How To Have a World Class Google Hangout

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts, the video conferencing tool that lets you chat with up to nine other pals, is an incredible piece of free technology. For casual gatherings online, hanging out couldn’t be easier. To set up a Hangout, first make sure your guests have laptops, mobile devices or PCs with camera and microphone capabilities. Next, send invites to your friends via email or by tapping them in Google+ and, boom–you’re having a real-time video chat session.

As the Director of Audio/Video at the Office of Digital and Design Innovation, I wanted to explore how our journalists could use Hangouts to cover breaking news and for in depth analysis. Hangouts can allow news organizations to quickly react to breaking news and have their best and brightest join from wherever they are, including from mobile devices (as long as they have adequate bandwidth–more on that below). No need for satellite transmissions or rushing talent to studios. Additionally, Hangouts On Air (a separate product from standard Hangouts) can allow broadcasters to record their Hangouts to YouTube and download those clips for further editing.

However, the requirements of a global news organization like the BBG reach beyond those of a casual video chat. We’d want to create a broadcast with journalists from around the globe, some of whom may be on mobile devices. We’d also want to market the broadcast, take feedback from users in real time and present a professional-looking broadcast with graphics, plus have timed camera changes and high quality audio. With this in mind, we realized the process would be a lot more complicated and require coordinated preparation. But going the extra mile to make sure Hangouts look great and perform well for a global audience is worth the effort.

Here are some tips to turn a Hangout into a broadcast quality production.

Assemble Your Team

You’ll want to come up with a team roster that looks like this:

1. Hangout On Air Producer: The producer hosts the Hangout, controls the Cameraman (allows switching camera view between guests) and the Hang Out Tool Box app (provides lower third graphics that identify your host and guests), plus sends out YouTube links to social editors and more.

2. Host/Moderator: The host/moderator comes up with an agenda, asks the questions and drives the conversation during the Hangout.

3. Social Media Editor: The social media editor promotes the Hangout on social channels, edits and moderates comments on the Google+ page during Hangouts and updates the status/ending of Hangouts on social channels.

4. Guests: The guests participate in the real-time conversation along with the host.

5. Video Editor: The video editor downloads the Hangout On Air from YouTube, edits it, then uploads the polished clip to YouTube, Google+ and other platforms.

A peek at the Google Hangout Toolbox App which allows you to generate lower third graphics and more

Check Your Equipment

1. Bandwidth: Perhaps the most important thing that can ensure a high quality Hangout is bandwidth availability, both for the host and the guests. Although Google has added features to allow participants to lower their bandwidth requirements to help smooth out their broadcast or opt for audio-only transmission, you should shoot for each participant to have a minimum of 1 MB per second transmission speed, for upload and download. There are several speed check applications out there that can help you determine your speed. Have your guests check their bandwidth performance (especially mobile participants) well ahead of the Hangout.

2. Microphones and Cameras: Sure, you can rely on the built in camera and microphone on your laptop, but as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. Pay some extra bucks and greatly improve your broadcast quality by getting stand alone microphones and cameras.

3. Headphones: This one is easy to forget, but it’s imperative to use headphones. Why? Because without headphones, your participants will be listening to the broadcast from your computer’s speakers, and that sound will loop back into the microphone, causing a screeching feedback sound. In short, don’t forget the headphones!

A look at how media organizations are using Google Hangouts

Do a Dry Run: Have An Agenda and a Backup Plan

Nothing can kill the excitement of a live broadcast than an unprepared host and technical problems.  You should definitely have a practice dry run to make sure everyone has equipment correctly configured.  Additionally, be sure that your host has a full agenda and shares it with your guests ahead of time.  Also, if you are planning on including a guest on a mobile device, be sure to have other guests that are on traditional wired connections ready in case the mobile participant’s connection is not up to par and needs to drop out of the conversation.

Promote and Polish Your Hangout

Decide early on if you want your Hangout to be promoted and viewed live by others. Of course, promoting the Hangout and having it watched live is high pressure, but you’ve already gone through the steps above, did a dry run and are ready to conquer the world of real-time broadcast, right?  If you do decide to promote your Hangout, be sure to create an event on Google+ and promote it on Facebook, Twitter and your own Web and mobile properties. Also, a site called Hype My Hangout can help you create some very slick promotional materials. Finally, if you broadcast a Hangout On Air that has been recorded to YouTube, be sure to download the clip, edit and polish it. Add title cards and relevant graphics. And don’t forget to reduce the clip to include just the best moments. Hangouts tend to be visually dry, so be sure to keep your editing tight.

Improve With Every Hangout

With each Hangout, your producer and the entire Hangout team should be getting more comfortable and confident. The team should start using Google Chat to take direction from the producer. Social editors should become more and more independent and hopefully you will have repeat guests who don’t need as much up-front training. The practice sessions and early live broadcasts will help form valuable habits that will especially come in handy for breaking news situations. Follow the tips above and you’ll be broadcasting world class Hangouts in no time.

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Randy Abramson

Randy Abramson

Randy Abramson is the Director of Product Management and Operations for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow him on Twitter: @randyabramson.

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