Can You Pass the Electric Kool-Aid Zoom Test? (Or 5 Zoom Horror Stories To Tell In the Dark)

I had used Zoom several times before 2020, but not nearly as often and certainly not in all the ways I have used it since the pandemic. Prior to 2020 my major experiences in Zoom were testing our law school Admissions virtual events with others in the I.T. department. To date I have now used Zoom to have small and large library meetings, produce remote library events, record professional presentations, create video tutorials and other trainings, deliver sessions live for virtual conferences, host watch parties, enjoy happy hours with coworkers, and even share birthday parties and holidays with friends and family. With fall coming to a close, I realized I have not seen in a singular post all of the tips I learned (by accident) this year. Below I’ll share my most epic Zoom fails from 2020.

Zoom Test infographic

Take the test: To start with, you have a score of 10! Deduct two points for each of the following fails you have made or encountered this year. Your remaining points will determine if you passed the electric kool-aid Zoom test, OR not (like me). Either way, by the end of this blog post you will definitely not make the same mistakes I have, or if you have already  you certainly will be reminded not to make them again.

 

  • Screenshot of Paranormal Activty 4

    Screenshot from Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

    America’s creepiest home streaming: We’ve all heard of America’s funniest home videos, but what about the creepiest? For video, in a horribly un-popular opinion I have to recommend you keep your own video square visible. Although it is possible to hide yourself in Zoom from your own view while in a meeting (and there are some who recommend it is best to keep yourself from looking at yourself when you should be paying attention to others), if you are like me and sometimes working with other family in the background this can get creepy quickly. How many times has my five year old snuck up on me from behind in a meeting? Too many to count… From experience I can say this can and will jump scare you if you cannot see your own video square and do not know what is coming up from behind. In less creepy advice, viewing your own square helps eliminate unnecessary cat butts on screen. As much as we love our pets, we do not always know what angle our colleagues are getting of said pet if we are busy taking notes or petting the cat (or both). When in doubt, turn off your video completely, and don’t forget to mute! This part is possibly the most popular Zoom tip of the year. It prevents others in your meeting or presentation from hearing the cat clawing at the door or making insane meows that definitely could have come straight out of a horror movie (particularly if your colleagues cannot see where the sound is coming from). There is already a frightening new horror film Host about a haunted Zoom call. And lets not even get started on the highly embarrassing kid comments from the background. They might be funny after the fact, but no parent wants to ponder what was almost said.

Deduct 2 points if something embarrassing, frightening or totally awkward was visible or audible in one of your Zoom calls this year.

 

  • Floating boxes on screen: This one completely caught me off guard. I had been host to dozens of Zoom meetings including a few webinars where I screen shared before I accidentally caused hundreds of attendees to question their sanity with several small floating boxes. I was screen-sharing a pre-recorded video presentation in Zoom and attempting to moderate the waiting room and chat when this happened. It had never happened to me before, though luckily I quickly realized the problem within a minute or so and simply re-started the recording. The problem? Sharing a video full screen on a single monitor. Everything was smooth in practices (even with one screen) BUT I did not need to view the waiting room/attendee list and the chat. Each time I would check chat or let someone in the room, those boxes would hover on top of the full screen video. The audience could not see the box content, but they did see strange grey boxes that covered up the screen share. The solution? If you are using only one monitor, make sure someone else can serve as co-host to handle the chat or waiting room so that no other windows hide the screen share content from the attendees. If you have two monitors, this will not be a problem at all since you can full screen on one, and arrange all other windows (like chat) in the other monitor.

Deduct 2 points if you have experienced floating boxes when screen sharing in Zoom this year.

 

  • Unexplained interruptions in Zoom:  Whether you are recording content for a presentation, creating a training or other library video, or in a live webinar or meeting the possibility for interruption is not out of the question just because people are not physically stopping by your doorway. In fact, interruptions have increased for me with the added notifications from email and Slack, chat reference shifts, and lets not forget our own cell phones or office phones. Depending on the number of devices you are using (on average I’d say there are at least 4 speakers where different sounds could come out all at the the same time) there is more potential than one might otherwise think for audio interference. Before and after you start a meeting or begin recording in Zoom, turn off all of the other devices, or at least mute them. If multiple push notifications are coming from the single device you are using, close programs, use the app settings to temporarily shut off notifications, and for email log out of it in your browser too. Otherwise, even with the apps off, push notices from the browser may still come through. These notices could also pop up in the corner, accidentally capturing them as part of your recording or even show that email title and blurb with meeting attendees in the top right of your screen. If you really need to be “off the radar” to make a recording (one example was when I recorded a short mindfulness audio script for the library), I got three phone calls in a row from a colleague before they realized I was in the middle of something. In hindsight, although this was not technically a meeting, I should have blocked out my email calendar to eliminate unnecessary interruptions while recording in Zoom.

