Just as Britain leaving the European Union spawned new words – most notably Brexit – so too is the Coronavirus pandemic changing our vocabulary. And inevitably with many of us now WFH – or working from home – a lot of these words are to do with technology, particularly around video conferencing it seems. Much like Googling became a verb, so too is Zoombombing – where you can enter a Zoom video conference meeting uninvited.
Indeed, Zoom has had to apologise after several security bugs which allowed hackers to join meetings unannounced, often screaming expletives or blasting pornographic images. In the US, the FBI is investigating after a report that Zoom meetings between students and their teachers were being intercepted by pranksters – the digital equivalent of children from another class sneaking into a supply teacher’s lessons unnoticed.
As a result Zoom has introduced two main security features as default. One is to password protect each meeting which means that even if a random stranger discovers the Meeting ID – the unique 10-number address for each call – they still won’t be able to get in automatically without the password.
However, it could still be deliberately shared by mischievous students who want other people to hijack the conference. That’s why Zoom has also introduced a “waiting room” function – a staging area where people must wait when they join the call. They must be admitted by the host, meaning that if a stranger invades the call, they will not get past the waiting room without permission.
In this article we look at various ways you can ensure you have a safe and successful video conference on Zoom.
1. Set up your Zoom account
Go to Zoom.us or to the desktop app if you have downloaded it. If you are using a mobile phone you can download the app either via Google Play or the Apple iOS store. With a free account you can hold meetings for up to 100 people, but there is a limit of 40 mins for group meetings – though this may not be enforced when you first sign up to the service. Alternatively you can buy one of the business packages for £15.99 which provides unlimited connectivity for up to 1000 people.
2. Check your Security settings
Before you even begin to schedule a meeting go to the “Settings” option to check your security measures. Under the Schedule Meeting option make sure you switch on the option requiring a password to join the meeting – whether that’s an instant meeting or a scheduled meeting, if it’s not already switched on. For added security, enable the Waiting Room function so people can’t enter the meeting unless you invite them in and switch off the option for participants being able to enter the meeting before the host arrives.
3. Choose audio settings
You can decide how participants can use audio. Either you can let them use their computer microphone/speaker or use a phone instead. You can also limit them to just one of those audio types. If you have 3rd party audio enabled, you can require that all participants follow the instructions you provide for using non-Zoom audio. You can also choose the option to play a sound – like a doorbell – when someone joins or leaves the meeting. This can either be heard by just the host or by all attendees and helps give the host of the meeting a little more control over who is in and out of the meeting.
4. Video – on or off?
Video is obviously a key part of video conferencing, although it’s fair to say that not everyone likes their moving image to be shown on the screen, especially at first. As the host you can specify whether you want participants to have their video switched on at the start of the meeting, although they can switch this off if they want to. Meetings can either be recorded to the cloud if you have paid for a subscription, or recorded locally on your own hard drive. There’s also an option which enables participants to record the meeting which might be useful for educational purposes. In order to see everyone participating in the meeting then you can switch to different views. Participants will either be shown along the top of the screen or in a mosaic as tiles across the screen.
5. Choosing a virtual background
Anyone who has spent time watching people being interviewed on TV during the Coronavirus pandemic will have seen just how much locations vary. While some people choose to set up their recording in the kitchen, others choose a study or somewhere quite grand with loads of books in the background. But what do you do if none of the rooms in your home look very nice on camera? Then it may be a good idea to use a virtual background instead. If you want to choose a virtual background then go to the ‘up arrow’ next to the record option on the bottom of the screen and pick the virtual background option and then find an image you want to use – such as a nice sunset or a beach with a palm tree. To use the virtual background option without a green screen, you will need a high specification PC though.
6. Using chat and screen share
In addition to audio and video, Zoom also has a chat option which can be switched on and off in the software’ settings. Either you can choose to share messages with everyone in the group or set it up so that participants can share messages with one another – though if you are using Zoom for teaching students, it may also be a good idea to switch off that option. Chats can also be saved if you so wish. Another option is to share your computer screen or bring up a white board – again handy for teaching and business meetings. Both the chat and screen share options can be found at the bottom of the video display alongside options for muting your sound and recording the meeting.
7. Scheduling a meeting
With Zoom there are two main options. Either you can click on ‘host a meeting’ and send people the meeting details either via email or by cutting and pasting into WhatsApp or a text. Or you can schedule a meeting in advance. The advantage of scheduling a meeting is that Zoom will automatically give you the option of putting the details in your online calendar as well as being able to schedule a meeting for the same time each week. You can also choose different options, including audio and video options, without having to go through all the settings.
8. Make sure you have a structure
Finally, it’s important that you have a structure to your video conference. Unlike a face to face meeting, Zoom – like all types of video conferencing software – does present some technological challenges. Inevitably there is a slight delay which can lead to people talking over each other. Sometimes participant’s video can drop out too if their broadband isn’t very good. So it’s a good idea to have a structure so the host of the meeting can take control. For teaching this may be a lesson plan while for a business meeting this could be a meeting agenda. However, it’s a good idea to have structure for social online gatherings with virtual pub quizzes proving particularly popular on Zoom at the moment.