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Zoom video calls: How exactly do they work?

Taylor Gadsden

May 2, 2020 — 8 min read

New to Zoom? We’ll teach you the basics on how to start hosting video calls and how to use security settings to defend against “Zoombombers.”

Although millions have been mandated to “shelter in place,” several aspects of life including work and school have continued to move forward for many. Classes need to be taught and business meetings held. Enter the popular video conferencing app called Zoom that you’ve likely heard about in recent weeks. But how do you get started on Zoom and is it safe for kids to use? We’ll explain everything you need to know about the platform and how to complete your setup.

What is Zoom?

Zoom is a video communications platform for laptops, desktops and mobile devices that is popular with businesses and remote workers. More recently, Zoom has become a key resource in many households as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. According to Forbes, the video service had its biggest day of downloads during the week of March 14, 2020 (343,000 users). 

The video hosting tool includes more than a few features that are helping students and workers during these unpredictable times.

Zoom’s main features

  • Team and 1:1 chats: These are free in the basic plan and available in every plan
  • Recording and transcription of meetings: A premium plan subscription is required, starting at $149.90/yr.
  • Screen sharing and co-annotation: Available with all plans free to $300/yr.
  • Support for up to 1,000 video participants and 49 videos on screen: Available with the Business United plan at $300/yr.

The features your Zoom account include will depend on the plan you choose. If you’re a recreational user looking to video chat with family and friends, you may want to opt for the free Basic plan. Many individuals and schools use the free plan.

For businesses or larger organizations, there are five types of paid plans and many options under each plan to choose from that cover basic meetings to Zoom Video Webinars and Zoom Rooms.

Zoom Video Webinars allow users to connect with large audiences while sharing video, audio and content from anywhere. Zoom Rooms offers wireless conferencing that is customizable for anyone who wants to change any room into a video conference room, connecting small to large teams from multiple locations. Whiteboard capability, content sharing and scheduling are components of Zoom Rooms.

How to choose which Zoom plan I need

Basic: Personal Meeting

  • Free
  • Host up to 100 participants
  • Group meetings for up to 40 minutes
  • Unlimited one-on-one meetings

Pro: Best for small teams

  • $149.90/yr.
  • Host up to 100 participants
  • Increase participants up to 1,000 with Large Meetings add-on
  • Group meetings for up to 30 hours
  • Social media streaming
  • 1GB Cloud Recording (per license)

Business: For small to medium businesses

  • $199.90/yr.
  • Host up to 300 participants
  • Increase participants up to 1,000 with Large Meetings add-on
  • Single sign-on
  • Recording transcripts
  • Managed domains
  • Company branding

Zoom United Business: Includes Zoom, Phone plan and Chat

  • $300/yr.
  • Includes all the phone features of Zoom United Pro
  • Includes calling plan, unlimited calling within US & Canada
  • Optional add-on: add unlimited calling in up to 18 other countries
  • Host meetings up to 300 participants
  • Single sign-on
  • Recording transcripts
  • Managed domains
  • Company branding

How do I get Zoom?

Zoom app downloads

The good news about the Zoom app is that if you are invited to a meeting via a Zoom url, it will automatically download the app to your device so you can use it. If you’d like to pre-download it, the app is available on the App Store and Google Play. 

Zoom Outlook plug-in and browser extensions

Zoom offers a download center where you can access Zoom Client for meetings, Microsoft Outlook Add-in to schedule meetings with one click, browser extensions, plug-ins and more.

A Zoom browser extension gives you the option to add it to Chrome or Firefox. You can then schedule meetings with one click from that browser. 

The center also offers a Zoom Client Plugin which is for sharing your iPhone or iPad screen in a remote meeting.

Using Zoom in an internet browser

If you are working from a browser, such as Google Chrome or Firefox, you can install the extension from the download center mentioned earlier and then, within your browser, go to and enter your meeting ID provided by the organizer.

Signing up for a basic plan is easy and free if you have a personal Facebook or Google account you don’t mind associating with the account. Click Sign in with the network of your choice to quickly sign up for a Zoom account.

To sign in manually:

  1. Enter your email address and wait for the Zoom email containing your confirmation link. Select Activate Account in the confirmation email.
  2. Enter your full name and the password of your choice into the fields. Your password must have at least eight characters, one letter, one number and upper and lower case characters.
  3. Input a few friends or family members to invite to Zoom, or you can opt to skip this step and start your test meeting.
  4. Begin your test meeting by choosing Start Meeting Now. On the following page, select download & run Zoom.
  5. Once you have downloaded Zoom, navigate to your personal URL on the Zoom Activation page and select the link to start your test meeting.
  6. You’ll have options to join with or without computer audio and video using your webcam. Test your speakers and microphone before you attempt to video chat with a family or friend.
  7. Invite your friends and family to also download and use Zoom so that you are able to chat with others. 

