Video call software has never been more popular. Zoom is the clear winner of 2020, with its brand recognition jumping 34% across last year, but a handful of other brands also picked up momentum, from Skype to Google Meet to Microsoft Teams.
Now that we've been living and breathing video calls for (are you sitting down?) nearly a year, it's time to think about streamlining the process. Keyboard shortcuts can help workers trim a few seconds off of the time it takes to do simple things like unmuting themselves or screen-sharing, and those few seconds can make a big difference.
We've reached out to dozens of video meeting veterans to get their favorite hidden features and little-known tips. This round-up should be all you need to take your video calls to the next level.
Before we start, there's one note of caution worth mentioning: Keyboard shortcuts differ by operating system. Our tips here are calibrated for Windows users — Mac users should, in most cases, swap out the ‘Ctrl' button for the ‘command' key, aka the “⌘” one.
We'll be honest, entirely half of these tips are dedicated to Zoom. What can we say? We're giving the people what they want. Read on to learn how to set up transcriptions, remain effective, drop the ‘thumbs up' at a moment's notice, and look good doing it.
Hold the space bar to unmute temporarily 🔇
Working from home with a crying child? You'll need to stay muted on video calls, and sometimes it can be hard to click unmute fast enough. Just hit the space bar, which will unmute you for only as long as you hold it down.
“When it's your turn on the speaker to talk, you start getting nervous dragging the mouse towards the unmute button while everyone is waiting for your response. So, instead of wasting so much time due to panic attacks, just press and hold the spacebar to quickly unmute your pic from the keyboard.”
~Muhammad Ali Sangi, Digital Marketing Executive, PureVPN
“Touch up” your look ✨
Video calls don't always capture your best look, particularly for those of us who work remotely and roll out of bed with so little time before a meeting that they need to choose between getting a cup of coffee and shaving (I'll pick coffee every time). But there's a feature for that:
“Unbeknownst to many, Zoom has a feature where you can touch up your appearance. The feature provides a softer touch, so you appear more smooth and crisp. Activate this setting by going to Settings > Video > Touch up my appearance, and you're all set.”
~Kevin Parker, cofounder, vpnAlert
The screen-sharing shortcut 💻
The ability to share your screen to others on a video call isn't new. But there's a fast keyboard shortcut that not many know about: Press Alt + S, and you'll be able to pull up the option painlessly and quickly.
“This shortcut isn't just useful for bringing up the sharing window quickly, it also allows you to quickly toggle between windows you need to share instead of just showing your full screen (which includes unnecessary desktop apps and potentially risks showing personal webpages/IMs). Using this shortcut to alternate between apps is ideal to keep the content you're showing clean in a professional setting.”
~Kaelum Ross, founder of What in Tech
Emoji reactions 👍
Sometimes you don't want to interrupt the flow of a conversation, even with a written comment, but you still want to affirm someone's point. Enter the emoji reaction.
“To react while in a meeting, click the Reactions label at the bottom of the meeting screen (it's in the same panel as mute video and audio, to the right) and pick the one you want. Emoji will fade after 5 seconds. If the meeting organizer allows the nonverbal feedback feature, participants can put an icon such as a raised hand next to their name to say something. Every participant will be able to view each other's feedback.”
~Andrew Fox, CEO of Aim Workout
Figure out how Breakout Rooms work 🗣
Anyone missing out on the opportunity that a physical meeting room provides for pulling aside one or two coworkers for a quick chat just needs to try the Breakout Room feature.
“The use of Breakout Rooms is extremely useful, as you can move multiple people into a separate room while other people in your meeting can keep up with their discussion in the main room. These are used often in our company for quick one on one conversations to go more in depth on a discussion while the rest of the team can continue without us.”
~Remco Bravenboer, Software Developer at Laptoid
And how the Invite window works 💬
If a meeting is currently ongoing and you need to pull in another coworker quickly, you'll need to have the invite link ready to go. There's a shortcut for that.
“My most used Zoom shortcut is the one that opens the ‘Invite' window. It’s CMD+I on a Mac, or ALT+I on Windows. It brings up the invitation window, where you can copy the invite link for the meeting. It’s really useful if you want to quickly ping an invite to somebody in an email or an instant messaging window.”
~Ben Taylor, Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com
Grab a screenshot 📷
If you're watching a presentation, you'll likely want to get a closer look at one slide in particular, which means you'll need to take a screenshot to study later. That's a keystroke away:
“My organization prefers Zoom for our meetings. Most of the time we are involved in doing presentations and sharing interesting reports. Although I prefer taking notes, sometimes it becomes difficult to get this in sync. The shortcut Alt+Shift+T for taking screenshots is always a savior.”
~Yvonne Morriss, cofounder and CEO at IP ToolWorks.
Autosave your chats 💾
Go to General Settings > View More Settings > Auto-saving chats to turn this one on.
“Meeting hosts will often record a session if it is necessary, but we've found important information has been lost previously from chat messages not being recorded. Enabling this feature to auto-save gives some peace of mind that you have the messages there if you ever need to look back at them.”
~Kaelum Ross, founder of What in Tech
Try out attention tracking 👀
Zoom's advanced settings include some unusual ones that you might never have thought of otherwise. One of those is attention tracking.
“This useful tool allows you to monitor attendees and keep them on track. Attention tracking will alert the host should a meeting participant toggle out of Zoom and into another tab. I recommend this feature for large meetings when it’s difficult to monitor everyone’s activity. Head to advanced meeting settings to set this up for your next call.”
