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Zoom backgrounds: How can I make them work?

This “Zoom background” post has been developed by one of my colleagues and friends, Jamie Studts, who always has an interesting background as part of his zoom meetings. Thank you, Jamie!

I should start by noting that I do not have any specific training in technology; therefore, it is very possible and even likely that there are more efficient and better ways of developing backgrounds for Zoom. However, this is the way I have used, and it works for me. I can’t imagine there are many folks who are using Zoom less these days than they were six months ago.  My own personal record is 8 Zoom meetings in one day, and another record total of 7 hours of Zoom in a single day (not all in one meeting). A small silver lining of this experience has been the ability to develop backgrounds for Zoom that can be uploaded to reflect your work environment, your mood, or even make a point or just a joke. One of my favorites is a picture of a pub in Ireland that makes it look like I am relaxing and having a beverage. Here are three “big” steps for setting up your virtual background:

  1. Set up the “virtual background” option in Zoom (note when in doubt, Zoom provides some helpful tutorials. Here is one on Virtual Backgrounds.)
    • Sign into your Zoom account
    • Go to “Settings”
    • Go to “In Meeting” (Advanced)
    • Select “Virtual Background” tab and make sure it is “on”
  2. Use what is already there.
    • Log into your Desktop “Application” of Zoom (note: this is not just logging into the zoom website or your organizations zoom account)
    • Go to “Settings” (the very small icon on the right of your screen – looks like “gears”)
    • Select the “Virtual Background” tab. 
      • IF your computer processor meets standards, then you will then see a window that shows your current background and zoom options
      • If not, it will give you a “warning sign” that your computer does not meet the standards (but you can “enable” anyway) and you have to choose “I have a green screen” 🙂 
    • You can choose one of the options that is provided
  3. Create your own. You can download one from your organization or institution or you can develop your own. I have not identified a way to modify background files within Zoom, so I use Microsoft PowerPoint to create mine. You are only constrained by your PowerPoint skills and your own creativity. Here are a few steps:
    • Open a blank PowerPoint file and then create a slide that you want to have as your background. 
    • After creating your design, save your PowerPoint file in different formats using the “Save As” instruction in the “File” tab within PowerPoint. I save the slide file as either a jpeg or png file. (I just googled the difference between these two file formats because I didn’t know. Google indicated that png file have better quality but are also larger files. I have used both without any problems within Zoom). Note: At this point, which could probably change in the future, Zoom does not permit uploads of PowerPoint files). 
    • Re-open Zoom (Desktop), go back to the “Virtual Background” tab within the “Settings” window, and upload the file by clicking on the + sign.  
    • Then select your .jpg or .png file and upload it to Zoom—it may be automatically selected and shown on-screen. 
    • Start a Zoom meeting and see how it looks. I have rarely loved my first effort, so I go back and revise the slide, re-save the file, upload it, and see if I like it better.  With time and practice, I go through fewer iterations, but the iterations also help me remember the process.

There are probably many more caveats to note, but here are a couple of things to consider. As I mentioned, there may be ways to create backgrounds for your zoom meetings that are faster, easier, and better, but this is one way that works for me. 

  • First, not all computers have the potential to use Zoom backgrounds, but I am not sure about the minimum hardware or software standards (see Zoom system requirements for Virtual Backgrounds). 
  • Second, when you save the files in PowerPoint, I would recommend you save only the slide you are designing, otherwise, PowerPoint will save a folder with the individual jpeg/png files embedded.  It doesn’t really matter, but it then takes another click to find the right file you wish to upload. 
  • Third, for a variety of reasons, Zoom frequently updates the software. While this is generally good because they are improving security and expanding functionality, it does create the possibility that the instructions will need to change to keep up with software revisions.
  • Final note, I generated these instructions for the PC environment, but I have also generated the backgrounds on an apple platform with similar success. However, the exact tab names and procedures may be a little different. Good luck – Jamie

So what about you? What has been your favorite zoom background (either yours or someone else’s)?

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Photo by Martin Jernberg on Unsplash

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