Scott’s Zoom tip: Email the link!

Like many academics, I’ve now been regularly “attending” conferences and giving talks via Zoom for four months. Naturally, I’ve learned a lot about how to use this platform—one that, despite numerous quirks and flaws, actually works well enough that it could probably replace at least 2/3 of in-person talks and meetings after the covid crisis is over. But one particular lesson is so important that I thought I’d make a public service announcement of it. So without further ado:

Email the link.

You know, the thing like

that you actually click to get to the actual conversation. Definitely email the link to the speaker (!). But also email it to whomever said they plan to attend. Resend the link between a day and an hour in advance, so that it doesn’t get buried, but turns up right away when people search their inboxes. If possible, put the link in every single email about the meeting or lecture. Even if you already sent the link for previous iterations of the meeting and it hasn’t changed, send it again. Don’t assume people will find the link on the web. Don’t make them click through five other links or open an attached PDF for it. Don’t send ten emails that explain every possible detail of the meeting except how to get to it. Just email the link. That’s all. Thanks!

29 Responses to “Scott’s Zoom tip: Email the link!”

  1. Petter Says:

    Of course, I get that burying the link in a PDF is a bad idea, but requesting that people email the link again shortly before the meeting feels a bit… lazy? It’s like a poor substitue for learning how to use calendar software.

    Of course, I haven’t been in academia in years, and not in the US, so I don’t know the customs. Anyway, it’s great that we have VC software!

  2. Jouni Says:

    Petter #1: It’s the opposite. Not sending a reminder with all the relevant information shortly before the event is lazy. Such notifications are one of the most elementary aspects of organizing any event in any context. Within a single organization, the notifications may be automatic, if the organizer can add the event to the participants’ calendars. In events with people from multiple organizations, manual notifications are usually unavoidable.

    People are inherently unreliable, and the best way of dealing with unreliability is redundancy. While it’s reasonable that to expect that people can use calendar software, it’s also reasonable to expect that many will fail to do so for a number of reasons, including laziness, forgetting things, and being busy or disorganized. If you don’t send a reminder, you are sending a message that you don’t care if many participants will fail to show up. And if the event is large enough, you should expect that some people will reply to the reminder, asking for information that was present in it, because people can’t reach 100% reliability in reading comprehension.

  3. PC Says:

    Petter #1: A good organizer should not assume anything about the participants (in the same spirit as when a good user interface design should not assume how the users behave), definitely not the fact that they use any calendar software 🙂 I think this is a common mistake of many organizers when they operate: They assume that when they send the link, people who (1) read e-mail carefully and (2) save the link somewhere at that moment. Both (1) and (2) are bad assumptions….

  4. Michael Main Says:

    I agree that reminders (with the needed link) are good. But, please, mark them as reminders in some obvious way (such as the word “reminder” in the title). Here’s why: Some people (aka, me) DO use calendar software, and they carefully read each invitation to an event as it arrives. If the event is of interest, then I’ll put it in my calendar; otherwise I will archive it.

    I do this because my memory for such things is not good. Imagine how annoying and time-wasting it is if I see an original invitation and put it in my calendar (or not). Then some time later, after it has faded from my wetware memory, but remains in my calendar memory, I receive another (or several other) additional invitation(s) to the same event. If it is not clearly marked as a reminder, then I end up processing the whole thing again, possibly going to my calendar to enter it, and seeing that I’ve already done so.

    As a result, if I’m on a mailing list for talks or some such and the talks are only occasionally of interest to me, then I’ll delete myself from the list if it sends multiple invitations without a clear and consistent indication of which is the original announcement and which are reminders.

    Even better: Each announcement could have a button that I could click asking for no further reminders about the event. In my case, I would use that button after I’ve added an event to my calendar or after I’ve decided that the event is not of interest to me.

    This suggestion is another consequence of not assuming things about your users’ behavior. Certainly, don’t assume that everyone is reading announcements as they arrive and using calendar software. But don’t assume that they aren’t either! Please try to make things smooth for both sets of people (and if possible, for people who are in a superposition of having a calendar and being calendarless).

  5. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Petter #1:

    First case of “blame the victim” in S-O history?

