Running a virtual meeting requires a different approach than in-person meetings. You need to figure out how to moderate the discussion, make sure everyone has a voice and feels heard and ensure all your employees are properly equipped to participate. But virtual meetings don’t have to be stressful — in fact, taking your meetings virtually can even help take work off your plate if you leverage the tools effectively.
Here are five tips on how to run a successful virtual meeting, whether it’s your company’s town hall or an after-work virtual happy hour.
Head into meetings with a plan
Virtual meetings can quickly run off the rails if they aren’t organized ahead of time, so try to send out an agenda and sign on five minutes early to make sure everything is running smoothly, says Tim Ihlefeld, CEO of remote interviewing platform Harqen. Even if you have everyone set up on the same platform, technical glitches can arise, as you can’t control individual meeting members’ Wi-Fi connectivity and any software bugs or hardware failures on their devices. Having a plan and establishing best practices ahead of time can save you from an IT headache during the meeting.
Establish who will be responsible for fielding questions, troubleshooting connectivity issues and taking or distributing meeting notes. You should also decide whether you will need to mute participants, who will moderate the meeting, which participants will need screenshare and how listeners can ask questions. For smaller meetings, these issues may be less pressing and stressful, but for larger meetings it’s a good idea to set guidelines so everyone knows their role and what is expected of them.
Zoom Meeting is video conferencing service that begins at $14.99 per month per host for the Pro plan, which is good for small teams. Zoom Meeting’s story began in 2011 when the market for video conferencing software was crowded. (It still is.) Back then, there was no shortage of choices for how you could make a video call to your friends or colleagues, but the problem was that none of the services held up well. Not a one! Glitchy video, stalling audio, and calls that wouldn’t connect left people frustrated. Into this mucked-up space waltzed Zoom Video Communications (hereinafter referred to as simply “Zoom”), a new company focused on making video calls smoother and more reliable.
Flash forward to today: San Jose, California-based Zoom has become a darling in the tech industry—with a successful initial public offering (IPO) announced in April 2019 to match—because it has made good on its promise: to solve video calls.
Zoom Meeting, Zoom’s core product, impresses for other reasons, too: It has a fantastic feature set that includes, for example, high definition (HD) video and audio and the ability to get typed transcripts of calls that you record as videos. It considers the needs of people who join calls only occasionally as well as remote teams who connect daily. Anyone can use Zoom Meeting for free. Small businesses can buy reasonably priced plans that beef up the features (which, as stated earlier, start from $14.99 per month per host). Enterprises get plenty of components they can add, too, including a full Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service called “Zoom Phone.” In the breadth of what it offers, Zoom Meeting is similar to VoIP Editors’ Choices Intermedia Unite and RingCentral Office. Still, Zoom Meeting’s greatest hook remains its stability. Stability is tough to quantify and compare performance of in video conferencing systems, but it’s the foundation of Zoom Meeting’s reputation and it shows.
Getting Started With Zoom Meeting
If you’re invited to a meeting in Zoom Meeting, then you don’t need to create an account. However, you will see a prompt to download the Zoom Meeting application. Downloading the app is optional as you can connect via a web app if you prefer, but the installed app does give you the optimized experience. Zoom Meeting has apps for Android, iOS, Linux, Windows, and Mac OS.
If you want to use Zoom Meeting to invite other people to meetings, then you need to create an account. You can authenticate with Facebook or Google, or sign up the old-fashioned way using an email address and password. When you create an account, you get a Personal Meeting ID as well as a unique meeting URL, which you can use at any time to start a meeting. It’s handy because you can send your link or Personal Meeting ID to participants without advance notice and get on the call quickly.
You and the participants always have the option to use the audio from your computer or mobile device for the call or dial in by using a standard rate or toll-free number where supported. There is not a toll-free number for the US or the UK, although there are toll-free numbers for dozens of other countries. Depending on your settings, participants may be able to join the audio portion of the call via Microsoft Skype for Business. It’s also possible to set up a third-party audio system of your choosing and include instructions for dialing in the meeting invitation.
Zoom Meeting’s free account is generous: you can host up to 100 people on a call for free and you can see as many as 49 people on an active call in a gallery-style view. Group calls for free users are limited to 40 minutes, but one-on-one calls can be as long as you need. There’s no limit on how many meetings you can host. You get all of the most important features and tools, but you don’t get reports, user management, or administrator controls nor any cloud space to store recorded calls. You can still record calls and store them locally, however.
