Since March 2020, creatives have enhanced their computer savviness. Face-to-face book readings and signings or artist meetups have migrated to virtual venues. I admit. I’m a pretty tech-savvy creative…until the pandemic arrived and reminded me that I could always do better and learn more.
The Zoom app became the number one, “go-to” tool for many creatives like me. Without question, I whipped out my credit card and paid for a basic premium subscription. It took some time for me to acclimate to the administrative tools and dashboard controls, considering I am a former, avid user of Skype. In a couple of weeks, I was zooming away, hosting author readings and book signings, hosting podcast fan meetups, and attending virtual writers’ conferences. Life had returned to normal…at least partially. As a more (now) advanced user of Zoom, I’ve picked up a few, cool tricks that have made my Zoom life more appealing. Fellow creatives, here are 7 pro Zoom tips to consider for your next cloud meeting.
1. Decide which Zoom premium package is right for your needs. Webinar vs. Meeting.
When I viewed the premium package options on Zoom’s website, I debated which conferencing plan was right for me. Consider the ways you plan to use the app. Before the pandemic, were you used to hosting face-to-face readings or meetups? Did you attend a face-to-face critique group with fellow artists or film writers? What was the average number of attendees per venue? Zoom offers a variety of options. Most creatives start like me with the basic package, which allows up to 100 attendees and limited co-host assignments. Webinar accounts are possible, too, as well as other add-ons. The key is this: Start small and then scale as you acclimate to the app’s tools and how they can seamlessly apply to your work life. Just recently, I upgraded to a webinar account, which includes web-based registration and other features. If you opt for the webinar account, remember to click the “webinar” menu button before setting up your Zoom meeting. Zoom distinguishes between “webinar” and “meeting”. Consider your setup needs first, including the number of attendees you anticipate attending your venue(s).
2. Set Zoom meeting etiquette or “netiquette” if you’re hosting events.
Even though your venue is virtual, it still requires a few “housekeeping” rules to ensure a quality experience. The good thing is that virtual events can allow attendees to participate from wherever they are. The bad thing is that they can participate and try to engage from wherever they are, which in some cases may not be the most ideal for engagement. At the start of your virtual venue, share a welcome slide via PowerPoint (subscription required) or Google Docs (free with your Google email account). On the second slide, add a few bulleted, netiquette items for engagement during your virtual event.
I like to share the following:
- Keep your microphones always muted or until the host asks you to unmute
- Raise your hand to be acknowledged
- Use the chatline or Q & A button to post questions (available with a webinar subscription)
- Use Emojis respectfully when communicating with others
I’ve grown extremely comfortable with checking the chatline frequently during my events. I even take pauses during my presentations to entertain chat questions so that I don’t miss anything. Be courteous to your audience and let them know that you will follow up via email with any chatline or Q & A questions that go unanswered.
One of my creative writing students taught me a cool Zoom trick after just two weeks of usage. Try holding down the “space bar” on your keyboard to unmute your mic when it’s time to speak. This works well for attendees who want to speak briefly and sometimes can’t quickly access Zoom’s unmute button.
At the end of your venue, remember to promote your social media feeds and other platforms where attendees can remain in touch with you. Typically, I provide a “thank you” PowerPoint slide with my social media handles and website addresses. A few days later, I run a Zoom attendees’ report to secure attendees’ email addresses and follow up accordingly, sharing PowerPoint files, promo resources, and other items. I’ve grown accustomed to receiving web alerts from my webpage of new subscribers who join my site during or just after the close of a virtual event.
3. Don’t forget to hit “record” and secure consent to record your Zoom meeting as appropriate.
The beauty of Zoom life is that you can record and watch back all venues that you choose to record and host. Before my venues, however, I inform attendees via the online registration options and web promos that the venue will be recorded live and made available for view through my website’s archive for up to six months (after the venue). Think about the events you’ve always wanted to attend but couldn’t be due to life’s circumstances. More event hosts are recording all or signature portions of their venues and allowing attendees to enjoy the experiences long after they’ve ended.
If you’re going to host an event and invite other guest, virtual speakers, consider offering a media release or waiver, which stipulates the recording aspect and its use. If you’re paying speakers to participate, inform them of the recording commitment “up front” before they commit. If you’re hosting on behalf of a business organization or an educational institution, follow the respective group’s protocol for media engagement and venue recording. Check with the right folks well in advance of the event and before you start advertising.
4. Host Zoom meetups with authors and fans.
The most exciting part of Zoom is that I get to reach a new fanbase beyond my American territory. Yes, there are social media options like Facebook Live and YouTube, but Zoom makes it so much easier to record and upload to those social media apps even if you’re not as tech-savvy with them. For example, during the pandemic, I hosted a virtual reading of scary stories on Halloween with adoring fans of my books and podcasts. Days before the venue, I learned how to connect my Zoom feed to apps such as Open Broadcast Software to connect my Zoom to the software and host my venue via Facebook Live and my author homepage. It may sound complicated, but it’s not so hard. And the kickbacks were impressive. Within two months after the Halloween reading, I saw a 20% increase in listeners to my podcast. Timing is everything. Consider hosting an event during a seasonal time of the year. I like to host one hour to ninety-minute events (as far as timeframe). After all, many people “zoom out” and start doing other things if the event is “talk-heavy” and lacks quality interactions with the audience.
