Thursday, April 16, 2020

Stay in: Avoid the Zoom of Gloom

by Peggy Robin

The “Stay In” (formerly known as “Get Out!”) column resumes with more tips for reaching out to others without the in-person touch we all knew and loved.

Instead, we must ZOOM. That’s the most popular way we’re meeting each other face-to-face these days – or face-to-faces, up to the number of people accepting invitations for a scheduled meeting in cyberspace.

Before you greet each other, you must each spend your first five or ten minutes establishing your connection, which means you let others will see you mouthing the words, “Can you hear me?” into the camera, while your own screen will show the others mouthing those same words back at you.

Once you all have figured out how to turn the audio on, you can spend another five or ten minutes yelling at each other to adjust your camera position, or adjust your heads, so that you can see more than George’s bald spot and view more than the left side of Norma’s face at the edge of the screen, or get Rudolf to stop showing you an extreme closeup of his red, red nose. Once you can see everyone and they can see you, then there’s one more round of sound checks from people who have suddenly lost the audio, or moved too far away from the microphone when backing up to stop giving you that extreme closeup of their nasal passages.

Is there any way to avoid this scenario? Maybe not entirely, but there are measures that everyone can take to make the Zoom time a little less gloomy. You – and everyone in your Zooming circle of friends – can help make things run faster and better if you will all just do your bit to prepare for the meeting. Just follow these simple steps:

1. Check your appearance. Before you even sit down in front of the computer, take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Is your hair combed? Check. Is there anything stuck between your teeth? Fix that now! Are you dressed decently? And  NOT just from the waist up! Why (you may ask), when no one’s going to see anything below the belt? HAH! You are NOT thinking ahead. You think you live in a world without hot coffee spills, or a cat that can brush by the lid of the laptop and suddenly change the camera view? Just about any flukey thing with a  thousand-to-one odds against its occurrence that could embarrass you on camera has already happened to someone else, someone who never thought through the possibilities. And consider this: Once you’ve been captured on Zoom leaping up from your chair and running out of the room half-naked, remember, there’s likely someone who’s captured that image and is ready to send it straight to YouTube, where it will forever live in infamy. YOUR infamy, that is.

2. Decide what screen view you prefer. You can choose to see all the participants (“gallery view”) or view the active speaker on full screen, or create
a customized view that will arrange the talking heads to your own satisfaction. Learn what your screen view option are here: -- and how to change them. For other helpful tutorials in Zoom, go to: Zoom videos are short (most are no more than a minute or two) and to the point. I particularly 
found the “Start a test meeting” exercise to be 
most helpful:

3.  Prepare your instruments ahead of time. Open up Zoom BEFORE the designated appointment time. Do the audio check. Next, test your video. Adjust your screen view. Let your fellow meeting participants know in advance that they’re supposed to make their own preparations ahead of time, too. If you are the person in charge of the meeting, you can send out gentle reminders well before the meeting starts. But don’t get overly optimistic. There’s bound to be one or two who’ll claim they never got the memo. Or if they got it, they never read it. Or if they read it, they didn’t understand the instructions. So, in all likelihood, you will still need to waste some time at the start of the meeting as they fiddle with the audio and adjust their screen views. But at least it won’t be on you!

4. Don’t eat or drink during your Zoom meeting. See above for the hot coffee spill scenario. What about a glass of water? By all means, stay hydrated – BEFORE the meeting. Bring your glass of water into your Zoom meeting only if you are wearing a wet suit and your computer is secure inside an Otterbox® case.

5. Consider what’s in the background. If it’s a bookcase, remember, people WILL read the titles on the spines and comment on your taste in literature. Better take down that framed, autographed, 1990 Baywatch poster from the wall behind you! Remove anything visible you’d rather not be judged for owning. Or you can use the “Virtual Background” feature in Zoom to make it look like you live in a 18th Century salon in a chateau on the Loire. Or you’re Zooming in from the deck of your villa on a Caribbean island. Go to: for instructions on how to rid yourself of the real-life clutter behind you and replace it with the most sumptuous setting you can download for free. Or better still, make it appear as if you are living in squalor and clearly need a raise.

6. Think about your privacy. You’ve probably read that Zoom has some troublesome security flaws. If you not up on that, you can read about it in the Washington PostZoom meetings have been hacked, and in some cases the intruders have insulted or even terrorized the participants. Now, that’s not about to happen to you unless you are already a person with some serious enemies. The armies of trolls out there aren’t interested in breaking up your online bridge game. Nor is anyone going to hack into your book club's discussion of “Sense and Sensibility.” Or steal your Snickerdoodle recipe just as you are revealing what secret spice you knead into the cookie dough. Still, you are wise not to do or say anything over Zoom that might be considered confidential or easily misconstrued, if made public. You’re on Zoom – and by definition you’re on the internet. So smile for the camera and posterity. And save your innermost thoughts for the diary you keep locked and hidden away under the mattress.

To finish out this column, I was planning to include links to some of the funniest Zoom “fails” – those weird and awkward things people have been caught doing on Zoom. You know -- stuff like, the toddler who wanders into the room, proudly shouting, “Mommy, I made the biggest poopie in the potty!” Or the husband, wrapped only in a towel, dashing down the hallway to the bathroom. But in every compilation of “Zoom Fails” I looked at, there was always at least one scene that was too humiliating or too gross to be funny. More things cringe-worthy than cute. And we have more than enough to groan about as it is.

To remove the gloom from our Zoom, try a symphony instead -- the "Ode to Joy" from the socially distant Bamburger Symphony -- or better still, a choir singing "Somewhere over the Rainbow. But if I could, I would tweak one of the lyrics just a bit: One day I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the Covid’s far behind me….”

The ”Stay In” non-events column is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Thursdays.   

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