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Use your Zoom name as a message to other attendees
June 28, 2021   |  Articles

My 5 Favorite Zoom Tricks

Those of you who noticed my Zoom Confident Contributor post last week, or who receive my newsletter, may have noticed that I am on a bit of a Zoom kick right now and since I have been getting plenty of positive feedback, I am leaning into the trend! For example, this week, my article is a quick look at 5 of my favorite Zoom tricks. Some may be new, some may be familiar, but I hope that all will be useful!

Trick 1: “Away” Messages

Anyone who drinks as much tea as I do has had a moment where they are sitting in a Zoom room, waiting for someone else to join them and desperately wanting to step away for a moment. To refill their tea, of course. But you may also be aware that people can only see chat messages sent after they enter the call.

So how can you leave a ‘note’ that the other attendee(s) will see when they join? Change your name! By renaming yourself to something like “Refilling my tea – be right back”, anyone who joins the call while you are gone will immediately be able to see why you have stepped away! If you aren’t sure how to rename yourself, you can jump ahead to the picture for Tip 5 for some guidance.

Well, I suppose you could also rig up a sign stuck to the back of your empty chair and hope that whoever else is joining you can actually read it. But I prefer my way.

Use your Zoom name as a message to other attendees

Trick 2: Maintaining Your Place in the Brady Bunch Pecking Order

This is actually 2 tricks in one but both are all about keeping yourself on the first page of videos in a large meeting. You may have noticed that on most Zoom calls, the videos are arranged on a “first come, first shown” basis (although you will always see your own Brady Box in the 2nd position)*. Sometimes making noise is enough to bump you up the stack but few things knock you to the very last position on everyone else’s order as reliably as turning off your camera. So what can you do when you want to step away for a moment (or maybe eat a snack) and still maintain a prime position on the first page?

When you already have a prime position, you can maintain that position with what I like to call “the cloth trick”. First, set a virtual background. I tend to use my logo but a particularly sneaky colleague (who I will allow to identify himself if he so chooses) uses a picture of himself in his usual office looking intently at his monitor. Second, cover your camera. If you have a webcam with a cover, close the cover. If your webcam, like my own for all of 2020, has no cover, you can simply use a piece of cloth. Hence the name of the trick! When you are ready to be “visible” again, simply uncover the camera (and maybe remove that virtual background so that no one notices that sneaky still shot).

Did you arrive late or have you already lost your position? Never fear! Raising your digital hand** will rocket you to the top of the list! When you lower your hand again (perhaps just a moment later when you ‘realize that you accidentally raised your hand instead of clicking on a reaction’, which you can easily explain in the chat), you will still be one of the first videos on everyone else’s screens.

Of course, this is also a tip for anyone who seeks the quiet anonymity of page 3. Want to be able to participate in peace? Just turn off your camera for about 2 minutes and voila! Once you turn it back on again, you’ll be safely ensconced on the last page.

Humans and computers understand camera

*There are actually about 8,435,673 caveats to any statement about the actual video order any given participant in your call may be seeing. People can change their order and Hosts can force a particular order. But on the assumption that most people are lazy, this trick will create the results described for what most of your colleagues see.

**RAISE HAND: In the newer versions of Zoom, look for Reactions at the bottom of your Zoom window (you may need to click “more”) and there should be a big button that says “Raise Hand”. For older versions of Zoom, open the Participants panel (click Participants at the bottom of your Zoom window) and below the list of names, there is a button that says “Raise Hand”.

Trick 3: Preset “Whiteboards” for Annotations

I already shared this trick in my Virtualizing Events Part 5: Annotations article but it truly is one of my favorites so I am sharing it again. When you know that you want to use annotations during a meeting, create a slide (or document) that already has the instructions for what you want the participants to annotate written on it. If you are using a Powerpoint presentation anyway, this allows you to solicit feedback without breaking stride.

For bonus simplicity, I like to also include instructions on how to *find* annotations on the prepared slide. As you’ll see in Tip 5, I can easily paste those instructions into the chat but having them front and center on the shared material spares participants from having to juggle the chat window while trying to find Zoom’s best hidden feature.

Of course, you can always pop up a whiteboard and then use the Annotation feature yourself to provide the instructions but why type with an audience when you can have everything you (and your audience) needs appear as if by magic?

The results of a group annotation session

Trick 4: Opt Individuals Out of Breakout Rooms

Are you co-facilitating with partners or would you simply like some company while everyone else is having their own, awesome Breakout Room discussion? One way to hold your selected colleagues back in the Main Room with you is to manually assign everyone and just skip over assigning the people you would like to have stay with you. But if you are as lazy as I am, you can have Zoom do the Breakout Room assignments automatically and then “uncheck” anyone you want to exempt.

To get at the checklist, click on the blue number that shows how many participants are in a given room (see screenshot below). This will give you a list of everyone in the room (and everyone unassigned – see the bonus tip below) with blue checkmarks next to the names of the people in the room. Uncheck the box for anyone you want to exempt from the Breakout Room experience.

Another way to accomplish the same goal is to put everyone you want to keep in the Main Room with you into one Breakout Room and then… Delete the room! I still do this sometimes just because I find it oddly satisfying and since the rooms have not yet opened, no one else will ever know how you made the magic happen.

Regardless of how you choose to remove people from Breakout Room assignments, don’t forget to rebalance the rooms before you open them! It would be awfully sad if your company meant a lonely room for someone else…

Another bonus tip: if someone joins the meeting after you have created the breakout rooms, you will have to manually assign them. When you click the blue number, anyone not assigned to a room will also show up on the list of checkboxes. I always try to click the blue number for one of the rooms just before opening the breakout rooms to make sure that only the people I want to be unassigned show up with empty check boxes!

During configuration, precise changes are easy

NOTE: Your name and the Host’s name will never appear on this list before the rooms are opened

Trick 5: Create a “Tip Sheet” For Easy Reference

If you have made it all the way to Tip 5, chances are good that you are interested in making Zoom a less stressful experience for everyone (yourself included). If you are like me, part of reducing the overall stress means making sure that anyone who is struggling gets clear instructions on how to access the features they are struggling to use.

After finding myself typing the same guidelines for Raising Digital Hands, Accessing Annotations, and myriad other Zoom functions, I finally created a reference sheet that I can copy and paste from whenever I need. Whenever I am facilitating a meeting (or, honestly, attending any large Zoom session), I keep my tip sheet, which happens to be in OneNote, handy. I find it very satisfying to direct message the person clicking “applause” over and over again with instructions on how to find the Raise Hand button. I highly recommend giving it a try!

If you would like a copy of my Reference Sheet as a reward for reading this entire article, send me a direct message and I will be happy to share!

Available upon request

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