Communication in the time of the Coronavirus. With the closure of offices and schools – necessary to stem the Covid-19 pandemic – we are forced to look for new ways to interact with us, using hi-tech tools that until yesterday we knew by hearsay: one above all Zoom, appreciated by companies and large American universities, which in these days of “social distancing” is having a boom in new Italian users.
What is Zoom? It is an online platform that allows you to video call, in the free version, up to 100 people simultaneously. This makes it particularly useful for lectures and conferences, but also for simple family reunions (or friends). Using Zoom is very easy: just connect to the website through a private link that arrives via message or download a program for PC and Mac. Those who prefer it can also connect from their smartphone through an app for iPhone and Android. Here is an 8-step guide to using it to the best of its ability.
1. How much? The app and the program for PC and Mac are free. But they exist 4 different floors to use Zoom: the basic one – free of charge – allows video calling for up to 100 people for 40 minutes. If we want to connect more people and for longer, or special functions such as a personalized address (yourname.zoom.com), there are the Pro plans, from 14 to 19 euros per month. In any case, guests never pay and 1 to 1 calls, even in the free version, have no time limit.
2. Do I have to sign up to use Zoom? No, just follow the invitation link that arrives via email and connect to the virtual meeting via browser, from your computer or smartphone: a browser window will open and in a couple of clicks we will be connected. If we want to use the app or computer software, registration is required instead. We can invite someone to participate in a meeting via email, through Zoom, or copy the invitation, which contains url and password and send it via Whatsapp, Telegram, etc.
3. What are the advantages of Zoom? The host, that is, the one or one who organizes a virtual meeting on Zoom, has the possibility of manage the “audience”, choosing to enable or disable the video of his and the other participants and also disable the microphone of one or more of them, to avoid the overlapping of voices during the lessons. In addition Zoom allows you to video-record every meeting, so we can review it later.
4. What should you watch out for? Well, if they invite us to a video conference, before accepting it is good practice to check what is within the field of view of the laptop cam: from the background behind us to the light, up to our look (see points 5 and 6 to solve these two problems). Another thing: if we use it to attend a lesson or a conference where our intervention is not foreseen, it is good to silence Zoom, to prevent the other participants from hearing our dog barking or the TV in the background. Just click on the microphone icon on the bottom left of the screen.
5. Is there a way to improve our look on Zoom? In part yes: it’s the function Touch Up My Appearance, which you can select from Settings> Videos>. This tool smoothes the skin tone with a softer focus, thus eliminating the need to get powdered like on TV. Be careful, though! It’s little stuff compared to the selfie filters that Instagram got used to.
6. Can we use a virtual wallpaper? Yes: Zoom offers us some such as the view of the Golden Gate or an image of the cosmos. But we can also choose an image from our pc and use it as a background from Video Settings> Virtual background. Warning: it works best if we have a green screen behind it and the lighting in the room is uniform.
7. Can we share the screen of our computer or tablet? Yes, just click on the green button at the bottom center (Share Screen) and choose what to share between a virtual whiteboard, where to write and draw, but also the web browser window, open documents or the screen of our iPad / iPhone thanks to the Airplay function. Those who view our screen in the meantime can also take note.
8. An extra trick. If we use Zoom often and willingly, there are a couple of keyboard shortcuts that is worth learning to save some time. Pressing Cmd + I (macOS) or Alt + I (Windows) allows us to switch to the Invite window, where we can send invitations to others by e-mail. By pressing instead Cmd + Ctrl + M (macOS) or Alt + M (Windows) we can mute the sound of all the other users online (very useful if you are dealing with a rowdy schoolboy). Again, by pressing Cmd + Shift + S (macOS) or Alt + Shift + S (Windows) we can share the screen.