Over the past few months, you’ve probably attended or hosted more Zoom meetings than you every thought possible – from internal office meetings to client consultations to bar association meetings, family dinners and virtual happy hours, Zoom has become the go-to platform for many who had never attended a videoconference before March of 2020.
Having attended far too many Zoom meetings myself, I’ve found that many lawyers – as well as my non-lawyer friends and colleagues – are making simple Zoom meeting mistakes that can be distracting to other attendees or even hurting their professional reputations.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the many Zoom “fails” circulated on the internet, including the admonition by one Florida judge who complained about what lawyers were – or weren’t – wearing to court video calls, or the reporter from Good Morning America who got caught with a shirt, jacket and tie but no pants on camera, and “Jennifer,” who took her laptop to the bathroom with her during a Zoom meeting. There was even a flush heard during one of the first-ever livestreamed virtual Supreme Court argument. Although it was not a Zoom call (thankfully), it was clear that proper etiquette of muting when not speaking wasn’t followed in this virtual argument.
There have already been several articles written about “best practices” for Zoom meetings, including from Bob Ambrogi on Above the Law on 10 blunders to avoid on Zoom and, also on Above the Law from Niki Black of MyCase in Zoom Videoconferencing Tips and Tricks, and there are several articles out there about Zoom security (including this one written specifically for lawyers).
Here are a few of my favorite tips from those articles, along with some of my own comments.
1. Consider a virtual background – or not – Both Bob and Niki talk about adding a virtual background to enhance your Zoom meeting presence, but in my experience, they don’t work all that well for most people. You need a device that’s relatively new, and even then, they can be glitchy if you move around a lot when you’re speaking, and some of your body parts can disappear, or can reveal your green screen, which is more distracting than having a boring background, so use virtual backgrounds with caution.
And that brings us to:
2. Be aware of your surroundings – Bob mentions this in his article with reference to what can be seen on camera. If you’re attending a Zoom meeting from your bedroom, for example, you might want to sit in a place where the bed can’t be seen. If that’s not possible, at least make the bed. And keep in mind who else might be or enter into the room during your meeting – it’s probably not a good idea for the judge in your virtual court conference to see your scantily-dressed spouse walking through the bedroom.
3. Watch your camera angle – How many Zoom meetings have you attended where at least one participant can only be partially seen? If you’re one of them, please check out what your video looks like when you join a meeting. You can tilt your laptop, tablet or smartphone to an angle that allows participants to see your entire face, not just the top of your head. And you can prop up your device so that the camera is at eye level. If it’s too low, the camera angle will frequently show a lot of ceiling and a upward view of your face (which sometimes is unflattering, and often feels like attendees are looking up your nose).
4. Speaking of appearances, as Niki mentions in her post, Zoom has a “touch up my appearance” setting which can help you put your best foot forward in any Zoom meeting you attend. You can find this setting by clicking the up-arrow next to the video camera icon in Zoom.
5. Pay attention to your lighting – If you have a lot of light (such as a bright window) behind you, it makes it extremely difficult to see your face. Ditto if it’s too dark. Not all of us have professional lighting, and yours doesn’t have to be, but participants in your Zoom meeting would like to see your face. Often, if you are in a room with a window, it is best to have the window and natural light to the side, or even in front of you, rather than behind you. Overhead lighting can be harsh, too – if you can place a light in front of you, that is often better. Sometimes it helps just to make your computer screen brighter so that it shines on your face. If you wear glasses, you have double trouble, because lighting can wreak havoc – in the form of glare – on your glasses.
6. Use an appropriate screen name – Your screen name is yet another element of your appearance. It’s probably not the best idea to log into a Zoom meeting with the court, a client, or other professionals with a screen name like “ballbusteresq.”
Your name will be displayed in the bottom corner of your video block when hovering over you in Zoom, in the participants list, including Chat and Q&A lists of participants even if you don’t type anything into the chat or Q&A boxes, and it will appear in bold white letters if you turn off your video and don’t have a Zoom profile photo. You can add a profile photo or update your Zoom screen name from your Profile settings, or you can rename yourself while in a Zoom meeting by clicking on the participants icon, finding your name and clicking on “rename (unless the host has disabled this feature).
7. Mute yourself when you’re not speaking – Bob mentions this in his article. Zoom is no different than any other conference calling platform. It’s common courtesy to mute yourself if you aren’t speaking so that attendees can focus on the speaker. Even if you think you’re in a quiet place, moving around, shuffling papers, or typing on your keyboard during a meeting can all potentially be heard and distract others – not to mention your cell or office phone ringing, dogs barking, etc.
8. Review your Zoom settings – As with any other program, the default settings in Zoom are not necessarily the ideal settings for you. One example is your microphone settings. In most cases, I’ve found that turning off the “automatically adjust” setting and manually setting your microphone level is best, because the automatically adjust setting can sometime kills your sound entirely. Also, if you’re using an external mike, rather than the one built into your device, you may need to make adjustments there separately. You can find these and other audio settings by hitting the up-arrow next to the microphone in Zoom.
Another setting you may not be aware of is your view options – when in a zoom meeting, you have a number of options to change the view. Most people know about gallery view (the “Brady Bunch” view as some like to call it), where you can see many participants at once, instead of just the speaker, but you can also hit the view options button during a meeting to change the view from “100%” to “fit to window,” which is especially helpful during screen-sharing, when some of the slide or screen being shown is cut off or blocked by the video view.
As a meeting host, Zoom provides you with some additional settings to help make your meeting more effective and productive. As Bob Ambrogi mentions in his post, meeting hosts can turn on attention tracking so the meeting host see when a participant does not have Zoom in focus for more than 30 seconds while a screen is being shared (presumably, when screen sharing is off, it’s easy to tell who’s paying attention just by looking at them).
The meeting host also has the option to put security measures in place when they schedule a meeting. Niki’s post highlights some of those features, like setting a password and restricting access to the meeting, as well as muting participants automatically upon entry to the meeting. A newer feature of Zoom is the ability to enable the waiting room, so the meeting host has to manually admit each participant into the meeting, reducing the likelihood of unauthorized entry. I personally also like to lock my meetings once all participants have arrived to prevent unauthorized people from entering.
Hosts can also manage meeting participants during the meeting (such as muting someone who is disrupting the meeting) or preventing participants from unmuting themselves or sharing their screens.
This helpful article from cnet has some other Zoom settings you should check out.
9. Get more out of the Chat feature – If you don’t have Chat open in Zoom, you’ll get a popup when someone has added something to the chat, but I’ve personally found that it’s easier to keep it open at all times during a Zoom meeting.
This feature allows you to send private (just to one individual) or public (to everyone) messages during the meeting. As Niki notes in her post you can also save the chat (if the host hasn’t disabled this feature), which is helpful if people post links or other info in the chat. I’ve saved chats during webinars to have a record of questions people have asked to improve webinars in the future (or to create other content responsive to them). If you save your chat, it will save both your public and private chat messages.
10. Record the meeting – Zoom has recording capability, which can come in handy for a number of reasons. There is a simple record button that will allow you to record a Zoom meeting and save it to your local computer, as long as the host has not disabled it. There are also options to store a Zoom meeting recording in the cloud.
Bonus: Explore break-out rooms for large meetings – Large Zoom meetings can get unwieldy and become unproductive. I’ve attended a few large meetings lately that incorporated Zoom’s break-out rooms feature, which allowed participants to break into smaller groups for targeted discussions or problem-solving, and then rejoin the larger group to report back their findings.
An interesting set of tutorials on Zoom for lawyers can be found here: https://www.knoxbar.org/index.cfm?pg=ZoomTutorialsforLawyers