Zoom: how it works

What is Zoom?

Zoom is an online platform that allows you to have a meeting virtually, where every participant is in a seperate location, but they can still hear and see each other.

Do I need the internet to use it?

Zoom is most commonly used on a device connected to the internet, and if you want to see or be seen then you will need to be online. But you can also dial in to a meeting using a normal phone line, in this case the person on the telephone can hear and be heard but cannot see or be seen.

Can I use it on any device connected to the internet?

Zoom works on a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. We find it tends to be best on a computer or laptop – but tablets and mobiles are fine too, although some functionality may not be available on these devices. 

Do I need a camera and a microphone?

If you are joining via the internet yes – but a smartphone and tablet will almost certainly have them built in, as will most modern laptops and desktop computers. Zoom makes it very easy to use – and every time you join a meeting you can test everything is working. Zoom also have a test meeting you can use at any time to see if your device will work with Zoom.

How much does it cost?

  • There is a free package that offers unlimited one to one and group meetings, but each group meeting is limited to 40 minutes.
  • The next package up is called the Pro package and has a fee:
    • £11.99/month plus VAT (works out about £14.50 per month) and group meetings can last up to 24 hours.
    • £119.90 plus VAT if you pay annually (equivilent to £9.99/month plus VAT). There is also a discount for charities - see below.   
    • Prices correct as of March 2022

The free Package does not offer all the functionality you might need – and the 40-minute limit may become an issue. If your group can afford it, the Pro package is worth it.

The Pro level account is £119.90 for a year. However, charities and not for profits can get a 20% discount by using the code ‘zoomcares’ making the cost £95.92 (note: this is only available when paying annually, not monthly).

Find out more about the Zoom packages.

Zoom account and features

Zoom offers lots of features to help you make the most of your meetings. For many of these features, you must enable them in your account settings first, to allow both yourself and the meeting participants to be able to use them during the meeting. You can often turn these features off during a meeting if you don't want to use them - but if you haven't enabled them in your settings, you won't be able to use them at all.

When you get your Zoom account, go the ‘Settings’ menu to choose which features you would like to enable. We have summarised some of the key features that you might want to use:

Host and Participant video: video is a key feature on Zoom, it makes the communication all the better – we strongly suggest you use these features.

Audio type: the Computer Audio option allows people to join via a device connected to the internet. The Telephone option allows people to dial in on a normal phone line. You can set the default to whatever you want, this default setting can be changed for individual meetings when setting them up (see Setting up meetings below).

Require a password: your Zoom account will be defaulted so that anyone joining a meeting requires a password – we suggest you keep this setting as it is (see Security below).

Chat and Private Chat: you can have a chat bar for participants to send written messages to everyone or someone else privately. This is a useful feature for helping to sort out any sound issues you might have, sharing links, and generally managing the meeting. Read the Zoom guidance on chat.

Co-host:  whoever owns the account and sets-up the meeting will be the host. You can also assign co-hosts, this is especially useful if you are using breakout rooms (see below) as it means a co-host can manage a breakout room. Read the Zoom guidance on Hosting and co-hosting meetings.

Polling: host and co-hosts can set up poll questions in meetings – this can be very handy for committee votes, among other things. Read the Zoom guidance on Polling for meetings.

Allow participants to rename themselves: this is useful as when some people join their name might just be ‘i-phone’ or if they have joined on a device owned by someone else it might have the name of the person who owns the device. Allow them to rename themselves so everyone knows who everyone is.

Screen Share: this allows you to share what is on your computer screen with everyone else in the meeting – it’s great for showing documents and sharing videos, for example. You can set it so that only the host can share their screen or that anyone can share their screen. If you set it to host only as default in the ‘Settings’ menu you can still change it to ‘everyone’ once an individual meeting has started. Read the Zoom guidance on Screen Sharing.

Nonverbal feedback: this allows people to use icons to express opinions or give feedback, such as ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘I need a break’ etc. They are not essential functionality but can useful. Read the Zoom guidance on Nonverbal feedback.

Breakout rooms: these can be very useful. They allow you to break up into smaller groups, then come back to the main room. You can set-up and manage breakout rooms within each individual meeting and either decide who goes in what room or let Zoom assign them randomly. Read the Zoom guidance on Breakout rooms.

Waiting room: this feature allows you to control who can enter the meeting. Everyone apart from the host goes into the ‘waiting room’ when they enter a meeting, the host then admits them at the click of a button. We recommend you use this feature for security reasons (see below). Read the guidance on Waiting rooms.

Allow users to select original sound: you might want to use this if you are using Zoom for online rehearsals, see our guidance on Vocal rehearsals and Instrumental rehearsals.  

Select data centre regions for meetings/webinars hosted by your account (paid for only accounts): see security below.

Recordings: it is possible for hosts and participants to record your Zoom meetings so they can watch them again. There have been some security concerns around this – see security below.

