Zoom Tips – Avoid common mistakes – be prepared and practice, practice, practice!

  • Test out your internet connection with a friend before your first zoom presentation, if possible!
  • When testing out your connection, test out the area where you will sit during your presentation – choose an area with great lighting and make sure your “friend” can see and hear you well. See the detailed tech tips below.
  • Practice with the Zoom controls while you have a friend helping out – practice sharing your screen and managing participants (including how to mute/unmute everyone, how to change names, etc.). If you’re going to use a virtual background, this is the time to practice using that feature. 
  • On the day of your presentation, come online to Zoom about 10-15 minutes prior to your schedule time to make sure there are no connection issues and make sure that you have everything you need to make your presentation successful. 
  • Establish ground rules at the beginning of the session for moderating conversations. If there will be a time for participants to speak, lay out some ground rules for contributing to the conversation. (Do you want people to use the “raise the hand” feature? Do you want people to message you in the chat if they have something to share? Is it a free-for-all?)

How to look and sound good

    Stay away from busy patterns – wear a solid color but not white or black. Consider a little makeup/powder to minimize shiny skin.
    Avoid “wide-angle face” – Get back from the camera to avoid distortion. Your face should not fill the frame. The camera should be at your eye level, not higher or lower. Put a box or some books under your laptop to raise it up to eye level.
    Avoid “shady face” – where half of your face is shaded or blocked in some way.
    – Use a soft light if possible. A lamp with a big white shade is a great source – place it near your camera, not too far to the side, so your whole face is lit evenly. Or try indirect light for a nice soft look – try bouncing a light off the wall behind your computer. Avoid backlight and sidelight
    – Don’t sit with your back to a window or place any strong lights behind you. If you wear glasses, you’ll need to experiment to find a good placement that doesn’t cause your glasses to reflect.
    – If you’re sitting in front of a large monitor, much of your light will come from the screen and it will probably add a blue tint to your face. If you’re using your built-in webcam and have this challenge, you’ll need some additional software (iGlasses is a great one for Macs) so you can warm up the color of your face. This software also lets you crop your image, helping to reduce the wide-angle effect.
    Be aware of your background – it communicates a lot about who you are so choose carefully and be aware of every element that others will see. Think of this as an “environmental portrait.” Does this background help communicate who you are, or does it make the wrong impression?
    – Boring is better than cluttered and distracting. Be aware of distracting elements. You want people looking at and listening to you, not trying to figure out what that thing in the background is.
    – Separate yourself from the background – position yourself as far away from the background as possible. This adds some depth and looks more pleasing.
    – Virtual Zoom backgrounds are tempting to play with but not recommended unless you have a green screen and know how to use it.
    – If you’re going to be doing this more than a couple of times, invest in an external microphone. Try clipping this $20 mic to your shirt – it will prevent you from sounding like you’re standing in the next room – it plugs into your microphone jack on your laptop or desktop computer. In Zoom, go into general settings and adjust the audio, to pick your accessory mic instead of the mic from the webcam. And of course, select a quiet environment.  Also, the “deader” the room, the better the sound. Soft, sound-absorbing surfaces are better than hard surfaces.

Watch this video – it covers all this in depth.

Tech/Equipment Recommendations for Hosts

If you’re just attending a Zoom meeting, the tips above are all you need. But if you’re regularly making presentations and/or hosting meetings, you may want to go a little further to make yourself look and sound professional.

Some computers have external microphone jacks but many do not. The easiest way around that is to get a mic that plugs into a USB port – or, you can use a USB adapter for a mic with a regular plug.  USB Adapter  Another USB Adaptor

External microphones

  • You can pin a simple lavalier mic like this one to your shirt, or you can use a bigger mic on a stand, like these:


If you’re hosting a Zoom session, you probably want your computer keyboard and screen right in front of you. Unfortunately that means your built-in laptop camera will probably be too close to you and at the wrong angle. And depending on your computer, you may not even have a built-in camera or the camera is most likely inferior to the kind of quality you can get from an external camera. There are many webcams from which to choose in the $50 to $175 range. A search on Amazon for “webcam” will yield a lot of choices. Check the reviews, try one out, and return it if you’re not happy with it. The camera should be positioned at your eye level, and not so close that your face is distorted.

Avoid hard shadows. That means using a soft light – a soft light emanates from a wide source, creating virtually shadowless lighting. Here are some suggestions.

Soft box – the classic way to achieve a flattering soft light. Position this next to and a little higher than your camera. If you wear glasses be aware of reflections, You may have to play with the positioning to minimize them. Raising the light source a little usually solves the glasses challenge.

Ring lights are another way to achieve a soft light effect but would require some special rigging to mount on your camera. They’re designed to encircle the lens completely. For glasses wearers, this could be a problem since it is in a fixed position at your lens.

See above about backgrounds. If you don’t have a natural setting that works, you might want to choose some fabric or curtains, or you could purchase a backdrop. Check out some of these for inspiration.