Cyber Events for All

Cyber Events for All

There is an old saying that “Necessity is the mother of invention”, but during the recent Corona Virus pandemic many of us have somehow been persuaded that it has become necessary to invent, or possibly to re-invent, ways of coping with all manner of situations.

A huge segment of the global population suddenly found its members thrown into a lions’ den of obstacles never envisaged prior to the many restraints emanating from the Corner Stone of Covid 19. Churches and other places of worship faced the challenge by introducing on-line services. Schools opted for on-line lessons where appropriate to do so. Practically all churches, schools, businesses, clubs and other miscellaneous associations ventured into the world of both simple and complex video conferencing, meetings and virtual social gatherings. In this feature, Eric Thorn takes a bird’s eye look at Zoom and provides some useful tips for PowerPoint users.

So, as a result of the Corona Virus pandemic, a video communications enterprise that is less than a decade old suddenly found its business growing like wild fire. So many people have asked me about Zoom, as it was something they had not come across prior to March 2020, that I am starting this feature with a brief overview that I believe will be helpful.

Zoom is considered by many to be the leader in contemporary video communications. Boasting an easy, reliable cloud platform for both video and audio conferencing, it is well appointed to host virtual gatherings of all types. Thanks to Zoom, cyber events for all is no longer a science fiction dream of the future.

Zoom Rooms is reportedly the original digital conference room facility that has proved remarkably popular on the international scene. Everything from commercial company board meetings and training conferences to virtual reality classrooms were occasional happenings. This all changed with the advent of Covid 19 lock down, since when such digital events gradually morphed into highly regular diary dates. How did we cope before Zoom? was a query being constantly repeated in all manner of non virtual sessions.

Zoom software operates its comprehensive services through a cloud-based peer-to-peer platform. Zoom Video Communications Incorporated recognise that they now have competitors, notably, for example, Microsoft Teams and Google. All of the competitors appear to be offering similar services. However, other than the honour of being the original provider of these communication cloud services, Zoom continually strive to maintain their digital product as an easier to use product than those available from their competitors.

It cannot be denied that the sudden lock down rise in popularity of Zoom and their competitors is very much contributable to both live and recorded television programmes. All over the world participants in a wide range of productions have broadcast from their homes. Churches and charities, associations and clubs, schools and academies, have discovered new ways to operate. All thanks to these cloud based services which are not only easy to use, but are universally accessible through mobile cell phones, laptop and desktop personal computers, business computers, room systems and even standard telephones; although participants using the latter are restricted to audio only.

The software and apps for programs such as Zoom can easily be downloaded. Visit the Zoom website at zoom.us. For Microsoft Teams software, go to Microsoft.com. Do an online search for other programs.

Both Zoom and Microsoft Teams (and, I suspect, although I have not looked into it, Google) have a basic free version which is excellent for most non commercial purposes. Business users should take a paid for version and enjoy the extra facilities available for major users.

Zoom has almost certainly become universally acceptable during the pandemic not for the reason that it was the original meetings application, but because it is so simple that even I can use it! Online meetings for dummies! And just about anybody can participate.

It is not necessary for a participant or guest to have the full application installed in order to take part in a Zoom discussion. The host of a meeting emails to their proposed guests details such as date and time of an event, along with a web link for getting to the virtual location and a password or other relevant information for gaining entry. Persons who do not have online facilities are provided with telephone numbers so that they can join in on an audio only basis.

When somebody is intending to participate in a Zoom meeting for the first time, they may view the prospect as daunting. It is unknown virgin territory. Icons are on screen: hover your mouse over an icon to discover what happens when you click it. To revert back, just click the same icon again. Those who would like a brief résumé prior to joining a Zoom gathering are invited to visit https://zoom.us. Click on the Demo tab located near the top right of the screen and complete the resulting live demo request form. What happens next is that a representative from Zoom will contact you to set up a live demonstration trial meeting, enabling you to learn through the experience of a virtual reality session. You need to do this a few days in advance of your real meeting.

And now for a change of subject!

PowerPoint secrets

An important facet of Zoom is that of screen sharing. For instance, if a Zoom meeting host wishes to share with the participants their desktop screen or the screen (window) of another app they may do this. Incidentally, the host has full control over the meeting and can permit or block participants from screen sharing.

Whilst I was reviewing various questions I was asked about Zoom, which I believe would not have occurred except for the upsurge of Zoom use brought about by the Covid 19 situation, a few queries gave me an amazing feeling of déjà-vu. Boarding an imaginary Tardis, effectively travelling back in time to features I wrote about last year, I was blatantly asked about PowerPoint® secrets. It was all to do with sharing a PowerPoint® screen with Zoom delegates.

