A Guide to Virtual Events: Zoom

In part one of this series we compared Zoom and YouTube live stream, and how to choose the best platform for your virtual event.

In this instalment, we’re going to be looking at Zoom, and specifically how it can be used to make your virtual event a success. If you’re already using Zoom for video conferencing, you’ll no doubt have a head start – but we’ll be looking at a few hidden features that are perfect for virtual event

Getting set up with a Zoom account is ridiculously easy. If you haven’t already, just sign up via the website using either your email address, or a Google/Facebook account. Once you’ve completed the sign-up process, you’re invited to try your first video call, where you can test things out. Maybe invite a colleague or two to get an idea of how it would work with a larger group.

Here are a few words of advice and suggestions when using Zoom as the platform for your virtual event:

Install the app

Zoom allows you to run video calls via the website, either on-demand or scheduled in advance. When you activate a call, you (and your other participants) go to the website and download the Zoom software. A better way is to download and install the Zoom Client. It’s available for Windows and PC and allows you to start a new meeting straight away, join another call, and schedule future calls, and makes everything much more straight forward.

Understanding the views

There are two standard views available in Zoom: ‘Gallery View’ and ‘Speaker View’:

    • Gallery View: with this view selected, attendees are displayed equal size in a grid layout on your screen.
    • Speaker View: this view automatically detects the person who is talking (or who’s talking the loudest!) and makes them appear in a large window, with other participants appearing smaller to the side.

It’s entirely up to your participants which view they use, and they can toggle between them as they wish. This is ideal for a peer-to-peer style video conference, but not so great for a virtual event, where you want to have control over what delegates are focusing on. There are two ways to ‘take control’ off what everyone sees:

Screen Sharing: clicking the ‘share screen’ button will send the contents of your computer’s screen to everyone in the meeting. You can choose between your entire screen, or a specific application. Whatever you share is sent to all participants and appears in full screen, with everyone’s webcams in a separate gallery. Once you select this, all participants will see your screen and it will go full screen at their end, something that can be a little disconcerting for people, so worth warning them before you do it!

While you’re screen sharing, a green border is displayed showing what is being shared, and there’s a green and red bar along the top of the screen, from where you can stop the screen share. When you hover over this, you also get options slide down from the top of the screen.

This view is ideal for sharing a PowerPoint, PDFs or other content, but what if you want to make your camera (or someone else’s) the focus? This is where our next view comes in…

Spotlight Video: with this mode activated, the selected camera becomes large with all other cameras as a smaller gallery. It’s similar to ‘speaker view’, except that while this is done automatically based on who’s speaking, ‘spotlight video’ is controlled by the host. To activate spotlight view, click on the ‘three dots’ icon on your thumbnail and select it from here. Now everyone, regardless of whether they were in ‘speaker’ or ‘gallery’ view will be focused on you. You can also make other participants the spotlight view by selecting them in the same way.

Pin Video: this final view is again controlled by the users and allows them to ‘pin’ one person’s camera as the larger view, again similar to ‘speaker view’ but under their control.

Scheduling the event

One of the useful things about using Zoom for conference calls is its immediacy. You can start a call straight away and send someone a link (or the meeting ID and password) and be chatting away in a few seconds.

For a virtual event that’s been planned in advance, you’ll want to use Zoom’s scheduling tools to set everything up. Here are a few things to consider:

Password: by default, Zoom recommends using a password, and you should certainly accept this recommendation, especially as reports of uses ‘gate-crashing’ Zoom calls! Yes, it adds an extra step for people attending your event, but that’s preferably to unwanted guests! While automatically generated passwords are always numeric, you can use anything as your password, so you can make it a little more human and easier to remember.

Video: in this section, you can specify whether you want your camera, and your participants camera, to be on by default when the event starts. Give this some consideration: while it can by annoying and cause delays waiting for less experienced users to work out that they have to click ‘start video’ when they join a meeting, people might feel exposed if their camera is activated straight away!

Audio: one feature of Zoom we haven’t mentioned is the option to allow people without an internet connection to connect via a normal phone line. Anyone using this option hears what’s happening in the meeting, but obviously can’t see anything. Leave this set to ‘both’ if you’re not sure or you’d like to consider the option later as it doesn’t affect anything else.

Advanced Options: there are few additional options we can control via this drop-down:

  • Enable join before host: by default, the meeting only starts when you (the host) connect to Zoom. If you tick this option, anyone who turns up early will be able to see and talk to each other while waiting for you to join the call.
  • Mute participants upon entry: does exactly what it says. Once they join the meeting, you will need to manually unmute them.
  • Enable waiting room: if you want your attendees to be able to join the meeting before you, but you don’t want them to be able to start talking to each other until you arrive, ticking this option allows them to join, but they wait in a ‘waiting room’ instead.
  • Record the meeting automatically on the local computer: this will create a video file of the meeting, saved on your PC. If you choose this option, it’s recommended that you let the people on the call know. No one likes being recorded without knowing first!

(It’s worth noting that even though you’ve scheduled your call in advance, there’s nothing stopping you from starting the meeting early. Just click ‘start meeting’ whenever you’re ready.)

Running the event

When the day arrives, start the meeting via the app and click ‘Manage Participants’ so you can see people start to arrive. Once they have clicked ‘start video’ at their end, you’ll be able to see them (unless you chose the option to turn video on by default when scheduling), but the ‘Manage Participants’ panel is useful as you can see whose mic and/or webcam isn’t enable and you can guide them along if needed.

At the start of the event, consider agreeing in advance some to help things go smoothly. For example, participants could pull an ear if they can’t hear you, thumbs up to show they understand. You might also want to mute everyone else’s mics for part of the session when you’re doing most of the talking, so background noise doesn’t become a problem, so make them aware of that from the start.

When your meeting is drawing to a close and you’re ready to wrap things up, say your goodbyes and click on the ‘end meeting’ button in the bottom right corner. If you then click the ‘end meeting for all’ option, this will instantly cause everyone to disconnect, so make sure everyone has finished speaking first. The other option leaves the meeting running for anyone left behind after you leave.

Things to remember with Zoom:

  • Meetings are limited to 40 minutes, unless you pay for the £11.99/month version
  • It works on pretty much every device (laptop, PC, tablet, phone, etc) making it widely accessible.
  • Participants just need a meeting ID and password to access – no logging in is required on their end
  • If you do use screen share, make sure there’s nothing personal or sensitive open in other applications or on your desktop!

We hope you’ve found that whistle-stop tour of using Zoom for virtual events useful. Our next part will be looking at using YouTube live stream. If your event is less about directly interacting with your participants, doesn’t rely on sharing your screen, and you want to make things as easy as possible for your audience, it’s worth considering.

James Watson
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