  6. matt Says:

    Contrary opinion: stop emailing the link. I get multiple invites to zoom seminars that I never signed up for in areas only tangentially related to mine; the community should realize that that is like sending spam mail. Even if I did express interest in a seminar, I only want to get one email. If someone really wants to listen, they can figure out how; searching messages in your inbox isn’t hard.

  7. Rahul Says:

    Some events annoy me with too many reminders too.

    Best events have a tick box during registration which allows me to request a reminder.

    Some other points: make sure you send links that allow me to add the event to my calender directly.

    Some events display the event automatically in my local time zone. Love that! Not all of us live in the US.

    Also, if you are using some new platform I like it if there’s a test link. Just too many ways for Murphy’s laws to destroy a web meeting due to technical reasons.

    If you have a pre registration keep it short please. Don’t bug me for everything including my dogs name. Well, at least keep it optional.

  8. HASH Says:

    Email The God Damn Link!

    Just sayin and sharing related song..

    (Btw where can we see videos?. Thanks)

    Ministry TV II TV2 (Connect The God Damn Dots)

  9. Shufflepants Says:

    Why do I get the feeling this post was prompted by a very awkward situation in which some one did not email the link?

  10. Michael McCann Says:

    +1 for “stop emailing the link.” Sending reminders reinforces bad organizational habits and clutters the inboxes of people who are properly organized. I do appreciate when reminder emails have “REMINDER” in the subject so I can easily delete them.

  11. Scott Says:

    To those asking: Yes, there have been multiple cases where I had to send panicked emails in the minutes before a talk that I was giving asking for the link, either because it was never sent to me or because it was buried someplace unclear. I’ve taken to asking for the link explicitly, though even then the request is sometimes ignored.

    It reminds me of when the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded because the crucial information, about the foam having damaged the landing tiles, was buried deep in a PowerPoint slide. I’m sure there are people on this thread who’d say that they would’ve noticed that bullet point and acted on it, so asking for it to be displayed more prominently only incentivizes bad organizational habits.

  12. Richard Gaylord Says:


    “Like many academics, I’ve now been regularly “attending” conferences and giving talks via Zoom for four months. Naturally, I’ve learned a lot about how to use this platform—one that, despite numerous quirks and flaws, actually works well enough that it could probably replace at least 2/3 of in-person talks and meetings after the covid crisis is over.”.

    this may be the best possible outcome of the pandemic (other than having it experienced personally by McConnell, Barr and the Trumps and other politicians – non-fatally, of course). the government funded scientific conference has long been one of the major means (other than the summer salary)or boondoggels by which scientists obtain money from the taxpayer to pay for their ‘vacations’ (after all, getting to hang out with our colleagues and discuss the subjects that most interest us can hardly be considered anything other than a vacation even if it has side benefits such as knowledge transfer, establishment of scientfic collaborations. etc).

    the pandemic may well turn out to be the great benefit to the scientific enterprise which still sells itself to the layperson based on the hope it will lead to some society-wide approved goal like nuclear weapons.

  13. Abigail Says:

    Last week, we had a on online conference as well. However, each talk had its own separate zoom link; mailing “the zoom” link wasn’t really an option.

    Instead, we had the schedule in sched, with the zoom link in the talk details. We only had a few people asking about the link — half of them answering their own question before anyone else (we used a helpdesk Slack channel).

    We did however, email the password (same password for each zoom meeting). And that could be improved: the first email with the password went out just a day before, which had some people wondering whether they missed it. And more people didn’t pay attention to that email than we had people missing the zoom link. Also, people how signed up at the last moment required manual sending the email.

  14. Michael Says:

    ICE just issued a new rule that foreign students whose universities switched to online classes can’t stay in the United States:

  15. Scott Says:

    Michael #14: That’s horrible. But I haven’t heard anything about it from UT Austin. What’s the situation for universities that are planning to be online in the fall, but with some in-person activities (i.e., most universities, in practice)?

  16. Aspect Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with the message of this post and I wonder if we could kick things up a notch. What if people add the zoom link to the subject line? Is that an overkill?

  17. Michael Says:

    @Scott#15- It says in the above link:
    “Nonimmigrant F-1 students attending schools adopting a hybrid model—that is, a mixture of online and in person classes—will be allowed to take more than one class or three credit hours online. These schools must certify to SEVP, through the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” certifying that the program is not entirely online, that the student is not taking an entirely online course load this semester, and that the student is taking the minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program.”
    I assume that means that they can stay as long as they take SOME in person classes but I’m not a lawyer.

