There’s a lot to think about if you are running a Zoom meeting, especially for a big crowd. Here are some hints and tips, mostly learned the hard way, to help you create a smooth and professional experience for the people you’ve invited to your online event.

Although written with Zoom in mind the majority of these hints and tips will apply to any video conferencing platform.

Plan ahead

If you’re hosting a meeting you will need to think about who else is taking part, what features each contributor will want to use and make sure that everyone is prepped and ready to go.

You will also need to share the zoom meeting details with participants. Setting a password and enabling the waiting room helps to keep this secure.

Are you planning to record the meeting to create webinar content? You will need permissions from anyone who features in the recording.

It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan. Ask speakers to send you their slides in case they struggle to share them. Share the hosting with a colleague – if your internet connection goes down they’ll be able to step in.

Obviously the more familiar you are with Zoom, the easier things will run. You may be used to accessing zoom from the app, but it is worth logging in from a browser to get access to all the advanced settings.

 Run a test meeting

If you can, run a test meeting with key people in advance. Check that your audio is working and that you have enough bandwidth. Test out what happens when you share slides or show video. The more elements you have tried in advance the smoother this should be.

Downloading video that you want to share will reduce the bandwidth needed.

Share out the tasks

If you have support to run the meeting, plan who is going to do what. Only the host can put people into break-out rooms but you can make some-one else a co-host to manage the waiting room and a colleague can easily look after the online chat channel whether they are a co-host or not. The chair of the meeting or the main speaker doesn’t need to be the meeting host – it takes the pressure off if they just need to show up and contribute, rather than managing the event.

Curate your space

Think about the background that will appear when you are on screen. Consider if you are comfortable with what you are sharing. Zoom allows you to set a virtual background, but unless you are using with a green screen or other solid colour background this often leads to a poor quality image with you disappearing into the background.

And think about the lighting. Try and arrange things so there’s light falling onto your face rather than back-lighting, just as you would for a photo. It makes all the difference.

Again, ask your speakers to think about their backgrounds and lighting.

Think about the start and end of your meeting

By enabling a waiting room you can control who joins the meeting and when. If you are running a bigger meeting you may want to have participants muted on entry. To create a professional feel to your event, you could have a designed slide to share at the start of the meeting with a count-down running and some music playing until you are ready to start.

Think ahead to how you will finish the meeting too. Are there key links to share in the chat channel such as a survey form.

You can save the chat from the meeting, but you need to do this before you leave.

Keep it safe, keep it secret

To avoid zoombombing (unexpected people joining your meeting and disrupting it by sharing inappropriate content) don’t share your meeting ID online. Just send it to the people who are registered for the event.

Set up a waiting room and only admit people to the meeting who have registered.

If using Zoom to run events with young people, make sure you are following the policy of the organisation that you are working with and have appropriate consents.

Make the most of the available features

Zoom has some great features which is why it has become the video conferencing platform of choice for many during the pandemic.

Getting people into Breakout Rooms is easy and provides real opportunities for people to connect and discuss. Even in a short meeting you can give people a few minutes in a small group to chat.

The Chat channel is a great place for participants to type questions and share thoughts and ideas. You can also share links to slides, surveys and other resources.

The Polls feature within Zoom means you can set up simple questions to ask. Make sure you do this in advance.

Use other technology alongside Zoom

Tools such as Padlet or Retroboard are great for gathering participants’ thoughts and running more developed polls. Know your audience and only introduce this kind of feature if your participants are going to be comfortable. For some, just managing Zoom will be more than enough.

Help your participants relax and engage

At the start of the meeting it will really help if you set some ground rules. Explain the features of Zoom that you are planning to use and how you would like people to participate (stay muted until their opportunity to speak, put questions in the chat channel etc).

Polls, break-out rooms and interactive elements really help participants. Long lectures are hard to consume. Short bite-size chunks of speaking (up to 15 mins) are usually most effective, but it does depend on the nature of your meeting and the content you plan to cover.

If you are running a long event, give people short breaks – at least 5-10mins off in every hour. Zooming is exhausting and demands a high level of concentration.

Simulate the networking opportunities of a physical meeting by using the break-out facility.

Some people find seeing themselves on screen distracting – explore the settings to remove yourself from the screen or simply have a post-it note handy to cover yourself up when you’ve had enough!

Have a great meeting

During the Covid-19 lockdown Zoom has been a life-saver for many, creating an easy to use online space. While there have been concerns around security, many meetings can be hosted safely in this environment by applying the privacy and security settings in a sensible way.

With a little bit of planning and some great co-operation between colleagues, online events can become places where important interactions can take place and great work can be done.

This article focuses on hints and tips for using Zoom well in a business setting. If you want to more about how to do any of these things, you will find plenty of great guidance online, from Zoom and many intrepid users.

What next? For a great summary try Ally Hunter’s How to do effective video conferencing.   https://bemorehuman.org.uk/resources