Settings differ between the locally installed app and the web app, and it’s in your best interest to explore both places. The settings are plentiful so you’ll want to revisit them from time to time as you become more acquainted with Zoom Meeting. For example, there are options that let you put attendees on hold, track whether participants have Zoom Meeting set as their active window, give remote control to another person while sharing content, and even have multiple co-hosts on a call. That last one is limited to paying subscribers.
Setting Up a Zoom Meeting
To set up or start a meeting using Zoom Meeting, you have many options. As mentioned earlier, you can snag your Personal Meeting ID or unique link and send it to participants. They either click the link, or launch Zoom Meeting and enter the Personal Meeting ID, and you’re off to the races.
Alternatively, you can schedule a meeting in advance from the Zoom Meeting app, which you can connect to your calendar so that all of your appointments end up on Google Calendar, iCal, or Microsoft Outlook. Choose a date, start time, end time, and time zone, then select a few other preferences, such as whether you’d like your video stream to activate automatically when you begin the call. If you give your participants the option to join by phone, you can choose which country dial-in numbers to display. A link to all the dial-in options appears on the invitation, too.
You can also password-protect the meeting during this configuration step. With a Pro account, you can also require that attendees register; that is, fill out a short survey before they join so that you can collect information about them. It’s a great option when you use Zoom Meeting for webinars. Zoom Meeting lets you enable a waiting room if you need one as well, which is a way to let participants join a meeting when they’re ready but merely see an information screen if the host hasn’t officially started yet. I wish an agenda field were included when creating the invitation but it isn’t. You’ll have to send your agenda to participants separately.
When you use the Schedule function in the Zoom Meeting app to arrange a call, the invited participants receive a calendar invite that includes the relevant information.
The Zoom Meeting Experience
I’ve used Zoom as both a participant and host frequently, starting around 2017, including for weekly meetings with a remotely distributed team. Joining a Zoom meeting takes little effort. It takes a few seconds if you already have the app installed and only about two extra clicks if you choose the web app instead.
When you connect as a guest, you either see a waiting room notice or you go directly to the meeting. If there’s no waiting room, attendees can connect and chat with one another before the host arrives. Everyone can choose to enable or disable their video at any time. If you join using your device audio, then you can also mute and unmute by using buttons on the screen, or by using a shortcut if you enable it from your account preferences.
I like that Zoom Meeting gives you information about the connectivity of everyone on the call. For example, during a small group call recently, one of my participants was connecting from a mobile device over 4G. When her connection was stable, I saw a white set bars indicating the strength of her connectivity in the lower left-hand corner of her video. When the connection waned, the bars turned yellow and then red. This gave me instant and recognizable information that helped me know why her video was degrading.
As a participant, you can configure your screen to see relevant information panels and a chat box or not. You can also toggle a setting that puts your Zoom Meeting window into full-screen mode automatically when you join a call. Zoom Meeting lets you add more participants ad hoc. For example, if you’re already on a call and realize that you need to invite more people, then you can send the Personal Meeting ID or unique link to them and they can pop in.
A fun feature for both participants and hosts is the ability to set a background image rather than let other participants see what’s actually behind you. So, for example, you can use one to look like you’re in front of the San Francisco Bay’s Golden Gate Bridge instead of in a cafe. You can even upload a custom image, such as a company logo screen. If you care less about your background and more about whether your face is camera-ready, then Zoom Meeting lets you enable a feature called “Touch Up My Appearance” (for iOS, Windows, and Mac OS) that puts the lens into soft focus.
Host controls in Zoom Meeting give you complete control over how you run your meeting. As mentioned earlier, you have a co-host for meetings, which is a fantastic option for businesses that work in tandem with a PR firm. Desktop sharing works well and supports multiple monitors. The host can hand over desktop sharing controls to another participant, too. You can also set up a side-by-side screenshare of your desktop and someone else’s, which is a handy way to literally compare notes. During any screen-sharing session, whether everyone’s looking at an image or video, participants and the host can annotate and mark up whatever is on the screen. Zoom Meeting also has a collaborative whiteboard options.
One feature that’s well suited to remote teams is breakout rooms. From a single call, you can divide participants into groups, send them into their own private video chat, and then bring everyone back together when you’re ready. If you need to record a meeting so you can share it with people who couldn’t attend, then you can save the file locally or use Zoom Meeting’s included cloud storage (with its paid plans).
While Zoom Meeting has plentiful features, I’ve heard of some nice-to-have options in other apps that aren’t in Zoom Meeting. For example, ClickMeeting, another Editors’ Choice in our video conferencing software review roundup, lets you send automatic “thank you” emails to participants. You could do this same thing with Zoom Meeting but it would require a third-party automation app, such asIFTTT or Zapier, to carry it out. Zoom Meeting integrates with both those services.