  18. M Says:

    @ Michael #17

    Just chiming in that what you wrote is my understanding also. Basically, as long as the university can classify the course as a “face-to-face” class, the student(s) should be okay. But it certainly is nerve-(w)racking.

  19. Rahul Says:

    ICE is so irrational. A H1 ban could be justified upon protectionist stupidity grounds at least.

    But an F1 student living in the US and taking classes even if entirely online isn’t that akin to a free stimulus to the local economy? Rent, food, groceries, etc.

    What’s the point of this ruling?! Who does it benefit? The airlines who will ferry the F1’s to home nation & back?!

  20. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Scott, the new ICE rule appears to be more serious than that. International students also CAN’T take online courses from their home countries if their school is not fully online- “only students enrolled at a school that is only offering online coursework can engage in remote learning from their home country.”

    This is someone’s idea of forcing universities to open or lose their critical sources of revenue.

  21. jonathan Says:

    Scott #11:

    I have to take issue with the comment regarding Columbia. I hadn’t heard about the powerpoint presentation, but I have to think that was a minor factor. Based on what I’ve read about the mission, there was abundant information indicating that the foam *could* have caused serious damage. Moreover, they had the means of easily assessing how much damage it had in fact done (via visual inspection). Several requests for such images were made by engineers. NASA brass opted not to provide them.

    The operative principle seems to have been, if I keep my eyes closed the monster can’t eat me.

  22. jonathan Says:

    Just to follow up on Columbia — this article covers it pretty well.

  23. Stephen Jordan Says:

    I’m with you 100% Scott. When someone engages in good faith intellectual discussion of controversial topics it is appropriate to respond in kind, i.e. with good faith argumentation. Cancelling, getting them fired, deplatforming, doxing, shaming campaigns, and so forth are unproductive and fundamentally wrong. That’s not a way to seek truth. That’s just a form of “might makes right.” Like you, I’m very concerned about how prevalent and normalized it is becoming. I’m not sure what to do about it that has a chance of being effective.

  24. Stephen Jordan Says:

    Whoops, I accidentally posted my comment to the wrong thread. It was meant to go under “My Enlightenment fanatacism.” I have now reposted it there.

  25. Yaqub Says:

    Hi Scott, you once said that if the Schrodinger equation were nonlinear that would allow us to solve NP problems in Polynomial time. Are Objective-collapse interpretations of quantum mechanics like those of Penrose nonlinear or linear in how they revise the Schrodinger equation?

  26. Scott Says:

    Yaqub #25: The kind of nonlinearity that lets you solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time is the kind that modified the Schrödinger equation by increasing the angle between states.

    You could call objective collapse “nonlinear” if you like, but it doesn’t change the Schrödinger equation (it only adds a term converting pure states to mixed states), so it doesn’t necessarily let you solve NP-complete problems.

    What makes things more complicated is that Penrose does think one could use modified QM to solve even the halting problem (!!!) — but if such a thing were true, it would have to be for reasons way beyond what we’re talking about here.

  27. Petter Says:

    I actually got invited to a Zoom meeting after writing here, so I now have first-hand experience. I think my comment stands. 🙂 I got a calendar entry in my Google calendar with the link very clearly displayed. There must be different ways of creating a meeting or something?

  28. Mahdiyar Noorbala Says:

    So was this the reason you didn’t show up for the ICTP talk last week? Or did you just forget? I hope nothing serious has happened and that you’re fine.

  29. Scott Says:

    Mahdiyar Noorbala #28:

      So was this the reason you didn’t show up for the ICTP talk last week? Or did you just forget?

    Sort of in between your two possibilities. I had on my Google Calendar, for a very long time, that the ICTP talk was at 10am US Central time, but it was actually 9am. And I never got any email that told me otherwise. So I woke up, showered, got dressed, and was totally ready to give the talk by 9:30am … when I discovered to my horror that everyone had already left the Zoom room! This is the first time in my career that such a thing has happened, and I take responsibility for it and apologize.

    Fortunately, the colloquium has now been rescheduled for Wednesday July 29. And this time I’ll get the time right! 🙂