Bad hair day? Need to eat while on a Zoom call? House a mess? Don’t turn off your camera, switch to a personalized avatar in Zoom instead. Here’s how to get it set up…
Video conferencing works best when everyone’s camera is turned on, otherwise you find that you’re talking to yourself with others listening and occasionally adding a comment or two. Disconcerting, to say the least. But sometimes you do need to have your camera off. Perhaps you’re in a public venue, your home office is a disaster, you need to gobble up a burrito during the meeting or are simply having a really bad hair day. Zoom has talking animal avatars that can echo your mouth movements so it appears that they’re talking, but really, what professional meeting is going to have a talking zebra or giraffe?
Shortcuts: Check for Updates | Finding Your Avatar | Personalizing | Using Your Avatar
As of the first Zoom update of 2023 we now have a fun and interesting alternative to talking unicorn or a black screen: personalized human avatars. It takes a few minutes to set up with the Identikit-like facial components library, but once you have it set up, you can switch to an on-screen person that kinda sorta looks like you (depending on how you configure it), reflects your expressions and mouth movement, and offers “someone” for others to see on their screens to know you haven’t walked out of the room.
FIRST STEP: UPDATE YOUR ZOOM CLIENT
Zoom publishes updates to its client program about every 2-3 weeks so it’s always a good idea to check for updates, either a few minutes before a meeting or once the latest has wrapped up. The easiest way to check for an update is off the Zoom menu. On a Mac:
You don’t want to do this during a meeting, however, because it’ll drop you off while it updates your software, which can be disruptive. Once you’re fully updated, the client program will indicate that, along with showing the latest version number:
Since version numbers move pretty quickly, you might already be on a newer version than 5.13.3 at this point!
Now that you’re updated, you’ll have the Avatar feature. Let’s check it out…
FINDING YOUR PERSONAL AVATAR
Once you’re on the main screen of Zoom, you don’t need to start a meeting to get to the Preferences and Settings area. On a Mac system, you can even use the shortcut Command-, to bring it up. Go to the “Background & Effects” option on the left and you’ll see yourself from the camera (if it’s enabled) and the new Avatars tab:
This screen is where you can choose a different virtual background as desired, or just blur your background, but what we want to choose is “Avatars“, as denoted with the “BETA” graphic.
Since it’s a new feature, there’s a cheery pop-up to draw attention to the feature. Otherwise, the button is pretty uninteresting, literally just a “+” symbol. Still, it works.
PERSONALIZING YOUR AVATAR
Click on it and you’ll be presented with the generic Zoom avatar and a substantial menu of facial components:
You should expect to spend at least five minutes fiddling with these settings to get everything just so. You can try to create an avatar that’s as similar to your own facial characteristics as possible or you can diverge and create one that’s quite different. Both are acceptable!
Here I am partway through the process. Worth noting is that there are some surprising omissions in the avatar editor, like gray hair. Not all of us want to virtually dye our hair: My hair’s not pure brown. More importantly, a blue t-shirt? Not so much…
A bit further along and the last option from the avatar menu is glasses. They’re also well done:
Does this look like me? Not so much. But it’s sufficient for the purpose, so I’m going to click “Done”.
Note: If you’re an early adopter like me, check back in a few Zoom updates. It’s my expectation that this feature will gain additional options and choices to help make it a more accurate simulacrum of our actual appearance.
Now that it’s set up, how do you use it?
USING PERSONALIZED AVATARS IN ZOOM
By default, the new personalized avatar – which mimics your mouth and facial movement! – is selected, so click on “NEW” to start a new Zoom call (even without anyone else on the line) and you’ll see your avatar staring back at you:
Not too bad at all, actually! A grid of eight of these avatars might be a bit odd, but it’s also an interesting way to democratize a Zoom call too if some people are a bit self-conscious and others get upset if they don’t have time to put on some makeup and fix their room lighting pre-call.
Done with your burrito and ready to go back on camera? The menu that’s revealed when clicking on the “^” to the right of “Stop Video” on the toolbar has a couple of new options:
Simply choose “Turn off Avatar” and you’re back to being a regular participant in the Zoom call.
Overall, it’s very well done and a great addition to the ever-more-sophisticated Zoom client application. Now it’s time for you to try it out and see how you do recreating your own appearance before your next call or meeting!
Pro Tip: I’ve been writing about how to get things done online forever. Please check out my extensive Zoom help area while you’re here! I promise it’ll help make you more productive with this useful tool.