Video conferencing is more than just connecting a bunch of video and audio streams. That’s an essential part, of course, but programs like Zoom come with a ton of extra features that can make the experience much smoother and even more fun. Some are only accessible via the pro version, but everything listed below is available in the free version of Zoom. It’s important to note, though, that meetings with more than two participants are limited to 40 minutes unless you upgrade.
Quick note: If you can’t find a feature mentioned here, you may have to enable it in your profile. You actually can’t control all your settings from the Zoom desktop or mobile apps. To get a full list of features and options, go to Zoom.us and open the Settings tab. You should be able to find all your settings there. You can also access this through the “Advanced Options” tab in your Zoom app settings.
Let’s start with the fun stuff: you can change your background to any picture you want. If you don’t have the most attractive wall or want to appear against something that makes you pop a bit more, this feature can be massively useful. If you’re using it in a less-formal application, it’s also a great spot to throw up random memes and funny pictures.
It works best if you have a solid color behind you; otherwise, the background may do strange things, like layering over you or missing patches. A green screen is ideal, but you don’t necessarily need one. You’ll need at least a 4th-generation i7 or a 6th-generation i5 processor in most cases, though.
You can enable it in “Settings -> Virtual Background,” or if you’re in a call by clicking the arrow next to the “Start/Stop Video” button and selecting “Choose a virtual background.”
Personal Meeting ID
If you regularly use Zoom to meet with certain people, you can just give them your personal meeting ID instead of sending them a new link every time. Your ID never changes, and if you’re using it to host a meeting, anyone can join that meeting with the link you sent them the first time.
The easiest way to find your Personal Meeting ID is by clicking on the little down arrow to the right of “New Meeting” on the main page of the Zoom app and finding the number on the bottom. You can start a meeting using your ID by checking the “Use My Personal Meeting ID (PMI)” box and clicking the camera button above. The URL for this meeting should work for any meeting hosted with your PMI in the future.
Creating a new meeting and tweaking its settings isn’t that hard, but if you have regularly scheduled daily, weekly, or monthly meetings, you can streamline the process by just creating a single recurring meeting. These meetings automatically start at their scheduled time, and the URL and settings never change. All you have to do is hop on at the right time, and your meeting will be all set up.
It’s pretty simple to set this up. Just go to the Schedule tab, check the box that says “Recurring meeting” and set up the times and options you want. Selecting “No fixed time” means the meeting will essentially always be going on, and you can use the link to drop in at any time until the end date.
Back to the fun stuff: Zoom lets you annotate shared screens with text, shapes, freehand drawing, a laser pointer, and even stamps. If you need to collaborate on some sort of design process, you’ll probably use this tool quite a bit. It’s also great for just pointing things out or goofing around.
The annotation tool will appear in the floating top sharing bar when someone starts a screen share. Just push your mouse to the top of your computer screen, click “Annotate,” and select from the menu of annotation options that you have available.
If you’re the meeting host and your participants’ annotations are getting out of hand, you can disable them by clicking the three dots on the side of the menu bar and selecting “Disable participants annotations.” You can also choose to show the annotators’ names, which could help you figure out which notes belong to which person.
Once the annotations are complete, you can save a screenshot of them by clicking the “Save” button on the menu bar.
Note: if you don’t see the annotation option when you’re sharing your screen, you may need to enable it by signing into your Zoom account in a browser.
If you just need a collaborative sketchpad and not a screen annotation, you can use Zoom’s whiteboard option. It comes with the same basic set of tools as screen annotation, except it shares a blank white screen that you can draw and type on. Like the annotation tool, you can download screenshots.
To use it, just go to the “New Share” button and select the “Whiteboard” option.
Large meetings with multiple focuses can get confusing fast if people are trying to talk about different things to different people, which is why Zoom enables “Breakout Rooms.” These let you split one big meeting into multiple smaller meeting groups that can (optionally) return to the main session at any time.
This is one of those features that you’ll probably have to enable via a browser-based login to your Zoom account, though. To do that, just log in to Zoom and toggle on the Breakout Rooms setting. After that, you should see the Breakout Rooms options in your toolbar whenever you’re hosting a call.
To use it, just click the Breakout Rooms option on your menu and use the “Add a room” button to add as many rooms as you need (up to 50). You can assign people to groups manually or let Zoom split them up randomly, and as the host, you’re able to shuffle people around and manage settings for each one.
Do you see that box on the left? No, the other one. You know what, let me show you where it is … with Zoom’s Remote Control feature! Yes, Zoom allows you to request mouse and keyboard access to another user’s shared screen, allowing you to interact with the content on their machine.
This is not remote desktop access. Zoom has a different feature for that, so don’t worry that the user on the other end of the remote control can access your private files, apps, or operating system operations. They can only do stuff on the window you’re sharing.
If you’re a viewer, you can request access to a shared screen by opening the “Options” drop-down menu on the green sharing-info bar at the top of your screen. If you’re the person sharing the screen, you can directly give access by clicking on the “Remote Control” button that should appear in the sharing toolbar at the top of your screen.
Other features you should check out
- Touch up my appearance: Zoom will smooth you out a bit to help you look better on camera.
- Muting: you should always join meetings muted, so go to Settings > Audio and click the box that says “Mute my microphone when joining a meeting.”
- Always display participant names on their video: you can find this in “Settings -> Video.” It helps avoid embarrassing mistakes when meeting new people.
- Recording: it’s hard to miss the “Record” button on your toolbar, but in case you didn’t know about it, now you do – you can record meetings!
- Waiting rooms: would you prefer to have everyone enter the meeting at once instead of having them trickle in slowly? That’s what the Waiting Rooms feature is for.
And there’s more!
Zoom feels surprisingly lightweight given how much stuff it manages to pack in. Its screensharing options let you do virtually anything with your screen and even other peoples’: it has calendar integrations, automatic scheduling, attendance reports, and much more. If you use Zoom regularly, it’s very much worth digging into its less-obvious features and tools. Learning keyboard shortcuts is also a good investment if you’re a power-Zoomer. One that everyone should know, though, is Alt + A (Cmd + Shift + A on Mac), which mutes and unmutes your microphone. Don’t forget to mute your mics, people.
Zoom is not the only video conferencing app around. Make sure to check out some of the best video conferencing apps as well.
Image credit: Businessman Video Conferencing by DepositPhotos