Deduct 2 points if you have experienced a major audio-based interruption during a Zoom meeting or recording.

 

  • personal shopper photograph of text messages

    Screenshot from Personal Shopper (2017)

    Mystery chats: Perhaps we all have had our fair share of Zoom chat fails. I know I have… it is tempting when we do not see or interact with everyone as often or in the same ways that we used to do to chat with them in more private ways in the more public Zoom chat. Sometimes it isn’t necessarily a private conversation, but just not ideal for that particular meeting. In the case of one recent library event in Zoom, with a smaller group of people I private chatted another librarian to ask a question about the event. Although I did not chat the entire room, when they replied to me they did chat the entire room! It was just a simple answer, “No, not right now”, but it was so vague and out of nowhere for everyone else that other librarians working the Zoom event were wondering for days afterward what it was about and questioning if the message was meant for them. This was my fault for asking a question in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was not until later at a follow up meeting that I realized how much worry this simple mystery chat had caused my colleagues. The solution to this epic fail is simple – NEVER private chat in a Zoom meeting. If you feel like you need to do that, use another platform (Slack, email, or even text message) to ensure there will be no accidents. Let’s face it, Zoom chat is the new “reply all”. Just don’t do it! You can take this one step further and use Zoom room settings to prevent others from chatting with anyone but the host, or the disable chat completely. Because, really now, no one wants to be left wandering if their Zoom is actually being bombed by a ghost, à la the paranormal texts Kristen Stewart’s character received in 2017’s Personal Shopper.

Deduct 2 points if you have accidentally sent a private Zoom chat to the wrong person, to the entire room, or if your chat caused another person to reply all.

 

  • Not knowing who came to the party: There has been plenty of talk about how to increase your Zoom room security, from generating unique Zoom room IDs to password protecting the room, and of course disabling screen sharing and video cameras for attendees. I have seen less shared about using the Zoom registration page features and not so much about waiting rooms either. These were two aspects of Zoom that took me all summer to figure out. Initially I thought these features were a part of Zoom webinar and that I needed some special powers to unlock them. After reading up on Zoom’s help documentation I discovered I could not only create a registration page for any Zoom meeting, but that I could brand it with logos, supply it with event descriptions, and for security require an email address. These small improvements can turn your regular Zoom event into something that looks and feels (and is as secure as) a legit Zoom webinar.

The almost-webinar style Zoom:

  • require registration
  • enable waiting room
  • add description
  • use branding
  • mute upon entry
  • monitor RSVPs for suspicious emails

 

Even though I have not had issues with people who should not be attending a Zoom gathering or library event registering, it may serve as a deterrent for un-expected guests to the party. This added step also helps you as an event organizer have a pre-event headcount as well as a list of contact emails for sending information about the meeting or webinar to attendees both before and after the fact. I have used this to generate lists that can be easily copy and pasted into email To or CC fields for sharing recordings, handouts and slides with attendees. Knowing how many people are planning to attend can also help your library to know if publicizing is working well, or if you need to do more advertising for an event. If your event was considering break out rooms, a low RSVP count can also help you determine how many rooms, or if you want to forgo that and let everyone discuss in a single Zoom room for smaller event turnouts. The same place where you set up a registration page you can also check a box to turn on the “waiting room”. This is a little like the waiting room for the Black Lodge. Just because people gain access to the waiting room does not mean you have to let them in. It allows you and any co-hosts a final check-point for verifying people are a part of your event before allowing them access to the actual Zoom room. I highly recommend using this feature for events you expect will be very large, or for smaller discussions you are having with your community that may be about more personal or timely topics. We recently used a waiting room for our One Read Book Talk events so students would feel safe coming into the virtual room to openly and candidly discuss our community read of “We Shall Not Be Moved: The Desegregation of the University of Georgia” by Robert A. Pratt.

Deduct 2 points if you have been a part of any Zoom event that experienced a Zoom-bomber.

 

So, how did you do? Share your score with us in the comments! What are your most epic Zoom fails? Share other tips and tricks you have learned when using Zoom in 2020 below.

Metadata Services & Special Collections Librarian at UGA Law Library

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