Zoom: Best practice for hosts & participants

Published by Jackie Barrie on

At a time when we speakers and trainers can’t deliver our content on-site, we’re having to use video conferencing platforms instead. I’ve been doing this for a few years. It’s the reason why the wall facing my webcam was painted a plain teal colour, with all the piles of paperwork off-camera.

I compiled these tips that you might find useful if you’re comparatively new to Zoom.

In advance

Here are some of my recommended Zoom settings for hosts (in no particular order):

  • Update to the latest version of Zoom
  • Customise your Waiting room message and password (both features used to be optional but are now compulsory for security reasons). Default passwords are 6 digits, but you can change it to a word e.g. personalised to your participants to make them feel special
  • Edit your personal meeting room ID to match your mobile phone number without the initial zero. Ensure you never publish it publicly
  • Choose if you want video/mic on when joining (both you & participants)
  • For confidentiality, make sure you disable the option in settings where participants can save the chat. Otherwise, it means they could see their private chats as well as the public ones – and when the file is outside Zoom, who knows what they’ll do with it
  • Prevent file transfer (because that’s one of the things that Zoombombers* have been doing)
  • Ensure host only can share screen (ditto)
  • Add reactions, polls and breakout rooms (if you want to use them)
  • Allow keyboard shortcuts for muting and unmuting (this is useful for when you’re in screenshare mode)
  • Prepare planned messages ready to copy/paste for breakout rooms e.g. reminding them of their topic, time allowed, and 60-second warning
  • Allow annotations (only if you want participants to write on the shared whiteboard e.g. for brainstorming)
  • Turn off remote control (unless you want someone to take over your screen e.g. for an IT demo)
  • Turn off feedback and survey (unless you want to send those to Zoom)To schedule/start meetings from within your Google/Outlook calendar, download the Zoom extension
  • To avoid Zoom overload, you could also change your meeting start and end times so they are not on the hour with everyone else, say starting at 11:15 rather than 11:00
  • Set up a back channel so you can communicate with your co-hosts during the meeting outside Zoom if you need to, for example, a group in WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger

Note that the settings apply to *all* meetings so you might have to tweak them for subsequent meetings.

I’ve found you can only use the same poll once and have had to re-create it. Even if you just test a poll, you can’t use it again. To get round that, set up your meeting as a template.

If you’re running a big meeting, it can be useful to appoint a co-host to help you monitor the chat and participants’ panels. Alternatively, you can log into the same Zoom account from different devices at the same time. This can be useful for keeping track of the different windows (main room, chat and participants), but it counts as a separate participant e.g. for breakout rooms.

Inviting guests

When you send out the meeting invite, remind participants to:

  • Upload your photo to your Zoom profile, so we can see who you are if your video is off
  • Name your device with your name (don’t call it iPad2, for example)
  • Sit facing a window, or set up a light behind your webcam so it shines onto your face (because, if you have a window behind you, you’ll be in silhouette)
  • Set up your webcam so it’s at or just above eye level (this is a more flattering angle). That might mean putting your device on top of a pile of books, for example.
  • If you have a headset and / or wired mic, you might like to use them (this will help if there’s background noise where you are)
  • If you’re using Zoom.us on your desktop or laptop, ideally choose the app option as it offers more functionality than the browser version
  • If you’re using a mobile device, make sure it’s fully charged or plugged in beforehand, so you don’t run out of power halfway through
  • Turn your mobile device landscape (sideways) not portrait. The orientation might be locked in your settings, if so, unlock it
  • Switch your phone and tablet to ‘do not disturb’. Otherwise, we might all hear your incoming calls (remember to switch it back afterwards)
  • Prepare your glass of water or cup of coffee/tea so you’re ready
  • Join the meeting a couple of minutes early so you can test your video and audio before the meeting starts

    At the start

    When participants join the call, tell them how to get the best experience…

    • Use full screen view to make the Zoom experience more immersive and avoid any background distractions. On some devices, the icon looks like crossed arrows in the shape of an X, on others it looks like an incomplete square. Either way, it’s top right of the window.
    • Click the ‘participants’ icon to see who’s on the call (it looks like two little heads). That’s also where you can click reaction icons (if they’ve been activated by the host in settings).
    • Click the ‘speech bubble’ icon to open the chat pane. You can then type messages to the whole group or any individual attendee. Note that the host might ‘save’ the chat (and might even allow participants to do the same) – this includes any private messages you may have sent them. So don’t write anything that’s truly private.

    When everyone has arrived, Lock the meeting so uninvited guests can’t join. This also prevents participants from rejoining if they leave temporarily, so you might have to Unlock the meeting to let them back in. Think of it as the equivalent to closing the door to your real-life meeting room.

    During your meeting

    When you’re speaking

    Look at the web cam not the screen (there might be a green dot beside it, if not, stick a Post-it note there with an arrow, or a photo of a loved one). It might feel unnatural to look away from the main screen, but by looking down the lens while you speak, you are making eye contact with the people watching.

    Muting and unmuting

    By default, Zoom is set up to display Speaker view. That is, to show the person who is currently speaking, with thumbnail images of everyone else.