5. Keep your audience engaged.
Keeping your audience engaged is paramount. It makes them crave more of what you are offering. During my virtual events, I like to launch virtual-live polls within the Zoom app to gauge the audience’s perceptions on the topic at hand. I also segment my presentation so that it has healthy pauses for audience breaks, such as “post your thoughts about the Final Girl in horror movies in the chat line”, after a 10-minute presentation on the trope to the audience. Then, I read select comments back to the audience and provide additional insights. If the venue is small—i.e. fewer than 40 members who you’ve given authority via Zoom meeting or webinar setup to turn on their webcams and mics—then I ask select readers to explain their typed chat comments “vocally” via mic and/or camera if they’d like. The time flies and everyone is having fun.
I’ve incorporated a few virtual breakout room sessions during virtual writers’ critique sessions with other global writers to allow them to engage in small groups as they critique a select writer’s work. Just remember to inform the audience of this breakout expectation as part of your venue’s netiquette protocol… at the start and possibly in your web promos for the venue.
6. Attend a virtual conference or join a virtual association.
I learned so much this past year. There were conferences that I longed to attend in the past but was unable to do so due to work demands and other scheduling conflicts. However, the pandemic has encouraged many associations and organizations to reconsider the way they reach current and new members. In May 2021, I attended the Horror Writers Association convention, StokerCon, for the first time. For $75, I was able to attend live and pre-recorded sessions. I took about 14 pages of notes! Stokercon was the first conference that I’ve ever attended where I was able to attend about 90% of the concurrent sessions. No physical rushing to the next breakout room as I would on ground; in just a few clicks, I headed over to the next venue and was able to watch back sessions I couldn’t attend a few days later. There was even a virtual Happy Hour at the end of each day where writers dropped in to meet up or share ideas.
The highlight of the online venue was this: I attended Stokercon’s film festival, which was fully virtual. For one night, I was able to watch 9 short films via a special weblink. It was like being at the movies; the only difference was I was home and enjoying the experience with my family. When you attend virtual conferences or join a virtual association, please note not only the venue’s content, but also how event organizers manage the event from netiquette to closing surveys. You’ll pick up a few tips that may come in handy for your own, future venue(s).
Recently, I learned that Zoom now offers the Zoom Events app for streaming and hosting live events. LiveStream and Socio are also good. Each, however, requires a premium subscription beyond Zoom. The more I hosted Zoom events, the more I felt that I needed to learn. Therefore, I enrolled in Eventbrite’s free, two-day conference in July 2021 to learn more about event hosting (in general) during and post pandemic.
7. Watch a YouTube video or take an online class to learn more Zoom hacks and tricks.
There is so much to learn. Today, we have 24-hour, 7-day access to easy knowledge. Heutagogy, the idea of self-determined learning and self-teaching, was heightened courtesy of the pandemic. Have you ever web searched a “do it yourself” technique for your home or car? Or have you looked for a quick fix for a sinus cold or rash on your arm on WebMD? Well, try applying the same web search options to learning Zoom. YouTube offers so many awesome channels with short video clips on a variety of Zoom sub-topics. Recently, I forgot how to allow users to share their screen during a live Zoom session without making users co-hosts. I watched Dex How-to Tutorials for a refresher. Zoom offers its own YouTube channel of free tutorials to explore as well.
There are many other (free) YouTube tutorials to learn more about apps and event hosting using Zoom and other third-party apps like the ones previously mentioned. Before purchasing, watch the video clips to determine if the apps are suitable for your needs. Coursera and Udemy also offer tutorials for not only using Zoom, but also how to host virtual events effortlessly. For educators and creatives alike, check out Adobe Education Exchange to learn how to use Adobe Photoshop or my personal favorite, Adobe Spark. Each of the last three recommendations may require a payment of some sort, but you’ll find the investment is well worth it.
In closing, I recommend Zoom for many reasons. As the months pass, I learn something new about the app, and I willingly share it with others. If you have any recommendations for using Zoom, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Zooming!
Billy P. Jones
Billy P. Jones is the author of Everyday Folks, Volume 2: A Short Story Collection (2019) and creator and host of Everyday Folks Radio podcast. He is an Associate Professor of English Composition, Literature and Creative Writing at Broward College in the United States. He resides in his native hometown of Miami, Florida. Visit www.billypauljones.com or www.everydayfolksradio.com for more information.
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Photos by: Compare Fibre, Magnet Me, Cam Bradford, Lucas Alexander, Merakist, Melanie Deziel, Austin Distel, Szabo Viktor