To Zoom or Not to Zoom?

As we try to stay connected to our families, friends, jobs, and communities while we social distance, we spend our days “Zooming” or “FaceTiming.” Sometimes, this is a great way to come together, but it’s not the only way. Email still works. Letters are wonderful for communication that is not urgent. Phone calls can have an intimacy and a connection that a video feed might not. And last but not least, you can host a book exchange, like the Pace Center’s Bogle Fellows. However you do it, we hope you stay in touch with colleagues, friends, and family.

Zoom, in particular, has been in the news a lot, including a cautionary article in The New York Times, entitled “Why Zoom Is Terrible.”  Tools of this kind can be invaluable when in-person gatherings are impossible, but they cannot replicate the richness of direct face-to-face communication.

If, like many of us at Princeton, you are using Zoom, check out some pointers on looking your best provided by our own Cate Mahoney, who just defended her dissertation using this technology.  Congratulations, Cate!

Here are a number of additional tips for making the most of Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms.

Zoom Tips

Mute your audio and turn off your camera by default

Go to Settings > Audio > Mute microphone when joining a meeting and then Settings > Video > Turn off my video when joining a meeting. This will lessen your chances of falling victim to a “hot mic.”

Mute and unmute with your space bar

You can press and hold the spacebar to quickly mute and unmute your mic, right from your keyboard.

Learn handy keyboard shortcuts

Check out Zoom’s full list of hot keys and keyboard shortcuts.

Turn on gallery view

Gallery view lets you see everyone in the meeting at once, instead of just the person speaking. To turn on this feature, click the tab that says “Gallery view” in the top right corner. If the meeting has 49 or fewer attendees, you’ll be able to see all of their thumbnails displayed on one page. If there are more, you’ll have the option to move between multiple pages. Tired of seeing everyone? Click “Speaker view” in that same top right corner.

Hide non-video participants

On a larger call, your screen can get cluttered with participants, which can be distracting, especially if some don’t have their cameras on. Hide the participants who aren’t using video by going to Settings > Video > Meetings and check Hide non-video participants.

Share your screen

Share your screen for a Zoom meeting (or to watch a movie or play a game) with other participants by clicking the Share screen icon on the toolbar at the bottom of the meeting screen. You’ll have the option to share your entire desktop or just one of the windows you have open. Click the red Stop share button at the top of the screen to make yourself the center of attention once again.

Turn on the beauty filter

The filter aims to enhance your appearance, making you look dewy and well-rested. To turn it on, click the Up arrow next to Start video. Click Video settings and, under My video, check the box for Touch up my appearance.

Skype Tips

Blur your background

On Skype, you can blur the background of your video to hide any mess and minimize distractions. The background blur feature (which is the same on Microsoft Teams, as Microsoft owns both platforms) uses AI to keep the focus on you. To use this feature, click or tap on the Camera icon at the bottom of the screen and toggle on Blur my background.

Send a video message on Skype instead of live chatting

If you want to video chat with another Skype user but can’t get your times to match up, you can send a video message for them to watch when they can. To do this on the desktop version, click on the contact you want to message, click the three dots on the bottom right corner of your messaging history, and select Send video message to record a clip of up to three minutes for them to watch.

Talk with friends and relatives abroad with the Skype Translator

Skype has a translator service that will translate everything you say or type in real time for the person you are talking to. The text translator is available in more than 60 languages, while the voice translator is available for 10 languages (including English, Spanish, French, German, Mandarin Chinese, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, and Russian). You can enable it by going to Tools > Options > General > Skype translator.

Uncover Skype’s hidden emoticons

In its messaging feature, Skype offers a number of animated emoticons that help you liven up your conversation or better express your mood. While most of these are visible when you click the smiley face at the bottom left corner of a chat window, some are only accessible when you type a certain shortcut in, including ones that are a bit more PG-13, like an upraised middle finger and a mooning Santa. You can find all of the hidden emoticons on Skype’s support page.

Apple FaceTime for iPhone and Mac Tips

Add effects to your FaceTime chats

Make your FaceTime video call look a bit more interesting by adding effects — similar to how you would on Instagram. To do this, start a FaceTime call, tap the display, and tap the Effects button. Then tap the icon corresponding to your desired effect, such as a filter or a sticker. Effects will last throughout the call or until you decide to remove them.

Take a live photo during your FaceTime video call

To do this, tap the camera icon at the bottom of the screen. You will then be notified that “You took a FaceTime photo.” The photo will appear in your Photos app. Live Photos is enabled by default, but you can turn it off or back on by going to Settings > General > FaceTime.

Facebook Messenger Rooms Tips


Up to 50 people can chat in a room at once, with no time limit. You can join a room from your phone or computer — no need to download anything, according to Facebook.

Create a Facebook Messenger Room

Once it’s available in your area, here’s how to create a Room from your phone:

  1. Open the Messenger app.
  2. Tap the People tab at the bottom right of the screen.
  3. Tap Create a Room and select the people who you want to join.
  4. To share a room with people who don’t have a Facebook account, you can share the link with them. You can also share the room in your News Feed, Groups, and Events.


Messenger Rooms arrives as some people are looking for an alternative to Zoom, which has faced a number of security and privacy issues in the past two months. (If you are using Zoom, you can take steps to lock down your meetings and prevent Zoombombing.)

Messenger Rooms’ privacy protections include the ability to control who sees your room and can lock or unlock it. If it’s unlocked, anyone with the link can join and share the room with others. But the room creator has to be present to start the call. This individual can control who can join and can remove participants at any time, too. People can report a room for violating Facebook rules, though those reports will not include any video or audio from the call. Facebook doesn’t listen to your calls at all, according to the company.