google hangouts on air

Hosting a Hangout: Setup and Preparation

I’ve recently been very excited by the potential of Google+ Hangouts for a variety of reasons; staying in touch with family around the world, global meetings, and live Hangouts on Air. For the first time a few weeks ago I hosted the very first Social Media for Science Communicators Live Hangout.

I would love to say it went off without a hitch, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. There were, however, a lot of learnings that I took out of the experience and I’m excited about our next one!¬†Take a look at the finished product that’s now publicly available on YouTube:

 

In this first post on a series about hosting a successful Hangout on Air, I’ll take you through the first and most important phase: setup.

Preparation

Getting this part right makes everything else much, much easier. Trust me. If you’re still wrangling cats to participate in your hangout the day of your live broadcast, then it will make everything much harder. Top tips for getting prepared:

  1. Identify a topic and possible participants
  2. Prepare the topic with a list of questions or discussion points, and share with your participants, inviting them to participate
  3. Arrange a suitable time and day for all your participants, taking into account time zones of your participants and your audience
  4. Begin marketing and sharing with your audience the upcoming hangout on air through Google+, Twitter and through your blog

 

Setup and getting your hangout ‘on air’

You want to make sure everyone is good to go the day of your hangout and that they have ample time to sit in a quiet place and focus on your discussion without interruptions. This is very important as any interruption could detract from your final recording, and could potentially stop the flow of conversation. Just as important is to get all of your participants online and queued into your video call at least 15 minutes prior to the hangout time, so as to assist with any technical issues and have everyone settled ready to go.

Google+ makes it very easy to start a Hangout on Air, which can be accessed from the ‘Hangouts’ button the left menu. By clicking the ‘Start a Hangout on Air’ button in the top left, you open a new window which provides you with few options.

start-a-hangout

 

Before getting to naming your hangout and selecting your participants, you can set your call hardware settings, selecting the input video and audio device, as well as the audio output device. Ideally you want to have a headset with a microphone.

setting

 

The new window gives you the ability to name your Hangout. This is the name that people will see on YouTube, and the default name of the video once it is uploaded to YouTube. The easiest, and by far the best method for making a call to all of the participants, is to create a new Circle with everyone added. This saves searching for individuals, or potentially missing someone that should be there. When you’re happy with the name and you’ve selected your participants or circle, click the ‘Start Handout On Air’ button. Don’t worry, this will not broadcast you live just yet, but will place the call to all of your participants.

circle

 

As the call is being made to your participants, you can begin adding widgets and making additional changes to the call settings. You can enhance the video output, add bottom third names, create in-hangout message boards, screen sharing options and activate the live question and answer option for YouTube. In an upcoming discussion I’ll share more about the advanced features of Hangouts and how to optimise these settings for your audience. When you’re ready to go, hit the Start Broadcast button, and now you’re LIVE!

ready-to-broadcast

 

A few technical considerations for a high quality broadcast and recording:

  1. Sit in a well lit room with adequate lighting on your face
  2. Ensure you use a headset and microphone for high quality audio
  3. If you have two people tuning in from the one location, have them sit in separate rooms, otherwise there will be some horrendous feedback (see video above)
  4. Don’t rely on wifi; make sure everyone is using a wired LAN connection for smooth video
  5. Use a fully charged laptop and keep the power cable connected at all times! Failing to do so could result in the Hangout going off air
  6. Angle the camera at eye height. If you’re using a laptop, prop it up so that it gives you the most flattering angle

Next I’ll be talking about what to do during your Hangout, what to look out for, and how to ensure the discussion keeps flowing!