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Creating a Smooth(ish) Hangout on Air


Creating a Smooth(ish) Hangout on Air


I've been poking around Google+ (G+) and Hangouts on Air (HOA) for some time now, but hadn't really taken much of a leap into things until recently when I made the mistake of suggesting my client use it to tie together a series of events across Canada. The mistake wasn't in the suggestion of the tool, per se, but when I suggested it, I failed to recognize that I was the one in the meeting who would be actually running the event. ;) First off, I hope someone from HOA reads this because they need to know that this tool needs some usability tweaking. So many people I work with day-to-day are used to their iPads and other Apple-y type user experiences that eliminate features in order to simplify interfaces. G+ and HOA are definitely designed for an advanced user. That being said, I was able to simplify it enough for the parties involved that the experience went quite smoothly so I thought others would find my tips and tutorial interesting, too!

Why Hangouts On Air?

There really isn't another free tool out there like it. There are plenty of group video applications and lots of ways to meet via video online, but nothing that publishes directly to YouTube AS IT HAPPENS. There were a few ways to broadcast what you were doing that came out over the years, but I love the combination of getting together a group while broadcasting the interaction. It's a great way to conduct a panel on a topic or, like what I worked on, create the opportunity for a public figure (politician, celebrity, CEO of a major brand) to interact casually with their audience - answering questions in real time.

The upsides of HOA are:

  1. Free to use
  2. Can involve up to 10 accounts logging in at  a time (in our case, dozens of people were at each account)
  3. Streams live to YouTube, so more people can watch and comment there

The downsides of HOA are:

  1. It's a bit buggy
  2. Can't get a URL on YouTube to promote the event until you actually start the HOA gathering (which is a pain)
  3. It's not the most smooth user experience and requires some mega technical guidance for most

All things considered, it is a really nifty tool.

How to Plan Your Hangout On Air

There are all sorts of catches to planning a HOA. The more people you involve, the more you need to deal with varying levels of tech savviness, different time zones and all sorts of other factors. The job of organizing and running an HOA is to mitigate the risk and plan for as many potential disasters as possible.

The first thing you'll need to do to get all of your participants to get G+ accounts so they can get familiar with the platform. Though many more tech savvy people I know have gMail accounts, not everyone will. But I found it easiest to have people create their G+ accounts after getting them to set up a gMail account.

The instructions I sent were, "Click the +__(yourname)___ in the dark grey bar in the upper left part of your browser screen" and I would add a screenshot:


Google will have you jump through a few hoops, but once you are in your Google+ account, it should look like this:

Screen Shot 2013-03-02 at 5.36.47 PM

Start poking around to set your name and avatar. Click on the left hand menu items like PROFILE where you can edit your profile, adding a photo, changing your display name and adding any personal relevant information about yourself:

Screen Shot 2013-03-02 at 5.38.47 PM

Once you set up your account, it's time to do the 'following', which is called 'adding to circles' in G+. (Feedback for Google - this should be a next level feature, not a first level feature. I should be able to find and follow people, THEN organize them later. The circle thing is incredibly confusing.)

In order to make this easier, I asked the participants to send their Google+ URLs and sent them a screenshot of how they can find their URLs (not pretty by social web standards. Hopefully Google will fix this soon):

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 10.41.39 AM

They needed to click on PROFILE and then copy and paste the and send it to me.  I'd add them to my circles, which would notify them so they could just add me to theirs.

This step isn't 100% necessary, but I created circles especially made for the participants of each HOA so I could just invite them all at once.

I also did a test run with as many of the 16 participants (8 in each HOA) as I could ahead of time. We scheduled a time where I'd launch a HOA and invite them. 9 times out of 10, they didn't receive the invitation, so I sent them the URL from the actual HOA. They would click on it and join instantly.

So, in order to make sure everyone felt more comfortable and things were set up right, I did a practice run with everyone I could. It takes only about 15 minutes and it made things run MUCH more smoothly. I also helped them set up and save their Lower Third, which I'll explain in a bit.

The Basic Tips to Send for an HOA Ahead of Time

Because I couldn't coordinate with all of the participants ahead of time, I sent instructions on setting up: A. What you will need:

a. a laptop with camera  (NOTE: does NOT work with an iPad) b. LAN connection - plug in for connectivity - so there is no delay

B. General Tips:

1. make sure you have good lighting - this is very important 2. make sure you are in a quiet area. Using the laptop mic will be fine, but no ambience (tv, radio, people talking in the background, etc). 3. MUTE YOURSELF anytime you are not speaking.

C. Setup Steps:

1 hour ahead of the time we are starting the broadcast:

1. go to:

2. log into your google+ account

3. You should see a RED number by your avatar:

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 6.39.30 PM

Click on that. There should be an event invitation that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 7.03.49 PM

4. Click on the arrow and JOIN HANGOUT to join the event.

5. This will open a new window with the hangout.

IF YOU DO NOT SEE THIS NOTIFICATION by 45 minutes ahead of time, check your email inbox. I will be sending you a very ugly URL to click on. It will look something like this:

Clicking on this URL (or copying and pasting it into a new browser tab or window) will allow you to join the Hangout instantly.

6. Next you should create your LOWER THIRD. A Lower Third is that fancy bar across the bottom of the screen that tells us who you are and where you are coming from:

Screen Shot 2013-03-02 at 7.34.44 PM

You will need to install the Hangout Toolbox to do this. If you don't already see the Toolbox in the menu of your left hand menu bar, you can install it by clicking on the "..." on the bottom of the menu on the left bar:

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 7.07.57 PM + Add Apps

7. Then click on Hangout Toolbox:

Inline image 7 Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 7.08.19 PM + Install hangout extension

8. You will now have a new RIGHT sidebar menu (right of your image) that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 7.08.36 PM

Click on the first FACE + bar icon in the tab.

9. In the 'Lower Third' section, type in YOUR NAME + YOUR LOCATION + select ON (pick whatever color you'd like)

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 7.09.55 PM

It will look like it is backwards, but don't worry, it's just a reflection of what everyone else will see.

10. When you have created your Lower Third, you can save it as a preset in case you need it later, then go back to your left hand menu and click chat so we can all communicate behind the scenes during the event.

What I Learned from my HOA

Sound and lighting is vitally important. The times when things didn't work were when we got awful feedback because people didn't mute their microphones or we couldn't see the participants very well.

I would also advise that there be at least two of me (and presumably you) that are super well-trained to run the event. One to be like me and get people set up and moderate and control the show, the other to be able to run around, provide technical experience while things are going down and to make sure the 'star attraction' (in this case, Justin Trudeau) is set up, mutes the mic while he's not talking (or can unmute it when he is) and is also being queued from that side.

Next time I'm going to have a more sophisticated system where we have walkie talkies or the like between the technical people behind the scenes.

Another issue I'm still trying to resolve is how to get the event promoted ahead of time other than through merely a HOA event listing on my Google+ page. Without initializing the event, I don't get a URL on YouTube and I can't just send people to the YouTube page. I'll update this post if I get some tips for this (or a response from Google). I'd imagine that people that do Hangouts on Air want people to watch them, so it's most likely a frequent request.

Yes, Hangouts themselves can be nice and casual ways to communicate and an HOA is a pretty hip way for someone to communicate with their audience, but there is a higher level of sophistication that should go on in the background to make it look as nifty as the Google+ promotion of HOA: