4 Ways to Go from Everyday Zoom User to Expert

Learn how to cut down on distractions and fit meetings into your schedule

A laptop running Zoom.
Image courtesy of Zoom.

In her role as assistant director of admissions for the Nicholas School of the Environment, Melissa Kotacka had some experience with Zoom prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. She and her colleagues had occasionally used the platform to communicate with prospective students in the school’s graduate programs.

Melissa Kotacka of the Nicholas School of the Environment.When the pandemic shifted team meetings, open houses and recruiting events to entirely virtual – and mostly on Zoom – even her team faced a steep learning curve.

A year later, Kotacka and her colleagues in the Nicholas School of the Environment are Zoom video conferencing veterans, but their desire to adopt new skills continues.

“There’s always something more to learn,” Kotacka said.

She was among other Duke employees who attended a recent Zoom webinar taught by Debrah Suggs, an IT analyst with the Duke Office of Information Technology (OIT). The webinar covered several tips that can help everyday Zoom users be a little more effective.

React with an Emoji

The emoji reactions available through Zoom can help you get your message across easily.If you want to let your voice be heard, without actually letting your voice be heard, take advantage of the non-verbal reactions on Zoom. By clicking on the “Reactions” button near the lower right corner of your Zoom window, you can show fellow meeting participants emojis of, among other things, a raised hand, clapping hands, a heart, a thumbs up and a noisemaker with confetti.

“It’s a great feature, you can clap, you can raise your hand,” Suggs said.

Valerie Abbott, a research administration manager with the Campus Award Management Team who uses Zoom to communicate with colleagues in her office and research teams from around the university, said that her team often uses these reactions to ensure meeting participants are comfortable with information that’s being passed along.

“When we’re in person, I can read people’s faces or their body language to see how comfortable they are,” said Abbott, who took part in the webinar. “In Zoom we may need to use the smiley face to see if we’re doing good. Or confetti to say ‘Thank you.’”

Customize Your View

Valerie Abbott of the Campus Award Management Team. Image courtesy of Valerie Abbott.A crowded screen filled with windows can be a helpful way to keep tabs of everyone in a Zoom meeting. But with a screen full of faces, including your own, or people who aren’t central to the action of the meeting, the scene can make it hard to follow along.

By clicking on the dots at the top right corner of your Zoom window, you can find the option to “Hide Self View” and get your own box out of the mosaic. You can also move the arrangement of the windows around by clicking and dragging them to wherever you’d like to put them.

“I’ve rearranged the windows in meetings before,” Abbott said. “When I’m in a meeting with another department, I don’t need to see myself, obviously. I know I’m there. And I also don’t necessarily need to see my team members’ faces because I’m more inclined to see what the other participants are conveying with their body language.”

Always Have a Meeting Ready

With busy schedules, sometimes the timing of regular meetings need to be fluid. If that scenario sounds familiar, you can set up meetings that aren’t tied to a specific day or time and are ready to start whenever you need them to. 

To do this, set up a recurring meeting in your Zoom web portal, and on the drop-down list for “Recurrence,” select “No fixed time.” This will generate a meeting, with a Meeting ID number and a link you can use to invite participants. But instead of going live at a designated time, or expiring when the selected meeting window has passed, this meeting can begin whenever the host chooses to start it. It’s perfect for impromptu huddles with colleagues or check-ins between people with shifting schedules.

“This is a meeting that can happen at any time,” Suggs said. “It’s great if you have a meeting that doesn’t follow a regular schedule. You can modify the scheduled time on your Outlook calendar, but Zoom doesn’t care about that. It just knows the meeting can launch at any time. Think of it like building a virtual room where you can meet and you’re just telling everyone where the room is.”

Next Level Zoom Backgrounds

A living room.By now, you may have already experimented with a virtual Zoom background. But if you’re still looking for one that fits your personality or mood, check out a curated collection of backgrounds available on Zoom’s website.

Among the options are beauty shots of Alaskan Airlines destinationsautumn vegetables, cockpits from the movie Top Gun, and sets from the soap opera the Young and Restless.

And don’t forget, you can also find plenty of Duke-themed backdrops including some featuring Duke ChapelDuke men’s basketball, Duke University LibrariesDuke Medical Center Library and Archives, and the Duke Lemur Center.

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