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Jeff Potts and I have been hosting various Alfresco related conversations on Google Hangouts for about a year. It is so much better than our previous webinar platform that I a gratefully accept the many curiosities of the system. We have found that the broadcasts go much more smoothly if we prepare all the panelists in advance. I decided it would be useful to post our instructions in a public place.

This is how you start a hangout-on-air:

  • Log in to Gmail account
  • Click Home -> Hangouts on the Air -> Start a Hangout On Air
  • Invite all participants
    • They will get the notification in their G+ profile and via email
  • Update the event with the embed code
    • Copy the embed code from the bottom right corner of the hangout -> Share -> Embed code
    • In a different browser window, go to the event page
    • Edit the event -> Advanced -> YouTube embed
    • Paste the code
  • Help all participants join
  • Press the start button

Google recently added the ability to create the hangout from the event page, but then I couldn't find it. Hopefully it comes back.

We share these tips with participants in the hope that it will go smoother.

  • We have had a lot of problems with Google Hangouts, so we try to set everything up 30 minutes early. If everything isn't working 15 minutes before, we get really nervous.
  • Make sure everyone uses a headset and a mic. This avoids echo and typing noises. If Google detects you typing, it will automatically mute you. Be careful that the volume of the conversation doesn't bleed  into your mic, and that you don't play the broadcast while recording. Do a volume check with all participants before starting the broadcast.
  • Pay attention to the lighting. If you sit near a window, have the sunlight hit your face at a right angle, if possible, or head-on (not behind you).
  • Make sure you understand what permissions your account has ahead of time. We have to use our personal Google accounts for Hangouts on Air, as our corporate accounts can not join a public hangout. I was told that this is because that Google Apps domain permission requires us to allow other corporate data to be publicly discoverable. As a consequence, at the end of the hangout the video is uploaded to the host's personal YouTube channel and has to be linked into a playlist on the corporate channel.
  • Close other Google Chat clients, as they sometimes eat the invitation to join the hangout.
  • Participants should see the invitation as a G+ notification and as an email. You can also join directly with the URL. Participants should not attempt to start their own Hangout, as Google will not let you have two hangout windows open at once so it will get in the way.
  • