How to Use Zoom to Video Chat from Almost Anywhere

Stay connected to your family and friends with this video meeting service.

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The spread of coronavirus has many of us isolating at home, but just because you can't see your friends and family in person, that doesn't mean you can keep in touch with them or even enjoy a drink or meal together—online, of course. At the moment, one of the most popular ways to video chat is with Zoom, a video conferencing platform that was initially launched to serve coworkers meeting when working remotely, but can also be used for families to connect or even for kids to stay in touch with their buddies from school.

Unlike FaceTime, which is for Apple products only, Zoom can be used by anyone who has an account and a device equipped with a video camera and an internet connection. (It's similar to Skype, which has waned a bit in popularity.) But while you may be prepared with your device and your WiFi, you still might be confused when it comes to setting up an account and hosting a chat. After all, the Zoom website prompts users to "enter [their] work email"—if you're just trying to talk to a loved one, the corporate look of the site might throw you off.

So, we're here to help. Read on to find out how to get started on Zoom, how to use the video chat platform, and about a couple of tips and tricks that can make chatting more fun. You'll be talking to your family and friends with your own personalized background in no time.

Before You Get Started

Girl on laptop at home
Shutterstock

Before you start using Zoom, you need to be sure you have a device that is compatible. Zoom works with smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers, as long as they have a built-in video camera or are connected to a webcam. Of course, you'll also need to have a steady internet connection that can handle sending and receiving live video without glitching too much. You don't want your conversation to consist of everyone saying "Huh? What was that?" the whole time.

You should also know before starting that Zoom that you'll need an account, and everyone you talk to also has to have their own (or one they can borrow). You can't chat from a Zoom account to someone on FaceTime, for instance.

Lastly, there are the different types of accounts that Zoom offers. Since Zoom is specifically designed for work meetings, there are plans that range from totally free up to $19.99/month. The higher priced plans include perks like meetings that can accommodate 500 people and storage space. (Zoom meetings can be recorded by clicking a button, but you should make sure that everyone you're speaking with is okay with that first.)

If you're just looking to talk to friends and family, the free plan should work fine. However, you should know that free plans cut off chats of three or more people at 40 minutes. This may be enough time for a quick checkin—and you could just start the chat over again, if needed—but would be annoying in an important business meeting.

How to Use Zoom

Zoom welcome screen
Screenshot/Zoom

Step 1: Create an Account and Download Zoom

There are two ways to create an account. The first way is to head to Zoom.us. On the site, you'll see an area when you can "enter your work email." You don't need to enter a work email—you can enter any email address you want to use. After this, you'll be prompted to create an account by entering your name and a password. The next screen will download Zoom to your computer. When you see the program pop up at the bottom of your browser, you'll need to click on it, and follow the instructions to accept the terms and conditions. Zoom will then open on your device, and you'll be ready for the next step.

Zoom Download Screen
Screenshot/Zoom

The second way to create an account is to download the Zoom app first. For instance, if you have an Apple product, like an iPhone, you can open the App Store, search for Zoom, download the app, and then open it and click "Sign up." Just like registering online, you'll still need to enter an email and password.

Step 2A: Invite People to Meet

Zoom Home Dashboard
Screenshot/Zoom

Once you have Zoom downloaded and are signed into your account, you can start inviting people to video chat with you. To do this, you'll need to click on "New Meeting." If it's your first time using Zoom, you may be prompted to allow Zoom to access your camera and microphone, which you'll need to agree to in order for your friends and family to see and hear you.

After clicking "New Meeting" you can click "Invite," which lets you to invite others using their email addresses. You can also click "Copy URL" or "Copy Invitation" to send anyone you want to chat with a link that will bring them to your chat. You'll also need to give them the "Meeting Password," which will appear on the bottom of the screen. (Eventually, you can have a list of contacts in Zoom that you can invite within the program, but if it's your first time, they won't appear yet.)

At this point, you should have invited your guests with using their emails or by sending them a link and password. If you've done this, head to Step 3.

Step 2B: Join a Meeting

Now, say you don't want to start the chat yourself, but instead need to join a meeting that someone else started. If this is the case, you'll receive an email asking you to join a meeting, a notification in Zoom asking you to join a meeting (if you're connected as a "contact"), or a link and password for a meeting. If you receive an email or notification, you'll be prompted to click through if you want to join the video call. If you are sent a link, you'll click it, enter the password, and be part of the meeting.

Step 3: Meet!

Once your invitation has been accepted or you have accepted an invite, it's time to have your video call. If you are the one who started the meeting, you should see whoever you invited pop up onscreen. (Well, as long as they agree and show up when you tell them to.) If you are joining, you will see whoever invited you. Now, you just have to talk. Again, if the person you are talking to cannot hear or see you, you may need to go into your device's settings to allow Zoom to access to the camera and microphone. Also make sure that your sound isn't muted and that your computer camera isn't covered.

However, the mute function (which you can find at the bottom left of your screen) can be helpful if you're mostly listening in and there's a lot of background noise around you. Just remember to un-mute yourself when you want to speak.

Zoom Tips and Tricks

young woman in glasses waving to her laptop
Shutterstock

Now that you are chatting on Zoom, you might want to try some extras that can make your meetings more interesting. (Or at least make the person you're chatting with say, "Ooh, how did you do that?")

One of our favorite tricks is that you can—as long as your device has the capability—change your background. So, instead of your friends or colleagues seeing you in your living room, they can see you in space or on a beach in front of a massive stack of pancakes. To do this on a computer, you'll need to go to "Settings" — that's the little gear in the upper righthand corner — and click "Virtual Background" in the sidebar. Here, you can choose one of the backgrounds that is listed or upload your own photo to use as a background by clicking the plus-sign (+) for "Add Virtual Background Image."

 

Zoom Settings Screen Virtual Background
Screenshot/Zoom

On the phone app, you can only change your background once you're in a meeting. When you're in your chat, you'll click the three dots that say "More" underneath, and then select "Virtual Background". As with the instructions above, you can then choose one of the available backgrounds or choose your own from the photos on your phone by clicking the plus-sign (+).

Another fun feature is Reactions. You can react to something during a video chat with an emoji by clicking on "Reactions" at the bottom of the chat screen in the computer version or by clicking "More" at the bottom of the screen on the phone version. There, you'll be able to digitally clap your approval or give a thumbs up, just like you can in a text.

Zoom Meeting Screen
Screenshot/Zoom

Lastly, if you are meeting with multiple people at once, you may want to turn on "Gallery View," which will allow you to see all of them. (Seriously, all. Gallery can accommodate up 49 people different screens at once.) To do this, you'll need to click on "Gallery View" in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

On a smartphone, if you have a high number of people in your chat, you'll need to scroll to see them all, as they won't all be placed on the same screen. If you swipe to the left, you'll be able to see more people if they don't all appear on the first screen. The display will also flip automatically if you change the orientation of the way you're holding your phone.

There you have it: the basics on Zoom—if you aren't using it for work. Now get to meeting!

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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