It was appreciated that the host merely had to have their PowerPoint® presentation open with the relevant slide displayed on their desktop. By displaying that slide in presentation view, it filled the entire desktop, so that in Zoom only the appropriate image was seen by others.

The church representative who asked me about secrets explained that he had a small laptop and, when creating new slides, he found the work space window too small for easy editing purposes. He now uses Microsoft 365 (previously known as Office 365). On his old computer he had an earlier version of MS Office and he recalled that in PowerPoint he just clicked the X at the top right of the thumb nails pane to close that pane when in normal view. However, with Microsoft 365 (and possibly some other recent versions), that user friendly X has disappeared.

If your version of PowerPoint® does not have the X then, with the relevant slide open in normal view, simply press Ctrl+Shift and, while holding those two keys down, click on the normal icon in the bottom right of the screen. This hides the thumb nail slides, resulting in the desired larger amount of work space.

PowerPoint Screen

Usual workspace with thumb nails and ribbon

Whichever method you use, lever the thumb nails back into view by clicking the normal icon.

To create even more work space, minimise the menu ribbon located at the top of the desktop screen. On older versions of PowerPoint, click the down arrow found at the right of the quick access bar on the top left hand side of the screen, then click Minimise the Ribbon at the foot of the resulting drop down menu. Repeat this procedure to return to the former maximised ribbon. Alternatively, use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+F1 to toggle between minimised and maximised ribbon.

For Microsoft 365 (and possibly other recent versions) the solution is not really a secret. Utilise the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+F1 to toggle as required.

PowerPoint Screen

Enhanced workspace after thumb nails and ribbon hidden

Occasionally, it is useful to increase the size of the thumb nails. To do this, hover the mouse around the pane frame on the right of the thumb nails until the cursor changes to the resize symbol. Then holding the mouse left button down, gently move the mouse towards the right, releasing it when the desired size is reached. To return the pane to its default size, click on the normal icon.

Illustrations

It is generally accepted that the best PowerPoint presentations are those that contain few words and adequate illustrations.

Photographs and other pictures are frequently used in PowerPoint presentations. Used solo, in a group, and/or mixed with text, the Smart Art facility can be well utilised. This has been covered in previous articles.

Early versions of MS Office came packaged with a handy portfolio of mixed illustrations, making it easy to add a suitable picture, albeit many were of a cartoon nature. Other sources of illustrations came bundled in the form of Compact Discs and Digital Versatile Discs of seemingly never ending clip art.

Although clip art is still available, especially for downloading, most of these early sources of art have apparently passed into the annals of history. Probably, they have been overtaken by the rise in personal photography brought about by the incredible growth in popularity of mobile cell phones that double as cameras. I seem to be one of the few people who do not own one of these!

With many individuals transferring photographs from their personal phones to their computers, programs such as PowerPoint and Word ensured that, from the Insert tab a drop down menu gave a choice that included selecting a personal illustration or clip art. Despite this, some users miss the original built in library.

Good news for those who have invested in the latest incarnations of the popular Office software. In Microsoft 365 an updated contemporary resource library of illustrations is included.

To insert one or more of these Microsoft stock images, go to the Insert tab, click Pictures, then click Stock images. This opens a pop-up window of the Stock Images library of pictures and icons.

There are four main tabs at the top of the window. Select one, or stick to the default Stock Images tab.

The second line at the top provides a host of further tabs to select from. Clicking on one of these tabs brings up further selections of available pictures and illustrations. Click on one of these pictures to add it to your current slide.

The selected item then appears in your slide. At the same time, a Design Ideas pane opens on the right of your slide, providing suggested design ideas for the selected picture. Click on one of those ideas, if you wish, and your slide is automatically reformatted accordingly.

Stock Images Screen

Microsoft 365 screen

It is also possible to add an Emoji. With the cursor located within your current slide, press the Windows key and the full point key at the same time. This brings up the Emoji Table. Click on the Emoji you wish to insert.

Microsoft 365 screen: In this screenshot, the ribbon is hidden. From the stock images, both a match strike and a music drawing were selected for the same slide. From the automated Design Pane on the right, an amalgam of the two illustrations has been selected.

Personal photographs and online resources have not been overlooked. When Pictures is clicked on the Insert tab, in addition to Stock images the drop down menu includes for images stored on the present computer as well as an option for an online library of pictures and icons. As with the Stock Image Library, just click on an illustration and it will appear in the current slide frame.

For novice users, my suggestion is to spend some time experimenting with these resource libraries to see just what is achievable. Remember, just click on the Undo icon to revert back to a previous status.

And finally

Thank you to all of those readers who have emailed me with your comments. Without you, this article would not have been possible!

Eric A. Thorn
Email: EricAThorn@msn.com