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8 Tips for Using Google+ Hangout On-Air to Reach Citizens

Are you looking for a free way to connect with citizens or colleagues live by web-based video?

If so, I would encourage you to consider Google+ Hangout On Air.*

A couple weeks ago, GovLoop hosted a Google+ Hangout On Air entitled “Resume Tips for Prospective PMFs.” When we were looking for a platform to host this event, we had several goals – many of which I’m sure you share:

  • Host a live, video-based event that was also recorded for future viewing.
  • Use a web-based tool that required no download.
  • Have some sort of RSVP function so that we could easily message participants.
  • Incorporate a live chat function for Q&A.
  • Be able to embed the live stream in a couple different places for broader reach.
  • Do it for free or low-cost (now I know you can relate to that one!).

Google+ Hangout On Air achieved all six of them – and the best part was the ease with which it recorded the live session and made it available on YouTube afterward.

Based on our experience with the platform, I wanted to share with you seven lessons we learned in the process. Most of them are true for any live, online webinar or video-based event, so I hope they’re valuable beyond the application of a Google+ Hangout On Air.

Preparation and Delivery

1. Have speakers test their video in advance. One week prior to the event, I ran a test with each of our speakers to make sure that their webcams worked and that the video quality would be satisfactory. Bandwidth was a concern as our event would feature a speaker who was joining from Monrovia, Liberia (yes, you read that right!). We also asked the speakers to show up 30 minutes early to the event so that we could lock them in.

2. Look into your camera as much as possible. In reviewing the video afterward, I realized that I was looking at my notes versus directly into the camera during the introduction. My recommendation would be for the host to memorize the opening segment and focus on peering directly into the camera (the television anchors make it look way too easy!).

3. Use the moderator’s screenshare function for visuals. If you want to use slides, demonstrate a website or walk through an infograph, you can do so with the screenshare function. You could also share a specific app. The trick is that the host / moderator will want to use his/her screenshare / app sharing functions so that the visuals can appear at the same time as the speakers are talking. Participants will want to see speakers faces while they are also viewing the slides.

4. Click (and unclick) on the moderator’s slide deck window to lock it in (or take it off). In Google+ Hangout, you can click on a participant’s window and ‘lock’ them in for the viewing audience. I didn’t remember to do this right away and participants could not see the slides very well. Also, I then did not take it off right away when we went to the Q&A such that it would shift from speaker to speaker as they were talking. I would recommend that it become part of a checklist / script for such an event.

5. Have the moderator use two computers. I did this for redundancy just in case one of the laptops failed, but it also came in handy because I needed to share my screen. Using two computers allowed me to use one laptop for the chat and navigation while seeing what participants were viewing live during the event. It also enabled me to troubleshoot and operate from their perspective.

In addition to those five tips on the use of the web-based platform, below are three more recommendations that address the content flow (most courtesy of my colleague Steve Ressler):

Content Flow


6. Ask only one question per speaker.
Sometimes a moderator will allow each speaker to chime in on a question (I know I tend to do that quite often). Try pitching one question per speaker. This approach allows you to respond to more questions – and there are usually far more than you can address in 15-20 minutes of Q&A. Make the questions more rapid fire and avoid doing the, “Bob do you also have an answer to that question?” If another speaker wants to chime in, go for it. Otherwise, keep it moving.

7. Have the moderator provide some color. As a moderator, it helps to bring some levity to an event by making a few humorous remarks. It also helps if the moderator breaks in when people are going long to redirect and reset the presentation or conversation. Release your inner Ryan Seacrest.

8. Consider allowing for a question or two during the presentation portion. Rather than save all the questions to the end, you can make a live session more interactive by having a speaker respond to real-time questions that arise during his/her remarks. Try this content flow: talk, 1-2 questions, talk, all questions. It might break up the delivery and wake people up a bit.

While we use Google+ Hangout for weekly and impromptu team meetings (many of our team members live around the country and/or telework regularly), it was the first time that we used the On-Air function for this kind of live event. We also took a slight risk with a video-based platform knowing that one of our speakers for the event was located in Liberia and might have bandwidth challenges! In the end, it worked beautifully.

We plan to use Google+ Hangout On-Air in the future and I hope you’ll consider it, too.

  • Have you used Google+ Hangout and/or On-Air for engaging with citizens or connecting with colleagues?
  • What lessons have you learned regarding the delivery of web-based, video-based presentations (including your experience as a participant)?

* Please note that while Google is one of GovLoop’s sponsors, this blog post is my own opinion based on a great experience with one of their products. I’m sharing because I think it provides a great, free solution that government agencies could really use in an environment of smaller budgets and increasing demands for web-based technology that connects geographically-dispersed teams. Thanks for reading my mini-disclaimer. :-)

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Profile Photo Kevin Lanahan

Thanks, Andrew. I think I’d rather try to conference with colleagues before unleashing this on the public. While Hangouts is the main reason to use Google+, we’d also need to feed content to the beast.

I’d love to see some Hangouts about using social media, especially about how different agencies view social media and their overall plans to grow (or contain) it.

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Profile Photo Scott Horvath

Great tips Andrew…thanks! We’ll be looking to expand our efforts into G+ soon and Hangouts are one of those things we’ll want to take advantage of…very timely.

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