How to Use Zoom – And More Importantly – How Not to Use Zoom

Zoom has become a popular social medium – so popular that its stock has nearly doubled since January. It’s basically the ‘It Girl’ of the internet, dethroning Kylie Jenner and all 18,000 Kardashians. However, this popular technology comes with a new set of rules and some hilarious mishaps. Here are a few examples of how to use Zoom effectively – and how not to use it. 

Dress to Suggest


If you haven’t caught on yet, wearing pants is a common theme here. During your Zoom calls, you want to make sure that you are presentable – at least as far as your camera lens is concerned.

This means wearing a nice shirt and practicing good hygiene. And pants. Even though they usually can’t see below the waist – pants.

Check Your Lighting


First things first – sit facing toward the light so that the back of your laptop is also facing the light. Have you been taken a picture with the sun behind you? Do you remember how that came out? 

Use indirect lighting as much as possible so that you’re not getting washed out. Natural light can be a great resource, depending on how bright it is and the time of day. What you’re mainly going for here is a balance.

In other words, not this:

Doing a lighting check is really easy. All you have to do is turn on your webcam and stare back at your hopefully balanced face. If it’s off-balance, make some adjustments and try again. 


Mute Yourself When You’re Not Talking


This is true especially if you’re somewhere public like a coffee shop (remember those? Aw, the good ole days). Mute yourself at home as well so that your mic doesn’t pick up any background noise. If you’re connecting with two or more devices in the same room and more than one of them isn’t muted, you’ll hear that ungodly echo. If you’ve heard it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. That noise alone is enough to make you never forget to mute yourself again. 

Depending on your settings, some Zoom calls enlarge the screen of the person who is talking or making the most elongated noises in general. This means that, if you’re having a conversation with your roommate off-screen, that conversation could take center stage on your Zoom call. You probably don’t want your team to know that you’re fresh out of toilet paper. As a former fellow team member, I didn’t want to hear about it either! 

For extra credit, use headphones.

Practice Mise en Scène


Mise en scène is French for “placing on stage” and is one of the very first things you learn about in Cinema Studies 101. Basically, it refers to all of the elements that you want people to see onscreen. In other words, treat your backdrop like a movie set – because that’s pretty much what it is. Many Late Night hosts now broadcasting at home have been doing this well. You’ve also probably seen plenty of people doing this poorly

Rule of thumb: make sure everything you have onscreen is appropriate – especially if it’s a work call. Your boss doesn’t need to see your extensive collection of animal print handcuffs or the bottle of vodka on your nightstand. Also, be wary of reflections. Google “embarrassing photo background reflections” to see what I mean.

Know When Your Video is On/Off.


There’s a little button on the lower-left corner of your Zoom screen that will indicate when you’re sharing your video. Depending on the nature of your call, you’ll usually want this on, but there are definitely times when you want this feature off. 

This poor woman will now live in infamy in the dredges of the internet when she forgot that she was still on video. If you’ve really gotta go, make sure your video is off. Make sure the audio is off, too. Better yet, just excuse yourself or wait until after the meeting. 

Do a Test Run 


My first Zoom call didn’t go well. It didn’t go well at all.

I once had a kickoff zoom meeting with a new client and was on a call with three people: my boss for the project, his admin assistant, and our client. I’m not usually great on camera, so I prepared a script to read that outlined what my role in the process would entail. When introduced, I started reading from the script at a speed so fast that I was inaudible. 

I was also literally inaudible. 

I tried to unmute my mic, but that wouldn’t work so I typed in the chatbox that I needed to exit and reenter the room. My boss briefly explained my role to keep the meeting moving. As he does, my laptop freezes.

Beads of sweat began amassing on my forehead, but I’m tried to keep a straight face and not panic in case they could still see me. As I reset my laptop I got the bright idea to log on with my phone. Now the audio is working, but they can’t see me – and at this point – I’m probably more of a nuisance to the call than an industry professional who’s been doing this for years. 

Oh, and yes, my laptop chose that moment to update all of the things. 

Ten minutes later, I was finally able to resume the call and got both video and audio working as the call came to an end. It was only then that I noticed the six screens opened on the Zoom call: three for the others, a black screen from my initial login, my current laptop screen, and the crotch of my jeans where I unconsciously placed my phone. Yes, I gave a new client and one of my best business connectors a crotch shot. Thankfully I was wearing pants. 

Always. Wear. Pants

Final Thoughts on How to Use Zoom


Working from home, online happy hours, and learning the many intricacies of Zoom is new to many of us. There are going to be some learning curves and some follies along the way. By following these tips, you’ll at least be ahead of the game and that much less likely to have your butt unintentionally plastered all over the web. Do you know what else can lower that risk? Wearing pants.

If you have any additional Zoom tips and tricks, please comment below. 

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