Zoom tips and tricks

How to create recurring meetings

Zoom allows you to create recurring meetings simply and recommends using the Google Calendar or Outlook add-ons for this. 

The support center offers step-by-step instructions on setting this up in Windows, macOS, Linux, Web, Android and iOS.

How to record Zoom calls

Recording is very simple within your call and is available on the free and paid versions. There are a few limitations to the recording feature, however. You will not see a timestamp or participants’ names in the recording and audio transcription is only available in the two higher-end plans.

Recording meetings on mobile

To record meetings on a mobile device, you must be a licensed Zoom plan user and the host of the meeting. Cloud recording is available with all paid plans and you can record on iOS and Android devices. 

The plans come with various storage capacity and additional storage is available for purchase. 

Where to watch Zoom recordings

You can access a recorded meeting from your local computer’s hard drive, if you didn’t use the cloud recording option. The meetings go directly into the [Username]/Documents/Zoom directory. 

If you used the cloud recording option, as the administrator, you can restrict others from editing or deleting as you share them. Zoom shares the several steps to manage and share your cloud recordings here

Zoom virtual backgrounds

If you’d rather not share your messy office space with others on your call, you can easily transform that room into a Tahitian beach or a popular coffee shop with Zoom backgrounds. If you are accessing Zoom from a computer, virtually any model can support virtual backgrounds. All Windows 7, 8 and 10 machines should be able to run it without issues. This is the same for macOS version 10.13 or higher.

If you are looking for a professional-level presentation, complete with green screens, Zoom offers several tips and requirements.

Touch up my appearance filter

If you aren’t looking your best for your Zoom-based job interview, consider using the video enhancement option of “Touch up my appearance.”

Using this, with the low-light filter, will soften your features and give you an airbrushed look automatically. 

Recording transcript option

To get a transcript with your recording, you must have the cloud recording feature enabled, have a Business, Education or Enterprise license, and be the administrator or owner.

The transcription offers a timestamp to show the place it belongs within the recording. You can edit the text for capitalization or punctuation. Currently, the translator only supports the English language. 

Zoom keyboard shortcuts

There are many shortcut controls within Zoom. They include general commands like “closing the current window,” meeting-related commands like “start/stop video,” chat-based ones like “screenshot” and phone-related commands like “accept inbound call.”

The commands vary with your operating system and the multiple variations can be found at the Zoom support center.

Is Zoom safe for kids?

Security concerns were raised after researcher Jonathan Leitschuh published a blog post outlining vulnerabilities within the app. 

The one link entryway method Zoom uses to enter video conferencing may be easy and convenient for users but, according to Leitschuh, it could also allow malicious users to start a meeting and activate your webcam.

The platform released plans to address this concern in future iterations of the tool by giving users more control of their video settings. The company also said they are still unaware of an instance where the vulnerability expressed in Leitschuh’s posts has been exploited. 

That same one link entryway method could result in a term you’ve likely never heard of before this past month: “Zoombombing.”

Zoombombers can get the link to your meeting and can sit in or display any content that they’d like. Zoombombers have been known to disrupt business meetings and even grade school online classes. 

As recently as April 6, 2020, the New York City Department of Education has cautioned principals against the platform due to reports of Zoombombing and endorsed services by Google and Microsoft instead. 

“The safety and security of our staff and students is at the forefront of every decision we make around remote learning, and for that reason, we have asked schools to transition away from using Zoom as soon as possible,” a DOE spokesperson told CNBC.

Zoom CEO, Eric Yuan, has publicly acknowledged the platform’s problem with Zoombombing and has released a blog post detailing steps they’ve taken to protect users including an updated privacy policy and removal of the Facebook PSK in their iOS client. 

If you’re concerned about the security of your video conferences, try a few precautions to keep things safe for everyone involved in the call:

  1. Don’t share call invites: Keep the link to your video conference between you and the key participants.
  2. Set up unique meetings: It’s easy and quick to use your Personal Meeting ID to host each meeting, but it’s just as easy for hackers to access your calls after they’ve obtained your ID. 
  3. Require a password: Password protect all calls in your Advanced Settings to add an extra layer of protection.
  4. Deactivate screen sharing: In your Advanced Settings, you can disable screen sharing settings that allow hackers to take control of a meeting and share their own content.

You can also take advantage of some online resources that will help you familiarize yourself and your household with Zoom:

Looking for more ways to connect with loved ones? Check out some additional resources that have grown in popularity during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Taylor Gadsden

Written by:

Taylor Gadsden

Writer, Broadband Content

Taylor is a veteran member of the Allconnect content team and has spearheaded a number of projects, including a data piece on the top fiber cities in the U.S. and a troubleshooting guide on how to connect your p… Read more

Trey Paul

Edited by:

Trey Paul

Editor, Broadband Content

Read bio