I thought I’d share some of the tips for using Zoom for meetings and conference calls I’ve learnt over the last 18 months.
95% of the time I’m an online business advisor nowadays, so I use Zoom a lot. And because we’re also a virtual team (I’m in Brighton or travelling, and Assima is in Birmingham), our team meetings are on Zoom as well. So, I spend a lot of time in Zoom. Talking into the light coming from my webcam.
What’s Zoom, Julia?
Zoom is like Skype, so you can use it for talking to people online, running meetings, doing webinars and conference calls. They have roughly the same functionality, so if you’ve used Skype you can easily use Zoom, but there’s one big difference. Zoom works. It works about a thousand times better than Skype. And if you want to have a call of more than just two people, Zoom works about a million times better than Skype.
What I’ve been using Zoom for
I started off just switching my coaching sessions for people outside of Brighton from Skype to Zoom. The quality of the calls is much better – I never have to switch my video off to be able to hear my client nowadays.
But then I started to use it for much more. This article is to share some of the tips for using Zoom for larger meetings and conference calls, plus how to run workshops using Zoom. I’m pretty sure you can work out the one to one calls for yourself.
I’ve used Zoom for calls where my client was in one country and the person she wanted to bring in as a business partner was in another. I did a sales meeting with the two directors of a company, where they both worked from home in different cities.
I’ve interviewed people for my blog, recorded some videos of me talking to the camera, and run a weekly team meeting for a project with 12 people on Zoom. I use Zoom for the fortnightly workshops in my Remarkable Business programme, and I record our sessions and put them up on a members-only area of the website afterwards.
I’ve run discussion workshops with larger groups, some of which had 45 participants. And I’m going to be running some free workshops next year, which I reckon will attract more than 100 at a time.
Here are some tips from what I’ve learnt so far:
Tips for using Zoom for a meeting or conference call for three or four people.
- Give people instructions for using Zoom beforehand, so they know that they will probably have to download some software before the meeting.
- Be prepared for some small talk or a very general welcome and introduction at the beginning because not everyone will join in on time. If you set the meeting time for 10 am, some people will still be downloading Zoom and getting set up at 10.05am, and some people will already be in the meeting.
- Be there on time, maybe a couple of minutes early so you can be there to welcome people. Otherwise, any early people will be looking at a message saying “waiting for the host to start the meeting” and then get bored and go off to check Facebook.
- Remember that some people will be using Zoom on their phone and will be wandering around their office or putting the kettle on while you talk. That can be disconcerting at first, so be prepared.
Using Zoom for larger meetings and conference calls
When you start using Zoom for a larger group of people, like any meeting the dynamic changes as you add more people. Three or four people can just have a chat, and unless someone has terrible manners the flow of conversation will usually regulate itself.
When you get above this number, you need to steer things a little more, or it can get out of hand. On Zoom, people can’t make the same signals with their body language as they can in a meeting, so you need to be more tuned into what’s going on.
It is more difficult for someone to start talking over someone else, or to get into a shouting match, as Zoom doesn’t know which person to give the mic to. Which I think is an advantage compared to real life meetings. And, as the host, you can mute someone if they’re objectionable. I’ve never had to do this, but a couple of times where I’ve had exceptionally opinionated people on the call, I’ve found it reassuring to have this in my back pocket.
Tips or using Zoom in workshops
I’ve found it really useful to set some ground rules before getting going. In some of my larger calls, I used the same sort of ground rules I’d use if I were running a formal meeting.
For one discussion meeting with a dozen people, I got everyone to agree to abide by Chatham House confidentiality rules, and I explained people would need to put their hands up to speak.
I ran one where I knew feelings were running high on a particular subject, and I reminded everyone that they had to be kind to one another. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it calmed things down, and everyone got to say what they wanted to.
The rule about putting your hand up works well. In a real-life meeting, someone can catch your eye, or start speaking just after another person has finished. This doesn’t work so well in Zoom, as there aren’t the same social signals.
Getting people to put their hands up to speak, even in a group of just six participants, makes it a lot easier to notice when someone wants to talk. You can also keep an eye on the quiet people, and make sure they can get in to contribute as well. These are often the folk who have the good ideas, so you want to be able to pick up on when they do want to speak.
Using Zooms chat function
Zoom also has a chat function where people can type in messages or put up links to websites. Mostly, people use this in a super polite way, maybe to say bye if they have to leave the meeting early or to give a useful website as part of the discussion.
I’ve had a couple of more raucous meetings where two of the participants started a second conversation in the chat. I think they were trying to get more airtime in the meeting so that they could monopolise the discussion.
I have to say this threw me for a minute or two, and I couldn’t concentrate on what people were saying, who had their hand up, and these two going on with their chat messages. Especially as what they were saying was pretty controversial.
I had to ask people on the spur of the moment not to run side conversations in the chat. Be warned about this, as it might happen to you, especially if you’re running larger conference calls.
Tips for using Zoom for webinars or teaching online
If you’re running a webinar using Zoom, the focus is usually on you and what you’re talking about. That’s what they’ve come along for.
If you’re going to do this lecture style where it’s you talking, maybe with some slides and the other people listening, you might want to mute all the other people from the start. This has the advantage of keeping the background noise levels down, especially as not everyone realises that if they don’t mute themselves, everyone else is going to hear them typing furiously or eating a bag of crisps while they watch.
I did have one person who forgot to mute herself and joined our workshop on her phone while she was on the bus. I was distracted from explaining different kinds of business models because we could hear all the bus announcements from her journey.
If you want to run a more participatory, workshop-style webinar, Zoom works well for this as well. You can even put people into separate break out rooms to do an exercise for a while, just like if you were running a workshop in real life.
If you have more than, say, eight people in the workshop, you probably want to get people to put their hands up to ask a question. And if you want them to speak, you’ll have to ask them by name, just turning to them or looking at them as you would in a regular workshop won’t work.
Other tips for using Zoom for meetings and conference calls
Don’t forget to make sure people can see you. If you’re sitting with a window behind you, the other people will only see a silhouette of you.
Do check your hair and appearance in a mirror before the call. I see a lot of people jump at the sight of themselves at the beginning of the call, and then start smoothing out their hair. No spot pushing, even if the other people haven’t arrived yet.
Remember to look at the camera sometimes, not just the screen. Looking at the camera makes for a more honest connection because then you are effectively looking into someone’s eyes.
When other people are talking, amplify your body language to give clear signals. You might shake your head, or give a thumbs up. Or just remember to smile more. That tells people that you’re engaged. You need to do a bit more of this on Zoom than if you were in the room for real.
If you’re going to share the screen, either to show a powerpoint presentation or to demo something to the others, be aware that Zoom will show anything that’s on your screen if you click on “screen”.
It’s probably good to close down any windows which you wouldn’t want other people to see before the meeting, just in case. You might not want to share your bank account, cat videos or your email to your mum.
Make more of an effort than usual to be the host, even if you’re not hosting the meeting. The actual host will appreciate this, as she’s probably busy getting her notes ready or checking if everyone’s here.
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