Zoom security

There have been some reports in the media of Zoom not being secure. Zoom have done a lot to address these vulnerabilities, and continue to do so. There are also simple measures you can take to ensure you are using it as securely as possible (see below) meaning the benefits offered by Zoom of being an affordable and usable platform probably outweigh security concerns in most instances.

Keep on top of updates: Zoom do release updates with security improvements and it's best to use the most recent version. You should get a message when you log in if an update is available. But it’s a good idea to check you have the most up to date version, particularly if you are experiencing sound or connection issues. Each Zoom user will need to do this on each individual device they use to access Zoom meetings. To do this log into the Zoom client (the programme installed on your device that allows you to run Zoom), click on your profile image and select 'Check for updates'.  

Zoom bombing: this is an uninvited person being able to join and disrupt a meeting, and then potentially gain access to a user’s computer. Zoom are addressing any potential issues and there are things you can do to protect yourself:

  • When you create your Zoom account you have the option to sign up / in with Google or Facebook account – it’s safer not to do this and to just use an email address.
  • Always set up meetings with a password required to enter.
  • Note that in Settings there is an ‘Embed password in meeting link for one-click join’ option. This means the link for a meeting will include the password – so anyone who has the link essentially has the password – this makes joining simple – but is also a bit less secure. If you do use this setting, make sure you don’t share the link with anyone who you don’t want to join.
  • Not sharing any joining information publicly is a good general rule in any case.
  • Always use a Waiting Room so the host controls who actually gets in to the meeting.
  • Once all participants are in the meeting the host can Lock The Meeting, preventing any additional or unwanted joiners.

Sensitive data: Most concerns relate to the possibility of confidential and sensitive data being accessed by hackers. The key question is; do you have any of this type of data stored in your account, discussed in meetings or stored in recordings of meetings? A government department meeting or a medical consultation almost certainly would; a teaching session with a child may present safeguarding issues. We think that for the purposes most groups are using Zoom, it is not very likely and so the risks are low.

Data hosting: Another security concern is about where in the world your meetings are hosted. Although all participants might be in the UK the data being sent between participants (e.g. images and audio) could be going through anywhere in the world. If it is a region that does not have robust privacy laws, the data being passed is not necessarily secure.

Paid for Zoom accounts can set which region they want data to go through. In settings go to ‘Select data centre regions for meetings/webinars hosted by your account’ and select it to ‘Europe’. USA will also be default selected and cannot be changed.

The free account does not have this option and will be defaulted to USA only.

In an ideal world it would be Europe only. However, as above, balancing the type of data of groups are likely to be exchanging, against the benefits of Zoom, we don’t think data going through the USA poses a significant risk.

Recordings: There have been some security concerns around where recordings of meetings are stored and who might gain access to them. This could be problematic for recordings that contain confidential organisational, or sensitive personal, information. Participants recording the meeting presents another risk as the recording is not controlled by the host.

Whilst a recording of an online rehearsal is unlikely to contain confidential and sensitive data, our recommendation is to only record meetings if there is a very good reason. If you don’t need it, why create the risk at all?  

Within the settings menu there is a recording tab, which allows you to set your recording preferences. We recommend turning off all recordings as your default – that will mean no one can record the meeting.

There will be some circumstances where a recording is useful (to help with minutes for board meetings for example). If you do want to record the meeting, then you need to enable recordings within your account settings before the meeting starts (remember to disable it again after).

Paid for accounts have the options of saving the recording to your local computer or in the Zoom cloud (they are stored by Zoom and you access it through your account, this can be useful in terms of saving storage space on your computer). Free accounts do not have the Zoom cloud options, so recordings can only be saved on your local computer. In either case there are some simple steps you can take to make sure your recording is as safe as possible:

  • Stored on local computer: the recording file will be saved to your computer with an automatic file name in a standard format - change this file name to something else, personal to you. 
  • Zoom cloud:
    • Make sure your account is set up so that data is stored in Europe (see data above)
    • Make sure it requires a password to access it

It's also a good idea to regularly delete recordings from both locations when they are no longer needed.

Setting up meetings

Setting up meetings is pretty straight forward. Click on the 'Schedule meeting' link and it will take you into where you set up a meeting. You select your date and time along with a few other settings (they will be defaulted to your account settings (see above) with the option to change them for the meeting you are setting up only).

Note: if you are allowing people to join via telephone, make sure you select the ‘Dial from’ region – this will mean you get the right phone numbers to share with people dialling in.

Once you have set it up there will be a URL to join and the option to ‘Copy the invitation’. These are the details you need to send to people you want to join the meeting.

They will include:

  • The URL
  • Password
  • Meeting ID
  • Phone numbers to dial in (if you are allowing this option)

Depending on how people are joining, they will need different bits of the above – so share all of it to make sure they have all the options.

