Monday, July 14, 2014

Google Hangout Tech Tips

Posted by: Britt Ehrhardt, FCN Co-Chair and Technical Writer/Editor at the National Institutes of Health

The Federal Communicators Network held its first ever Google Hangout On Air last month. Members of the media joined experienced agency public affairs staffers for a candid panel discussion of relationships between the media and government communicators.

If you missed the event, find the recording on YouTube:

Here are a few technical lessons we learned from trying out Google Hangout:

1. Event Page design - You’ll need a photo/image with the right dimensions for the Event page. Google requires an image that is at least 1200 pixels wide and 300 pixels tall to serve as the banner, or “theme,” for the page. That banner should prominently include the time of the event and the name of your organization, as Event pages do not make this information as prominent as you might like. I made our banner in Paint with an image from the internet. (If you follow suit, be sure you use an image that is copyright-free or whose copyright allows this kind of use, as I did.)

2. Audio - Rather than use any of the in-Hangout apps to control audio, I simply asked our panel to mute themselves as they listened to others, unmuting only when they wanted to speak. (In Google Hangout, of course, the video features whoever is making noise, so coughs and other noises are a visual distraction, as well as an audial one.) We were happy with how this self-muting worked out. It had the advantage of allowing for free-flowing conversation. Our panel members could jump in and out of the discussion as they wanted, rather than waiting for a cue from a producer. Participants wore headphones, to avoid feedback.

3. Testing and prep - To test connections and lighting with participants in advance, I set up separate test Hangouts. This was a great opportunity for everyone to familiarize themselves with the technology, and to practice muting and unmuting. It also ensured that the necessary browser plugin was installed on everyone’s machine. When the tests were complete, we quickly deleted the Events and the YouTube video associated with the test. Google automatically generates a YouTube video for any Hangout On Air that goes live, so be sure you delete tests you don’t want public.

4. In-Hangout apps – I used both the Chat app and the Q&A app for our Hangout On Air, and we really liked both of them.

·         The Chat app is available within all Hangouts On Air, and it allows the panelists and producer to communicate privately with each other. “Hey, let’s answer that question next,” and that sort of thing. Gives participants a lifeline in case something goes wrong, as well.
·         The Q&A app needs to be enabled from the Event page, before you start the Google Hangout. It allows viewers to write in with questions throughout the event. Both panelists and viewers could see the questions as they came in on the side of the screen. (The producer can also delete questions, if necessary.) As our panelists addressed each question in turn, I marked the question we were currently answering so that it was highlighted toward the top of the screen. This data is added to the YouTube recording as well, to help people watching there understand what we were discussing, and when.

5. Internet connection - And finally, wireless connections really are not acceptable for video broadcast. (You might say, “well, duh!” But, we had to learn this for ourselves.) Even if the wireless at the location is great and fast, it just won’t work for Google Hangout. Insist that your participants connect on a hard-wired connection only.

There were plenty of other technical details and lessons learned—far too many to include in a blog post—but these are my quick highlights.
Did you watch our Google Hangout? Should we have another training event on Google Hangout in the future? Anything we could do better or different next time? Let me know by commenting below.


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