Additional Zoom Meeting Features
Speaking of integration options, Zoom Meeting lets you connect to a fair, though not extensive, number of apps and online services. They include general business apps, such as Google Calendar and Workplace by Facebook, as well as apps for more specific business cases, such as Salesforce Einstein Analytics Platform.
Zoom does offer Enterprise plans for $19.99 per month per host with a minimum of 50. For this type of account, you can have up to 1,000 people on any call.
If your organization is large, then you might consider some of Zoom’s offerings beyond Zoom Meeting (which has so far been the focal point of this review). Zoom Room, for example, is another deployment of the Zoom software that lets organizations use it with cameras, microphones, projectors, and other hardware they may already have in place in conference rooms or other locations. Zoom also supports webinars, for when you want to broadcast a video live but you don’t want attendees to be able to interrupt the host.
On the back end, admins for Zoom Room get reports of not only who joined various calls, but the status of all the hardware being used across all the locations.
In terms of security, Zoom Meeting offers end-to-end encryption for presenters as well as everyone in an organization, although you have to enable it. Once enabled, all call content is encrypted, including file transfers and in-meeting chat messages. Zoom Meeting is Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-compliant, too. If you want more details about security, then read Zoom’s Security Guide.
Help and support varies based on what type of plan you have. Free users can fill out an online form and await a reply. Pro plan subscribers can either submit an online form or text-chat live with a support team member. Zoom members with a Business, Education, or API plan have those same two options plus toll-free numbers for phone support in eight countries: Australia, France, India, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, and the US.
It’s undeniably easy to start using Zoom Meeting for video calls and it’s just as easy to get hooked on it. The service has much to explore regardless of whether you use it every so often to meet with clients or regularly to host all-hands meetings with a large team. Zoom Meeting fully deserves consideration as a video conferencing app, and is a PCMag Editors’ Choice for video conferencing.
Today, instead of ranting about politics, music, or film, the Twitterverse will be ranting about Twitter; more specifically, Twitter’s brand-new, design and codebase update to its desktop site.
After months of extensive testing, the new design is a confident, and positive change for one of the web’s biggest names, albeit with some controversy that is bound to cause a ruckus. If you’d like to be among the first to have an opinion, you can opt-in right now, or Twitter will opt-in for you in the coming days, because this change is mandatory.
the new Twitter site is self-consciously dashboard-like
Twitter’s life began as a deliberately stripped down social network, in the same way that Google began as a stripped down search interface. Throughout its history, design changes seem to have been attempts to add features, without changing the core simplicity of its timeline UI.
The new Twitter design throws that strategy out of the window, with fundamental changes to the site. Where once there was the illusion of a simple news feed, the new Twitter site is self-consciously dashboard-like. Helped, in no small part, by the relocation of the menu from top horizontal, to left vertical.
The navigation change has been an opportunity – or more probably, a solution – to expose some of the features that have been introduced, but are rarely used outside of the mobile apps; the explore tab, bookmarks, and lists are all prioritized, and direct messages now have a dedicated space.
You’ll also find the introduction of not one, but two dark modes, which is presumably intended to increase eye-fatigue, ensuring you spend less time on the site ranting about the lack of an edit button.
there’s very little new here, other than a more app-like experience for users who prefer not to use an app
There is, frustratingly, still no edit button. Anyone who spends any time on Twitter will be aware that 50%+ of all tweets are instant replies, by the same account, correcting a typo in its original tweet. Of course people can’t be allowed to edit a tweet that’s already been liked or retweeted, but there’s no reason Twitter couldn’t strip likes and retweets from any edit.
Perhaps more frustrating is the fact that verification is still limited. Pop-stars, movie-stars, politicians, et al get a little blue badge, but you and I don’t. What this means is the platform is still essentially anonymous, and will continue to be plagued by bots, trolls, and spam. If Twitter is looking for a way to monetize its main product, paid verification with the option to auto-mute anyone not verified, would make Twitter more usable, more profitable, and just plain nicer overnight.
This design feels like a long-overdue update, delivering necessary breathing room to allow the introduction of as yet unseen features. However, there’s very little new here, other than a more app-like experience for users who prefer not to use an app.
Some might suggest that a company is entitled to update its site design any time it likes, but those people must not have witnessed the meltdown some users had the last time Twitter introduced a far less substantial tweak to its UI than this. Others might question whether anyone actually uses Twitter on desktop; isn’t that what cellphones and bathroom breaks were invented for?