    If someone’s microphone is not muted, the display will show them whenever they speak, type, or there’s a noise in the background. This can be distracting for everyone.

    For this reason, as host, it’s wise to mute the microphone of everyone who’s not speaking and unmute them one by one or as a group.

    Depending on the way you’ve set up the call, people may be able to mute/unmute themselves by clicking the microphone icon (either in the main window or in the participants’ pane), and/or by pressing/holding the space bar on their keyboard.

    Getting your attention

    If everyone speaks at once, no one can be heard. If a participant wants to speak, they’ll need to put their hand up.

    There are two ways to do this…

    • If their video is on (and can be seen by the host), they can put their hand up physically until it’s noticed
    • If the host has set the meeting to show the optional ‘reactions’ at the bottom of the participants’ window, they can click the ‘raise hand’ icon. Note that the participant or the host can ‘lower hand’

    If the host has allowed reactions in their settings, the foot of the participant panel is also where participants can answer questions with a tick for ‘yes’, cross for ‘no’, ask the host to go faster or slower, and show other interactions via the ‘more’ icon.

    Changing the view

    For most calls, it’s nicer to see everyone at the same time (the number you’ll be able to see is subject to the size of your screen, but you can scroll sideways to see more).

    Here’s how…

    • On a big screen, go to Meetings and choose Gallery view (it’s in the menu bar at the top of your screen) or click shift + command + W.
    • On a small screen, tap the icon that looks like 9 boxes. Remember to hold your device landscape not portrait.

    Note that the arrangement of the boxes within gallery view can be different for everyone, so you can’t point up, down or to the sides and assume the others see the same person as you do.

    At times, you can ‘spotlight’ the video of one person to highlight them, before returning to gallery / speaker view. To do this, hover over the three dots in the corner of their video image.

    You can share the whiteboard – it’s the digital equivalent to a flipchart. You can allow everyone to write or draw on it at the same time, for a brainstorm, for example (although that can be risky if you have a mischievous participant on the call).

    To draw on the whiteboard on a big screen, there’s a menu with text and drawing options. On a small screen, you’ll need to go to View options and choose ‘Annotate’.

    Note that participants might have to turn Gallery view back on after the you’ve shared your screen or whiteboard – if they’re new Zoom users, you might have to remind them to do this.

    Note there can be a slight timelag when people change between Speaker, Gallery and Spotlight views, so build in pauses to account for this.

    If participants’s videos are off and you hover over any one of the black boxes, click the three little dots to ‘hide non-video participants’. That means you can achieve a split screen view showing only the people you want to be seen. Note that *everyone* has to do this to see the same as you.

    It is possible to disable self-view / hide your video. This means you won’t be able see yourself, but remember the others can still see you. So don’t relax too much.


    If you get buffering issues, turn everyone’s video off to save bandwidth. This seems to help.


    Give people something to do other than just listen to you. Run a poll, ask them to type in chat, invite them to click a reaction, write/draw on the whiteboard, or go into a breakout room and come back with a specific outcome.

    During a break

    To bring people back from breaks on time, share your screen to show iPadStopwatch.com in your browser (full screen) and/or play copyright-free music

    Applause etiquette

    Clapping your hands doesn’t always look or sound good on a video call. Remember, your video might not be on or seen. Even if it is, your hands will foreshorten in front of the camera so you look out of proportion. To avoid this effect, you’d have to clap sideways – remember, it’s a 2D visual experience. As for sound, if your mic is on and people are using Speaker view, the display will jump to you. If your mic is off, we won’t hear you at all. Therefore, it’s a good idea to suggest ‘deaf clapping’. That is when you wave your hands by your ears.

    And/or participants can click the ‘applause’ icon in the participants’ window (if it’s enabled by the host).

    Alternatively, people can click the big ‘applause’ or ‘thumbs-up’ reactions at the foot of the screen. Rather than small icons in the participant panel, those appear large in the corner of their video image and disappear after a few seconds.

    During screenshare

    It might be clearer when you minimise the panel that shows the video boxes, or drag it to the top/side.

    You will have to use keyboard shortcuts for muting and unmuting (these options are off by default so you’ll need to enable them in your settings before the meeting):

    Mute / Unmute

    To access browser tabs hidden behind the floating control panel = click the three dots then ‘hide floating meeting controls’. To return the controls, click ‘escape’.

    • To jump between screens smoothly = hover over the floating controls and choose ‘new share’ or ‘pause share’
    • To help people follow your cursor = hover over floating controls > annotate > spotlight gives a moving circle, or click to stamp an arrow with your name on

    If you’d prefer to show yourself as well as your slides, first set them up in PowerPoint, then export them as separate JPGs and import them into Zoom as virtual backgrounds. This will look best when you have a proper greenscreen or plain background behind you, with even lighting.

    Depending on the way your slides are designed, you might want to display them full screen behind you, or you can design them with a coloured/graduated/branded background and the slide itself in the top right quarter. You would then need to sit off-centre, remembering to look into the webcam. The slides would then seem to appear behind you, over your left shoulder.

    I hope you find these ideas useful. Please add your own advice in the comments. Thank you.

    *Here’s a useful article about ZoomBombing (I recommend you follow the advice so your calls don’t get hacked).

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