During the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom has emerged as the go-to solution for everything from yoga classes to official local government meetings. In my own sequestered life, in addition to using Zoom to meet with my book club and chat with friends, I’ve had a part in City Council meetings, a town hall by a Senate candidate, a nonprofit board meeting, and a PAC committee meeting. The only problem is that Zoom is so easy to use that it’s too easy to overlook Zoom’s various features and settings.
I’ve been sending tips and articles to my government and nonprofit clients to help them make their Zoom meetings as secure and user-friendly as possible:
1. Make sure you have the latest version of Zoom on your machine.
Security issues have been patched, so you must do this whether you are having large public meetings or just chatting with friends. When I checked my Zoom application on my PC, it had not been updated automatically, so I followed these directions: Where do I Download the Latest Version? It may take a minute, so do this when you are not trying to join or start a meeting.
On a desktop computer, to see if you have the latest version, open the Zoom client, click on your profile picture in the upper right corner, and select “Check for Updates.”
2. Maybe set up a “Webinar” instead of a “Meeting.”
Webinars are better for things like City Council meetings, Town Halls, church services and other situations where there are many attendees and only a few speakers. The host of the webinar has full permissions to manage the webinar, panelists, and attendees (i.e., the public). Your City Council or Board members could be panelists. “Attendees are view-only participants who can be unmuted if the host chooses. Their view of the webinar is controlled by the host. They can interact with the host and the panelists through the Q&A and the chat.” Read more about Webinars on Zoom’s website: Roles in a Webinar.
If you are using the Meeting format instead, please see Zoom’s help on Managing Participants in a Meeting.
4. Disable features for people other than the host.
If you are using the Meeting format, there are some key settings to apply, so please read the help doc: Managing Participants in a Meeting.
These are my suggestions for meetings other than those for informal or small groups:
- Enable the Waiting Room
- Automatically mute participants as they join the meeting.
- Don’t allow participants to rename themselves (you can rename them if needed). I got this tip thanks to a teacher friend whose kids were giving themselves clever names like “Buttman.”
- Don’t allow participants to show or change a profile picture. This is a new feature in Zoom 5.0.
- Disable enter/exit Chime.
- Lock meeting: Don’t allow other participants to join the meeting in progress. However, if this is under the Open Meetings Act, this is probably off the table.
- Prevent participants from screen sharing – this is important! Try to gather necessary materials from participants ahead of time and share them as the host. In a pinch, people can always email you documents. This might be a good job for your meeting Facilitator.
And finally, note the instructions on how to dismiss participants from the meeting.
5. Use Passwords and the Waiting Room option.
On April 5, Zoom enabled passwords and virtual waiting rooms by default for Free Basic and (single license) Pro users. Read more about these features on The Verge.
6. Enlist a Facilitator for your Meeting.
If you are responsible for the agenda, the content, and taking notes, it will be next to impossible to also keep an eye on security, access, letting people ask questions, keeping the noise down, and other technical aspects of the meeting. Appoint someone who is not too deeply involved with the meeting agenda to handle these issues and allow you to focus on the goals of the meeting.
7. Don’t re-use passwords.
With Zoom and with all of your accounts, don’t re-use or share passwords between accounts. Recently over 500,000 Zoom account credentials were made available for sale on the dark web. The passwords weren’t stolen from Zoom or hacked, they were simply re-used from older data breaches that were already available online.
8. Use the new “At-Risk Meeting Notifier” to prevent disruptions
The At-Risk Meeting Notifier scans public posts on social media sites and other public online resources for Zoom meeting links. When it finds publicly posted meeting information, Zoom notifies account owners and admins by email. You do not have to do anything to activate this feature, but if Zoom sends you a notification, you need to act to protect your meeting. Read more about this feature on Zoom’s help docs. The help docs correctly point out that the best way to keep your public meeting from being disrupted is to use the Webinar format.
Making your Meeting more User-friendly:
1. Tell the attendees that you will be recording the meeting.
And of course, if this meeting is of an official nature, you will need to record it. Then, you can post the recording on your website for people who couldn’t tune in.
2. Use the Mute feature or encourage participants to mute themselves until they are ready to speak.
Be sure participants know that you can hear every dog bark, keyboard tap, and chair squeak! You can mute all the participants and ask them to “raise their hand” or use the chat feature to ask a question. Consider asking people to e-mail or call in questions or comments ahead of time.
3. Allow users to join by phone.
Zoom allows people to call in using a regular phone number. For public meetings, I highly encourage this because not everyone has great bandwidth at their homes. Here is how to join by phone. If your meeting is subject to the Open Meetings Act, you may need a toll-free number, so please check with your legal counsel.
By the way, phone numbers can get disrupted or hacked too, so use your parking or mute features just as you would for Zoom or any other videoconference.
4. Practice makes perfect!
Schedule dry runs with staff, councilmembers or board members using the software and technology. Check microphones and cameras and go through muting, hand-raising, chat or any other special features. While you are at it, make sure everyone has the most up-to-date software version.
Please check out these great sources:
Your needs will depend on how much public access your meeting needs, so please read through these short articles and see which security features apply to your situation.
5 Things you can Do to Make Zooming Safer — Naked Security by Sophos
How to Keep your Zoom meetings Private and Secure — Wired Magazine
And, if you are subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act, here is Governor Abbott’s Declaration about Online Meetings and the Open Meetings Act:
If you need assistance with meetings or help with communications during this unprecedented time, please feel free to reach out.