Recurring meetings: if a meeting will be taking place on a regular basis, you can set it up as a recurring meeting. In this case, each recurrence will have the same joining details.

You can edit meetings once they are set-up – including recurring meetings, either the whole series or just one occurrence.

Before the meeting

If you are new to hosting Zoom meetings it’s a good idea to do some testing first.

Zoom have a test meeting you can join to test audio, camera and speakers as well as giving you a chance to see what the controls look like.

Some good things to get used to:

  • ‘Speaker’ and ‘Gallery’ view; this is about what people see on their screen. Each person can set it to their own preference in the meeting: 
    • Speaker view = the person speaking is visible. Good for presentation.
    • Gallery view = everyone is visible (the person speaking at any given time has a coloured box around them). Gallery view tends to be best for meetings.
  • Muting and unmuting
  • Turning video on and off
  • Waiting room
  • Participants tab (including non-verbal feedback for older versions of Zoom)
  • Reactions button (including non-verbal feedback for newer versions of Zoom)
  • Chat tab
  • Breakout rooms (if you are using them)

You should be aware that the controls can look different on different devices:

  • On laptops and PCs they all tend to be visible and obvious
  • On tablets and smartphones you normally have to tap the screen to see the controls, and sometimes swipe left to access them (for example on some tablets you have to swipe left to access the gallery view option)

You can also watch, and share, the Making Music video for people joining our events.  

You could also set up your own trial meeting and ask one or two people to join you, so you can get used to having other people in the meeting.

Help others: once you are happy, think about others who might be unsure of the technology. You could do another trial meeting with just you and them so they know how it works on their device and will feel more confident about joining a meeting. Or you could provide support over the phone initially – talking them through what to do.

Running the meeting

Think about what kind of meeting it is – business, social or rehearsal? How you use the functions might vary depending on your purpose.

Business meetings e.g. committee meetings:

  • For the first meeting at least (and potentially more) it’s a good idea to run through a few of the features so people know what’s what.
  • As you do more meetings you could just invite anyone who is new to join 10 minutes early for a quick run through – to save everyone else hearing it again.
  • Zoom works best when one person speaks at a time – when people talk at the same time no one can hear anything or there are delays:
    • Background noise can be a problem in this respect so asking everyone to mute themselves when not speaking is a good idea.
    • The host of the meeting needs to manage this and will probably have to be stricter than usual and invite people to speak.
    • People can indicate they want to speak by raising a hand, this could be by using the raise hand feature in Zoom, (which only host and co-host can see), if everyone is on video by actually just raising their hand or using the ‘thumbs up’ reaction button. Any of these can work, the important thing is that you have an agreed method.
    • Be aware that anyone dialling in by phone can’t raise their hand virtually or physically so you should make sure you have a plan for including them and inviting their views.
    • Because speaking over each other causes sound issues; the usual verbal ticks we have like saying ‘yes’ whilst someone is speaking can be problematic – so encouraging non-verbal feedback is good idea, such as using the reaction buttons (thumbs up) or physically nodding.
  • Send out documents for reading in advance – although you can use the ‘Screen share’ feature, it will move the meeting on quicker if everyone has a chance to read in advance. But do make use of the ‘Screen share' feature where needed.
  • If someone cannot be heard very well (e.g. the sound breaks up or is distorted) suggest they turn their video off. The sound issues might be related to the quality of their internet connection and turning the video off reduces the load and helps improve sound quality.  We also have a separate guide on how you can troubleshoot audio issues when using Zoom.

Social meetings:

  • Because it’s more social, managing the conversation and inviting people to speak will seem weird. It’s better to have everyone unmuted and let them speak when they want. You can still warn them about the sound issues when people talk at the same time – but they will get used to it and figure out a way to make it work!
  • If it’s a big group, consider breakout rooms – people will find it easier to be sociable online in smaller groups. Lots of people might mean some choose not to speak, or the sound is just too poor.
  • You can use breakout rooms as a chance to mix people up allowing them to ‘meet’ people they wouldn’t normally talk to.
  • Make it an occasion – encourage people to dress up or have a theme each week.
  • Do a ‘pub quiz’ – there are several ways this can work, including:
    • Everyone in one ‘room’ playing on their own.
    • Using ‘breakout rooms’ to have teams, you will either need a quiz master in each room or use the breakout room ‘broadcast’ feature to send written. You could also send the questions separately (e.g. by email).
  • Have a musical interlude:
    • Each week ask a member to nominate a piece of music they love, they could talk about it briefly, then it can be played for everyone. The best way to do this is to play it on the device they are using to join the meeting and select ‘Screen share’ and then click ‘share computer sound’ in the bottom left.
    • One person could perform something for everyone else to listen to.

Zoom for online rehearsals (instrumental)

Zoom for online rehearsals (vocal)

Troubleshooting Zoom audio issues

Online safeguarding guidance


We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.