Zoom Like a Pro!

COVID-19 made us do it!

For an organisation committed to connecting innovators across the West Midlands, Covid-19 could have had serious implications for the Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands. Our activity is heavily focussed around networking and events, joining dots across the regional ecosystem and encouraging collaborative behaviour to drive economic growth through innovation.

On 16th March 2020, we, like everyone around us, received instructions from the government to stay at home, keeping two meters apart from anyone outside of our immediate household, and adhere to strict guidelines banning meetings of any more than two people. This held huge implications for the current format of our events.

So how did we respond? We used innovation to drive innovation!

Innovation and COVID-19 – The WM Response and Legacy!

Our commitment to our stakeholders drove us on a quest to investigate how we could continue our mission to support the innovation ecosystem across the West Midlands. Two weeks into lockdown and we’d all had so many video calls that we were starting to wonder if the humble telephone was on the brink of extinction. Before long though, video conferencing platforms were here to stay and seeing behind the scenes of our colleague’s daily lives as we conversed from kitchens, lounges and dining tables across the land became the new ‘normal’.

After a few tests with our smaller networking groups we decided to challenge ourselves by holding one of our largest events to date ‘Innovation and COVID-19 – The WM Response and Legacy’. We needed keynotes, we needed breakout rooms, we needed networking and we needed to replicate face to face interaction as far as digitally possible.

Having experienced multiple platforms, we decided Zoom was going to help us get through our shopping list of needs. This isn’t to say that other platforms aren’t equally as efficient, we just noticed that Zoom was becoming the most frequently used and therefore our stakeholders’ understanding of its functions meant that we could ensure the best experience with minimal explanation. The event was a success with over 80 delegates, 3 keynote speakers, and 3 breakout rooms resulting in amazing feedback from our stakeholders.

Just a few short months ago Zoom was not the household name it has become today. Now we have all experienced it at some point here are our top tips to getting the best out of this nifty little tool for your own events…


Before you can do anything more than a short meeting the free zoom account isn’t going to cut it. You’ll need at least a pro account which allows you up to 100 participants and you won’t get cut off after 40 minutes.

Settings: Most of the setting options are up to you but here are a couple you’re going to want to change if you plan on doing anything outside of one main screen. Note that you need to set these up in advance as they wont kick in if you have already scheduled your meeting or your meeting is live – set these up before you do anything else.

  • Enable ‘Mute participants upon entry’ – this avoids any disruption to the presenter if a participant joins late and doesn’t realise that the event is already in full swing.
  • Enable ‘Chat’ – this enables you to collect questions from delegates during the presentations to be asked once the speaker has finished. This not only helps you keep to time but also enables the speaker to continue to answer questions whilst the next presentations continue without disruption.
  • Enable ‘Co-host’ – you’re going to want more than one host. We learnt very quickly that you can’t do everything at once so it needs a few of you to facilitate screen sharing, admitting delegates from the waiting room, muting and unmuting delegates and speakers and facilitating breakout sessions. Not to mention preventing your whole event falling down if your internet connection drops out (this may not be necessary for events under 30 delegates but the more delegates the more work needs to be happening in the background).
  • Enable ‘Screen sharing’ – this allows your presenters to share their own screen should they need to.
  • Enable ‘Remote control’ – we found this useful to save any strange pauses whilst different speakers shared their screen with separate slide decks. We had also experienced issues with presenters not being able to share their screens on previous events. However, on the day this function didn’t work and we had to resort to turning the slides for the speakers.
  • Enable ‘Breakout room’ – this brilliant little function allowed us to send delegates off to multiple virtual breakout rooms where they could hold separate discussions in smaller groups before coming back into the main ‘room’ to feedback. Delegates can be added to breakout rooms automatically at random or you can add them yourself. We gave our delegates the option and it took five minutes to send everyone on their way during a ‘virtual’ coffee break.
  • Enable ‘Waiting room’ – you will no doubt have some background setting up to do as a team and there is nowhere to hide in this new virtual space. To avoid your delegates sitting through your pep talk you can keep them in a waiting room until you are ready to get going.

Presentations: There are multiple options for presentations. Once you have the right settings above you can collect everything into one master deck or allow individual presenters to share their screens.

To avoid any challenges on the day we recommend you have every which way covered. We had a master deck which all co-hosts also had a copy of and the presenters had their individual decks.

Muting: People love to talk and lots of people will have some really interesting questions for your speakers. Bear in mind your timings and how you can realistically allow everyone to have their say without running the risk of seriously overrunning or going off-piste.

You have the option of muting everyone and preventing anyone from unmuting themselves. We found this option appropriate for the keynote sessions but allowed delegates to unmute themselves during breakout sessions as the groups were much smaller.

Asking Questions: To allow delegates to feel as engaged as possible we took questions via the chat function during the keynotes which we read out on their behalf. However, the breakout sessions are much easier to manage and there are options such as ‘raise hand’ which allow the breakout leads to chair easily.

Preparation & Stress Testing: No matter how well everyone thinks they know the platform there is always something new to learn.

We ran multiple sessions with the team and speakers to make sure they fully understood how the flow of the event would run, followed up with briefing papers detailing each team members remit. This helped everyone feel a lot more confident on the day as you can easily pick up when something isn’t going quite right without having to make a big song and dance about it!

They say practice makes perfect and that is certainly true when it comes to zooming!

Communication is Key: Once your team knows what they have to do it’s important you inform your delegates of the process you have chosen to follow.

Send details in your joining instructions to prevent being overloaded with questions during the flow of the event. Here’s some useful points for you to share with your delegates too…

  • Please login at least 15 mins early to allow for a smooth start. You will be held in a zoom waiting room until the event starts so feel free to grab your coffee and get comfortable!
  • Upon entering the zoom meeting all mics will be automatically muted.
  • We recommend you choose the ‘speaker view’ option so you can focus on who is speaking at any one time.
  • During the keynote sessions we welcome your questions for the panel discussions via the chat function. These will be collated by the team and we will endeavour to answer as many as possible, whilst still keeping to time.
  • If you are experiencing any issues during the event please send a direct message to Iain Mansell using the chat function or email iain_mansell@blackcountryconsortium.co.uk and we will do our very best to assist you.
  • It is advisable to turn off any VPN connection or other webinar facilities such as Skype and MS Teams to avoid lag and strain on your data connection.
  • Please use your full name when logging in!

Zoom Bombing!

We’ve heard horror stories that have led to some organisations avoiding Zoom due to a risk of uninvited guests ‘bombing’ events with offensive behaviour and content. To pre-empt any such disasters, we took the following precautions:

  • Enable ‘Require a password for Personal Meeting ID (PMI)’ in your settings
  • We used Eventbrite and only sent the link to registered delegates via email

We hope you find this useful. If you have any top zoom tips please feel free to share.

Happy Zooming!