The Virtual Café Sci, using Zoom – a beginners’ guide

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought all manner of changes into our lives. One is that many of us have now learned to use the internet, and live streaming, to communicate more with others outside the home, and even outside our immediate circle.

This brings new possibilities in  how we organise and run Café Sci sessions.  The Falmouth Café Sci has run for several years, with monthly talks on a wide range of topics: and there is a fairly comprehensive account of the how these events has operated, in the days of face-to-face gatherings, on their website: .

But for the COVID 19 era, we propose to now run Café Sci talk, on-line: the Virtual Café Sci.

In this (hopefully) helpful handout, you will find all the information you need on how to join and participate in a discussion, using the software called ‘Zoom’ for meetings.

Although Zoom is very good, and easy to use, like all software it takes a little getting used to; and we must adjust a little the usual Café Sci format, to suit.  It will be a little awkward at first, as we all learn to do things differently. So it would be very helpful if those hoping to join and participate first read these simple instructions and advice.

What is Zoom?

Zoom is a video communications platform; it allows discussions, in real time, between participants.  It’s also entirely free to join talks.

There is also scope for screen sharing, so a speaker can share their presentation material, slides or video; so it is suitable for a short talk, in the Café Sci style (see below)

‘There is then plenty of scope for the long question and answer session – a Q&A. For this, participants can join, using the video on their own computer or other device, such as a mobile phone or tablet.   Or for those that do not want to appear on screen, there is also the option to comment or ask questions in writing – called ‘chat.’

What is the Café Sci meetings format?

As with Café Sci events happening ‘in 3D’,  Café Sci online – the Virtual Café Sci – will start with a short talk (usually no more than twenty minutes) by the speaker, to introduce the topic, and begin to cover some of the ground – leaving questions till the second half.

(After this, for a discussion, there is sometimes a short break, so folk can get to refill their glass/mug, ask questions and discuss with others.  We won’t be doing this, to begin with, in the Virtual Café. But it will be possible to build in such a break; or to allow folks to stay on-line after the end of the event, to converse. If this proves popular, we will organise it more.)

This introduction talk is followed by up to an hour or more of questions to the speaker, and their answers (and sometimes a more general discussion) – called ‘the Q&A’.  The Q&A is chaired by the host, who usually tries hard to make sure that everyone who wants to gets a chance to ask a question.

Anyone can ask a question, and we positively welcome those which begin “This might be a stupid question, but …” These questions are invariably not stupid and often rather insightful. They are often the ones that mean the speaker has to really think.

Asking questions and discussing in Zoom

As you might imagine, asking questions via Zoom, without talking over each other, requires a bit of a change. Therefore, Zoom allows for all attendees to be automatically muted when they first enter the ‘room’, to avoid noises cutting over the Speaker and distracting them.

Fortunately, Zoom has an in-meeting chat, which allows users to send written messages to all the others attendees – or even to individual other participants. The default is to send messages to a general chat (which everyone can see) but with just a few clicks on the menu that can be altered, to send messages to only one attendee or a few attendees.

NB: more precise instructions can be found here (,

But, simply, if you wish to send a message to a specific person, click on the “to” button. Otherwise, for the host and Speaker’s ease, please address all questions to the Speaker to “Everyone”; this means everyone will be able to see the questions asked.

Virtual meeting etiquette

Please note that video, audio and chat of virtual cafe sci meetings will be recorded for later publication on our website or YouTube. If you do not wish yourself to be recorded in this way, please join without video and use the chat function rather than your microphone to ask questions.

Virtual meetings are relatively informal  (you aren’t even obliged to be dressed, for instance; but remember – if your video is on, you will be seen…..)

But that doesn’t mean anything goes. To make sure we have a good talk and discussion, it’s important that we all follow some ground rules of etiquette.

For attendees

Please log in at least 5 minutes before the Café Sci talk is due to start. Speakers will try to start promptly, so turning up earlier will give you time to set up and join the meeting without missing anything.

Please don’t try to unmute yourself. Any noise will cut out the Speaker and distract others. We will un-mute you when you want to speak, if you let us know, either by posting a question in the chat area, or by putting up your hand. You can put up your hand quite literally, and hope to be spotted; or, with Zoom, you can click on the button that shows a hand; and your hand will then appear on screen, in your video square.

Please do feel free to use the chat to talk to others, but only use their personal channels for this. The General chat (labelled “to everyone”) should be used only for posting questions in public.

How do I join a meeting?

All meetings will be hosted through the Cornwall Science Community Zoom Account. A committee member will set up a meeting through this account.

Besides the speaker and the chair, there is also a co-host, who stays mainly in the background, but is there to help out, if there are problems. 

All meetings will have a meeting ID and a URL for use in the Zoom app and desktops respectively. These will be emailed to attendees at least three days prior to each meeting.

You can follow the URL to use the desktop Zoom ( or for those using a mobile phone or tablet, you can enter the meeting ID into the Zoom app.) Here, you will be let into the Zoom lobby, where the host will start the meeting when ready.

You should be able to join directly using this link, but if prompted for a password please enter the password stated in your Eventbrite confirmation email.

You do not have to join with video if you don’t want to – just don’t turn it on, when prompted.  But if you want to put a question, you will need to turn on your audio when prompted – unless you prefer to use the ’chat’. But typing an intelligent question  – or any question – into the chat can be pretty hard work.