The triumphs and pitfalls of Zoom

Posted on 7 March 2021

“I am here live, I am not a cat”, Rod Ponton, lawyer, Texas, USA

The Covid-19 pandemic has without a doubt caused enormous devastation to millions of people around the world and the consequences are still unfolding.  But it has also revolutionised at breakneck speed, before most of us were even ready, how we communicate to each other remotely from the safety of our homes.

This has had a personal impact, but most notably a professional one too.  Before the pandemic, the stock price of Zoom was below the $100 mark, by October 2020 the price had more than quadrupled to $500 a share.  Zoom has become one of the most widely used platforms the world is using to speak to not only our families and friends, but also our colleagues and most of us 18 months ago had probably never even heard of it, let alone used it every day.

Earlier this year when COVID-19 still had most of the world within its deadliest grip, we were gratefully entertained by the mishaps of the lawyer Rod Ponton in Texas, USA, who was attending a remote court hearing with the unfortunate filter of a cat replacing his image.  This hapless experience gave us all an extremely humorous respite from the gloom of the pandemic, not only because it was completely adorable and zany, but also because we can all relate to the perils of Zoom and particularly filters our children may have put on when they were using it to talk to their friends.

Zoom, and platforms like it, have been a true lifesaver and without them we literally couldn’t have carried on conducting business as well as we have since the pandemic started.  But its also meant we have had to massively restructure how we communicate, not only because we’ve had to learn multiple new technologies, but also, we’ve had to understand how presenting or speaking to people virtually is different to how we speak when we’re in the same room.  Presenting to a screen when you cannot see or hear your audience can be disconcerting in the beginning, you have no gauge of how your presentation is being received, no visual cues, you are literally presenting to yourself.

However, there are some advantages, such as no distractions from the audience, no mobile phones ringing, you can entirely focus on what you are presenting.  Also, for those who find it nerve-racking presenting to a large audience, there is no stage to climb onto, no bright lights shining in your eyes, its all from the comfort of your home. Lastly of course, no travel is required, and you can participate with great ease at any time of day or night and attend more meetings in different locations.

Although we have all gotten more experienced and competent at Zoom, I would still like to share some tips so we can hopefully avoid the pitfalls of presenting remotely (and avoid being a cat or some other creature!)

  • Buy a decent webcam that can attach to your monitor, if you use one, and shows your face straight on – there is nothing worse than a camera looking up from below, it’s extremely unflattering!
  • Always check in advance what your camera is showing and adjust your background accordingly – is there a plant behind you that looks like it’s coming out of your head?
  • If your background is clearly domestic, then find a neutral background picture you can show, like a cityscape or a picture of an office
  • Always log on to your meeting at least ten minutes beforehand to check your audio and microphone and to catch and rectify any unsuspecting filters that may be lurking from previous users
  • When you’re presenting everyone can see your face much more closely, so a neutral, friendly expression is best and if someone else is speaking, remember everyone can still see your reactions
  • The mute and camera pause button is especially useful should someone unexpectedly disturb you
  • Remember to leave the meeting! Don’t assume the host will close it for you and you say something by mistake whilst everyone is still listening!

These are just a few basic tips.  I could easily list more, as the capabilities of remote platforms are endless, but these pointers should have even the most techno-phobic presenter prepared!