~Kristen Bolig, founder at SecurityNerd
Default to ‘mute' 🤫
Ever entered a meeting only to see everyone else is already muted, forcing you hunt down the mute button, feeling juuust slightly shamed by the experience? With the right feature checked, you'll be able to enter the meeting already safely muted.
“Don't you just hate entering a meeting late and then scrambling to mute yourself (and your noisy housemates)? Or worse yet, forgetting that you're unmuted and saying something inappropriate just after entering the meeting? Set your audio to Always Mute Microphone in Audio Settings.”
~Afoma Umesi, of Reading Middle Grade
Set up live captions and transcripts ✏️
Here's a fantastic feature for anyone with hearing loss or a long interview to transcribe: Zoom has recently added an AI-powered integrated captioning ability — not only will it add captions in near-real time, but it allows you to save a full transcript to refer to afterwards. It's not perfect, but it's far better than nothing.
Here's a video breaking down how to set it up — you'll need a paid Zoom plan do to so.
Thank you so much!
— Léna Remy-Kovach (@LenaRemyKovach) February 4, 2021
Skype's a popular option, and it offers a great range of keyboard shortcuts. Memorize them all, and you'll be able to breeze through video calls and catch ups.
Quickly search contacts 🔍
Skype's sidebar of contacts can take a little while to scroll through, and time is of the essence when your boss is staring expectantly at you from your computer screen.
“If you’re using Skype for Windows 10, the one keyboard shortcut you should consider using is ‘Ctrl+Shift+S’. This shortcut allows you to search for messages and contacts which is pretty useful if you’re short on time or experiencing tech problems. I’ve noticed that using it has made me quick on my toes which in turn, doesn’t disrupt the flow of the conversation and helps maintain a smooth-sailing meeting.”
~Simon Elkjær, Chief Marketing Officer at avXperten
Record calls 📹
Maybe you need to take notes, maybe you want to make the full meeting available to others. Either way, Skype's video-record option is a big boon.
“Record video calls: This is a feature on Skype where you can record your meeting and send it to your colleague who's not present at that time. It's useful, especially if you're the one writing the minutes of the meeting.”
~Matthew Paxton, founder at Hypernia
Presenter controls 👩🏫
Skype gives the presenter of the conference a handful of extra functionality worth knowing about:
“Skype has numerous presenter controls such as the ability to mute all or mute individual attendees, and the optoin to customize permissions to allow presenters to act as participants.”
Set up Caller ID 📞
Phone calls greatly benefit from the invention of Caller ID, and now your Skype calls can as well. Only if you set up your ID, however.
“If you wish to let others see your real number whenever you are calling them on Skype, you can set up your Caller Identification. This makes your calls a lot more convenient because you can be easily recognized. To set this up in Skype, go the main window, click “Skype,” menu and choose “Account” button. There, you will be directed on more Call settings, so go to “Caller ID” and select “Country/Region,” then “Phone Number.” Enter your number to verify it and you are ready to go.”
~Jason Hughes, CEO, Vegan Liftz
Shortcut to answering and ending calls 📲
When you need to quickly pick up a Skype call, try Ctrl + Shift + P. To end it? Ctrl + Shift + H will do the trick.
Thanks to Patrick Smith, Editor-in-chief at Fire Stick Tricks, for this tip.
Google Meet (formerly Hangouts) is as popular as everything else in Google's suite of free products. Here's how to navigate it best.
General keyboard shortcuts ⭐
Google Meet's shortcuts can help users quickly accomplish a lot of goals. If you use the service frequently, then memorizing this short list will turn you into a veritable wizard of effective video meetings:
- Toggle Mic on/off: Ctrl + D
- Toggle Video on/off: Ctrl+E
- Announce current speaker: Shift+Ctrl+Alt+A then S
- Hide/unhide an attendee: Ctrl + Alt + P
Live subtitling ✏️
Google Meet has its own version of captioning, as well — users should spot a “CC” on/off toggle button at the bottom of their video screen.
“One feature that I like the most on Google Meet is getting live subtitles. Since I am a European native, the live captions help me understand my American colleagues' responses more clearly.”
~Peter Baltazar, Technical Content Writer, MalwareFox
Intelligent noise cancellation 🔊
Do you also have that one neighbor who is always moving their lawn right when you need to place a video call? Finally, the magic of technology can wash them out. Go to More > Settings > Noise cancellation for some peace and quiet on calls.
“Google Meet can use intelligent background noise filtering to eliminate the sounds of dogs barking, keys clacking, and people having conversations in the background.”
Teams is best for larger businesses using the full Microsoft ecosystem, such as Outlook, Excel and more, rather than for those just looking to place easy video calls. So we just have one quick tip here, for if you are joining a Teams meeting — and it's a tip that applies to Google calls as well.
Blur the background 🌫️
You don't want to end up on a bookshelf-rating novelty Twitter account. Get ahead of the problem by pre-setting the option to blur your background slightly:
“One useful trick with video calling software is to blur the background if your room/office is untidy or change it to one of the preset fake backgrounds. Most video calling applications or products allow you to do this. I do it on Teams whenever I use it. You'll find people concentrate on what you are saying a lot more if they are not trying to read what books are on the bookshelf behind you, or marveling at your messy office!”
~Rick Wallace, founder at Tackle Village
Our Final Tips
Keyboard shortcuts aside, we have a few beauty tips as well: You'll likely want to position yourself with a natural light source shining on you, rather than from behind, and with the camera level with your face rather than pointing up at you. Towel off your face to get rid of excess oil, and you're good to go.
Oh, and turn off the filters. You don't want to, say, show up at a court appearance looking like a cat.