeting. You should see a list of previous meetings as well as any upcoming meetings you have scheduled. If you don't see it, adjust the time search filter, which can only handle a month at a time. At the far right, select Generate to get the report, which will download as a CSV file, which you can open with any spreadsheet app. The process is a bit clunky, but there's no other way to get reports at this time.
Try a Zoom Alternative
Zoom isn't for everyone. As its user base has mushroomed during the COVID-19 pandemic, several security and privacy flaws have turned up. To its credit, Zoom responded quickly, patching problems and clarifying policies within days of their coming to light. Still, not everyone trusts the company, and some might not be allowed to use it due to rules put in place by their employers or organizations. For example, Google Employees, NYC Schools(Opens in a new window), SpaceX, the Taiwanese government, and the US Senate have all decided not to use Zoom.
Luckily, there are many other choices, whether you're looking to chat with friends and family or to hold a remote business meeting. If you're making video calls for personal use, check out the best Zoom alternatives for free video chatting.
If you're in search of another option for business purposes, read up on the best video conferencing services instead.
Like What You're Reading?
Sign up for Tips & Tricks newsletter for expert advice to get the most out of your technology.
Thanks for signing up!
Your subscription has been confirmed. Keep an eye on your inbox!Sign up for other newsletters