February 2020 feels like another century now. It was the time before so many of us were relegated to working from home. It was the time before every mom and dad became a home-schooler. It was the time when we all went to church and out to dinner and to our civic and social group meetings. But times did change, and one of the good things that has happened is that millions of people now know how to Zoom.
Zoom, along with its cousins Skype, Microsoft Teams, and alternates like Go to Webinar and Webex, have become mainstream rather than technologies reserved for big corporations and the techie crowd.
If you have not met Zoom, here is a brief explanation. Zoom is a computer application that lets you join others in a meeting by using your laptop, or mobile phone or another device. You can see the other participants, all of them at once on your screen, you can talk with them, you can share information. It is easy to do and free for a meeting with up to 100 people that lasts less than 40 minutes.
I expect that many of you are already Zoomers. You may attend Zoom staff meetings at work. Your church may be holding Sunday school or worship services on Zoom. Your civic group may be meeting via Zoom. Here are some tips for making your Zoom experience more enjoyable and perhaps less embarrassing.
If you are using Zoom for a business meeting make sure you introduce any newcomers, just as you would do “in real life.” Establish a guideline for handling the conversation as you would do if you were all together — perhaps raising hands, something better than just butting in and talking over each other. Create and share an agenda ahead of time, a reason to be Zooming. It can be a business meeting, a civic club gathering, Grandpa’s 80th birthday. People will want to know what to expect because they are setting aside time for this event.
To avoid unwanted guests, limit your invitations, do not post them on social media, always use a password, and remove any participant that you do not recognize, especially those who dial in by phone. This should be the plan, whether the meeting is business or social. Nobody wants to experience a “Zoombomber,” and yes, there is such a thing.
Whenever you Zoom, find a good place to join the group. Check the lighting where you sit. Try to capture more than just your talking head on your screen, look at the camera, that tiny round thing on your device – and check your clothing. Certain stripes and checks do not look good on camera and can make your colleagues dizzy! Did you know there is even a Zoom shirt, a nice blue long-sleeved shirt or plain but pretty blouse that looks good on screen, even when combined with pajama bottoms or your yoga pants? Regular business Zoomers keep one hanging on their chair in case a sudden meeting is called.
If you are work-Zooming from home, check to see what’s in the background. A messy bookcase can drive others crazy – instead of listening to what you are adding to the meeting, they are planning to run over to your house and tidy up. Is the ceiling fan running in your den? Are you sitting so that it looks as if you are wearing a giant propeller-top beanie hat? Try not to turn off your video. This Zoom session is meant to “see everyone in person” and it is not helpful if you appear as a black screen just because you are having a bad-hair day. It’s a pandemic – we all have bad hair. It is acceptable to sip a water bottle or drink some coffee, but no meals while Zooming unless, of course it is Grandpa’s birthday when the birthday-boy and immediate party should share virtual cake with everyone.
Part of what has made the Zoom meeting/worship service/art lesson/civic meeting enjoyable for many is the opportunity to see each other in a different setting. We Zoomers have heard dogs bark when the mailman came, viewed dads walking around on-screen jiggling cranky babies on their shoulders, heard birds chirping in the trees as a fellow Zoomer joined from their deck and admired some lovely décor in living rooms.
Zoom has made us all more connected while we are trying to maintain our social distance. And when we return to a more interactive routine, perhaps there can still be a use for Zoom, because it is so easy to use and fun. If you are a business, could you envision using Zoom to hold off-hours events, without requiring employees to travel or come to the office early? How about a Zoom staff meeting over breakfast – at home – where your staffers sip their coffee and eat their cereal while you discuss the kick-off of a new product or program.
Are you a retailer? What about scheduling special Zoom events to showcase a new line of merchandise, a sneak preview before the items appear in the shop? Would your customers respond to such an invitation if offered in the early evening, after their normal working hours, a 21st century version of the home sales party?
Are you about to roll out a new service or new business? How about hosting a Zoom event to demonstrate the new equipment you’ll be using or the service you’ll provide? Yes, you can do a little video on Facebook, but a Zoom meeting to targeted clients would allow for a lively Q&A session.
If you have not yet embraced Zoom, do some research. If it’s not right for your business, perhaps it will work for you in your personal life, permitting sorority reunions on a monthly lunch basis rather than just one time a year. Or conversations with the far-flung cousins that you never find time to write to – shoot them an email with a Zoom date and see who shows up. Our world has changed and there are good things to embrace as we create our new normal.
Barbara Miller is the Business Consultant for the South Carolina Small Business Development Center in Newberry. She can be reached at Barbara.Miller@newberry.edu.
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