Introduction to Using Zoom

Instructions for joining and hosting meetings, muting, chatting, screen sharing and more

Adapted from the original, with thanks to by Ed Baig, AARP, May 27, 2020 

black and silver laptop computer on brown wooden table

How do I get started?

Zoom works on many devices: Windows PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets, with some interface and feature distinctions among devices. You can download desktop software for Zoom on a computer at zoom.us. Or get the iOS and Android app versions in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

You can also take part in a Zoom call through your web browser, albeit with more limited functionality (for example, you can’t schedule onetime or recurring meetings.)

Usually, you will not need an account to join a Zoom meeting, but one is required to host your own conference.

You may also have to register to take part in meetings, webinars or other sessions.

How do I join a Zoom session?

An invitation typically arrives via email or text. Click the Join link in the body of the message. You will be prompted to download Zoom or to launch the app if you already have it. You then just choose to join a meeting with or without video.

If the host has not started the meeting yet, you’ll have to wait on hold. Use the time to test your computer audio and video settings (typically through the internal microphone and speaker on your system). As part of a test, Zoom will play an audio tone and record your voice — you will know something is off if you cannot hear the tone or your voice. A video preview window lets you see how you will look to others. Tip: If you plan to use video, make sure light is shining on you, rather than coming from behind.

Certain meetings can be joined by telephone using the teleconferencing number and meeting ID supplied by the host. Some also require a password, which the host will share.

On a desktop, Zoom will play a tone and record your voice as part of a mic and speakers test when you join a meeting. A video preview shows how you will look to others.

How will I see other people?

There are two common layouts: speaker view, in which the active speaker takes up most of the screen, and gallery view, with thumbnails of participants laid out as a grid. On a laptop or desktop computer, the control to toggle between these views is toward the top right corner of the Zoom window. On a tablet the control is on the upper left — you may have to gently tap the screen to see it. You will see all participants’ live video feeds if they have enabled their camera. In the absence of video, you will see a dark rectangle with the person’s name or initial.

Should I mute my microphone?

If you are not about to speak, yes, especially if you are with other people. Screaming teenagers and barking dogs are a distraction.         

“I think that the mute button is everybody’s friend,” says Marisa Giorgi, director of curriculum development at Senior Planet, which offers free Zoom training for older adults. You will know that the mic is muted when a red slash appears on top of the microphone icon. Remember to tap or click the icon to unmute when it is time for you to pipe up. Worth noting: Hosts have the power to mute all the participants.

What about chatting and screen sharing?

Another way to contribute to the conversation is to type comments or questions in the chat box. You can enter comments for all to see or direct them to an individual. Be careful, though, because while a one-to-one comment can be seen just by the person you are sending the message to during the meeting, the host can download the chat transcript once it is over. Avoid snide remarks you would not want to be seen later. “We remind people that it’s only private in that moment,” says Breana Clark, who runs Zoom training sessions for Senior Planet.

If you need to collaborate or want to show something off (pictures, recipes), you can share the contents of your computer screen. For security reasons, the host can prevent users from sharing their screens.

Can I change my backgrounds?

You can swap your background for a virtual Zoom background. This popular feature not only prevents peers from seeing how messy your house is but is fun to use. You can choose a video or still image as a background or take advantage of a green screen (if so equipped). On a computer, click the tiny carrot next to the camcorder (start/stop video) icon on the bottom left corner of the Zoom window, then choose the Virtual Background option. On a mobile device, you may see the feature nested under the three little dots that say “More.”

Either way, you may have Zoom background choices you can select immediately. Or click or tap a plus sign to add a file already on your computer. You can also search Google to find and download other Zoom backgrounds.