SIOUX CITY -- In April, just after the start of the pandemic, Sioux City attorney Jeana Goosmann was invited to a business leaders' conference, which was originally set to be in-person in Arizona. But because of the virus, it became a virtual conference.
Meetings on Zoom and similar videoconferencing platforms -- Microsoft Teams and Skype, among others -- were becoming the norm at the time, but the novelty hadn't yet worn off. It was the first time Goosmann had attended an all-virtual conference.
And it ended somewhat disastrously.
"It got Zoom bombed," Goosmann said in a Zoom interview in December. "I don't know if you've heard of a Zoom bombing, but it's essentially where hackers can take over the controls of the meeting. So, they were playing hard rock music and putting very inappropriate images up on the screen, for all the people that were in the conference. And the people that were in charge of the conference, they didn't know how to make it stop."
And just like that, the conference was over. But Goosmann, who would go on to host and participate in many Zoom meetings over the coming months, learned something about videoconferencing security from the experience.
The following are excerpts from interviews with several Sioux City-area users of Zoom, featuring the tips and tricks they've developed as they honed their skills.
Jeana Goosmann, Goosmann Law Firm
Before the pandemic, Goosmann used videoconferencing programs occasionally, mainly to overcome "a distance barrier, such as talking to a client or partner out of state who we could not meet with in person."
Videoconferencing would become a way of life at the firm -- Goosmann now does perhaps two or four video conferences a day. Goosmann said she's more flexible with her meeting times now that commuting is a non-issue. The Goosmann Law Firm has had some fun with Zoom -- their "virtual holiday party" featured special celebrity guests Jon Lovett and The Most Interesting Man in the World, the Dos Equis beer spokesman.
She's also gotten serious about security, and has developed strategies to keep meetings on-topic -- she runs her Zoom meetings much as she would an in-person meeting, coming to the meeting with a clear agenda and allowing others to speak without interrupting.
"I learned quickly to never issue a Zoom invitation without a password, and so my account from the get-go has been set up where it requires a password, or it's only sent to that person that you're going to be having a Zoom with by email.
"I think where people got into trouble early on is, they would post like, 'Hey we're having this conference, join us!' on social media, and they'd put all their information there, and the hackers were able to get into it and figure out how to override what they were really trying to accomplish. Nobody wants a Zoom bomb in a business meeting.
"I have a very large ring light (a type of lamp often used for videos and photography). Because I think a lot of looking good on Zoom is lighting. We had a series of interviews for some legal work with some Fortune 500 companies. And before we went and did those interviews our marketing director one-on-one coached people on how to make sure that they approved their appearance on Zoom.
"Some people had a window right behind them. You don't want to be backlit, because then you just look like a shadow. So some people had to reposition themselves for the lighting in their office.
"Looking at the camera is a big deal, right? So treating the camera like you're looking somebody else in the eye is important. And that is still a challenge. I want to look at the person on the screen, and then if you're looking on the screen, you're not looking at the camera."
Mara Hall, coordinator of Lifelong Learning at WITCC
The Lifelong Learning program at Western Iowa Tech Community College offers a wide assortment of courses, and while it is open to anybody, is particularly popular with retirees.
Because older people are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, and because they so enjoy the Lifelong Learning program, the impetus was on the program's leadership to transition to a remote system.
Mara Hall, the program's coordinator, took it upon herself to learn the best practices of Zoom and subsequently helped the program's instructors and many of its students learn to use the program.
Some students initially rejected Zoom classes (despite Hall's entreaties to give it a shot), but others found joy in the new format, and in the end their newfound videoconferencing skills were perhaps more useful than the class content. For some, Zoom was the primary window through which they saw their grandchildren this year.
Still, even Hall has had her share of Zoom snafus that were beyond her control -- she had to watch helplessly one evening as her 2-year-old daughter unraveled a roll of toilet paper during a cake-decorating class on Zoom. This interview was conducted initially over Zoom, but became a phone interview after the internet connection was disrupted.
"I feel like Zoom gets a bad rap. Because -- I certainly get the Zoom fatigue. But I try really hard to make my classes an experience where, you still get to feel like you're in the room with someone even when you're not.
"We did a watercolor class. The key to that is, you have two cameras -- I have my laptop that I'm talking to you on, and then I would have a tripod with my phone. And that way people can see your hands while you're working.
"This is something I personally do. When anybody signs on, like so if I was the one leading this Zoom meeting, I would've been on 15 minutes before (the meeting begins), and that's like my tech time. Some people -- especially lifelong learners -- they're early. Always early, always early. And that's tech time, but it's also, 'let's visit' time.
"I have a class with Russ Gifford that had 55 people in it. So, that's a lot of people and a lot of mics to manage. I would greet you, to make you feel comfortable, and then I'd also make sure that your microphone was working.
"And if it was somebody who was new, I would say, 'Does anybody need help learning how to mute or unmute or turn your camera off?' I just do a little spiel.
"I just always say, 'If you need to leave, that's the beauty of being home. Go ahead. Go to the restroom. Just go ahead and turn your camera off'.
"I always ask people to mute. As soon as I've said hello to you, you can go ahead and mute, unless you have a question. That way the dog barking, or the kid running up, doesn't distract from the class.
"For my book club I'd have everybody make sure they're in gallery view, and when somebody wants to talk, I just have them actually, literally raise their hand."
JoAnn Gieselman, Growing Community Connections
Growing Community Connections, a Sioux City-area group that seeks to foster collaboration between various organizations and people in the region, has hosted a number of large-scale monthly Zoom meetings.
JoAnn Gieselman, the director of Growing Community Connections, called herself a "poster child for Zoom," because of how swimmingly the transition to online meetings has gone, in spite if her initial wariness toward it.
One of their last in-person meetings, in March, was attended by Nebraska First Lady Susanne Shore. Not long after that, it became clear the in-person meetings were over and Gieselman figured, "We're just out."
But at that final in-person meeting, local Zoom maven Shelby Pierce stood up and volunteered her assistance should it become necessary to move the meetings to Zoom. Pierce helped Gieselman and others learn the ropes of Zoom and run the meetings.
Attendance has been great, and the online meetings have been as productive, if not more so, than the in-person ones.
"Even throughout our (Zoom) meeting, we have the chatbox going on, so people in the chatbox will say, 'Hey, I'm looking for this, or I'm looking for that,' and people will say, 'I've got two of those,' or 'Contact this person, and they'll find it for you.' It's just been amazing.
"There's always a greeter. So when people come on, we always have somebody to greet them by name and tell them that we're glad to see them. The other thing that we really try to do when we open the meetings is make sure people know that they're welcome here and that they're in the right place. There's been a couple of times when I've gotten on a Zoom meeting and I'm like, 'Ooh, I'm not sure this is the one I'm supposed to be.'
"If you are more of one who just wants to come and listen, that's fine, if you want to be more engaged, that's fine. Just trying to make Zoom comfortable.
"I think the other thing that is really great is, we've really tried to key in on the chat. So getting a chance to share with each other behind the scenes -- we're not offended if you're talking to each other behind the scenes, in fact that excites us that there's a lot of conversations going on and knowing that people are connecting."