What Does Your Zoom Background Say About You?

Jessica Bolaños Vanegas
8 min readApr 11, 2020


Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship — Virtual Class of 2021, Week of April 5–11, Twenty-twenty. + Canva LinkedIn Banner template with PRO Photo, keyword: “business”

Personal branding and online branding — for years we’ve been talking about the two and the places where they merge. For some, avoidance has been the strategy. Keeping work, school, home and the internet as separate and private as possible. Now, amidst Stay at Home, Work Safe Orders, thanks to COVID-19, much of the world has transitioned to working, studying and celebrating holidays at home — hosting virtual meetings on video conferencing platforms like Zoom.

In a message to “Zoom users around the world”, Eric S. Yuan, Founder and CEO of Zoom said,

“…over 90,000 schools across 20 countries that have taken us up on our offer to help children continue their education remotely. To put this growth in context, as of the end of December last year, the maximum number of daily meeting participants, both free and paid, conducted on Zoom was approximately 10 million. In March this year, we reached more than 200 million daily meeting participants, both free and paid.”

Having used Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, Instagram and Facebook Live, Snapchat Video Chat, and other video platforms in the past, I’m surprised how fast so many people decided on Zoom as their video communications platform of choice. Apparently they were too. It’s an anomaly — something that deviates from what’s normal, or expected.

Usually large organizational decisions like this take weeks or even months to approve. But this is not a usual time. Schools and businesses all over the world went all in and started learning to use their platform of choice so everyone could get back to work and class.

I’d only used zoom a few times prior to the pandemic and always the free version that would kick the host and attendees out of the conference after 30 minutes if there was more than 2 people in attendance. Now the platform is letting people people stay on longer, even with the free version.

The first time I was invited to join a Zoom meeting during the pandemic I learned 4 key things. (Which to be clear, is not like joining virtual meetings before the pandemic where everyone would get an invite way ahead of time, knew what platform was being used, may have been familiar with the platform, had time to watch a few YouTube videos about it, or at least know what to expect.)

4 Lessons from Zoom Day 1 — During the Pandemic:

  1. People are calling Zoom meetings, “calls”. So when I was invited to join a “call”, I thought we were going to be on an actual conference call…on the phone. I wasn’t expecting to be on camera in a video meeting. I wasn’t ready, my background wasn’t ready, it was all a hot mess on my end. (Sorry Blair, Dave & Amanda!)
  2. Sitting at the desk as I normally would when working from home gives everyone a background view of my kitchen. The one we just moved into that still had temporary scraggly old mismatched curtains up that I didn’t expect anyone to see. Oops. (Solved that problem on Wayfair quickly with vertical shades that look like they could be in an office — no more ugly background curtains.)
  3. Recording meetings with a 3rd party platform like Quicktime doesn’t capture the meeting’s audio if you have headphones plugged in. I questioned this as I plugged my earbuds into my laptop’s headphone jack and it definitely failed the test. These are things I could have looked up online ahead of time had I known I was about to join a Zoom conference.
    (System Preferences > Sound > Output > “Headphones” or “Built-in Speakers” + Soundflower — an open source MacOS system extension that allows applications to pass audio to other applications?)
  4. Using an older Macbook (OS X 10.9 for example), the virtual background option doesn’t work without a green screen. This one’s a bummer. Lucky for me, videos make up a lot of our work here at Goodspero so we had a green screen lying around which I’ve now put to good weekly use to enable virtual backgrounds on Zoom. If you’re like most people and don’t have a green screen lying around, try using a green blanket, a green sheet, green paper, or any other green items that you can hang, clamp, or stick to the wall behind you. And remember not to wear green!

These things all matter because it all boils down to…

Online branding.

In a college entrepreneurship class hosted by Dave Cook, the Director of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship in Houston, one of the first things he asked students in this week’s class was,

“What’s the projection you’re putting out into the world?”

It isn’t a new question but it’s now in a whole new context. How are we seen and how are we putting ourselves out there? Online. For many of us, it’s not a matter of not showing up in digital spaces or keeping online profiles “on private” anymore. We’re all here now and we’ll be here for a while. Now is probably the time, if you haven’t already, to start thinking about and being mindful of your online brand(s).

Do you make your own personal background(s)? Do you blow out your background? Do you use a photo instead of enabling video? Do you dress up? Wear PJs? Are you a leaner? A chair rocker? Are you a nail biter or ear scratcher? Are your pets walking around in the background (this one could work in your favor)? Do your kids make appearances?

Whichever one of these is you, the good news is — there’s plenty of time to pay more attention to your online and personal brand.

Try switching things up and make a PURPOSEFUL impression on your colleagues, clients, teachers, peers, prospective employers and friends now that we’ve all switched to this new means of communication for a while.

Get creative — and if you’re not creative — there are tons of free tools out there to help give you that edge. Here are a few virtual background ideas for inspiration — all of which were downloaded or created on Canva.

If you’re meeting with potential clients or going for a professional look, try using an office setting (or a photo from your actual office if you have one) with your name, title and logo visible. Something like this could also work for virtual job interviews.

For a laid back and fun twist, make a BINGO background or use this template on Canva.com and modify it with inside jokes for your team or friends.

The Bauer College of Business shared 5 backgrounds on their social media for students and faculty to download since they aren’t on campus but are all using Zoom to continue classes virtually.

When Neil deGrasse Tyson did a MasterClass Live on YouTube, he switched to a space background, leaned back in his chair, and started waving his arms around to make it look like he was floating in space. Such an “on brand” thing of him to do. It was so great and it made everyone laugh. :)

Where do you want to be?
Where do you want to transport yourself and others?
What message are you putting out into the world?
What message do you want to send next?

If you’re inspired to share your own space, create your own space and experience something new next time you meet with team members or during the next virtual birthday celebration, Canva has multiple templates you can use and modify: Zoom Virtual Backgrounds.

Or create your own 1280x720 virtual Zoom background with one of Canva’s blank templates. They have free elements, photos, videos, or you can upload your own. If you have a paid account, Canva now allows all Pro (paid) users to have free access to all of the stock imagery on their site.

Zoom Room Tip:

If you want to inspire or create a specific mood for attendees when you break out into multiple rooms while hosting meetings or classes, you can also enable Virtual Backgrounds for your Zoom Rooms.

  1. Make sure you’re signed in to the Zoom web portal as an admin.
  2. Go to the Zoom Rooms page — click Account Settings.
  3. Toggle the Virtual Background with Greenscreen option.
  4. Upload an Image to add more background choices to the default library.

Ex: The next time you want to break out from the main room and go into smaller groups and talk about goals, here’s a nice Zoom Room background to surprise attendees with when they get there.

One final thing — remember that whatever you do (and whatever you say) may be captured on camera, recorded on video or otherwise seen publicly. If you’re going to speak freely and greet your friends the way you normally do in person, and that greeting happens to be vulgar (no judgment here), make sure you’re okay with the possibility that everyone in attendance (or everyone on the internet) may see it too.

Twitter screen capture: twitter.com/calista_ukeh/status/1248417090718953483

Have a memorable & safe Easter weekend at home.*



Jessica Bolaños Vanegas

Digital + Video + Social Impact. Storyteller. Documenting history as it unfolds. Co-Founder @Goodspero. TEDx-er. Former Contributing Writer @HuffPost. She/Her ❤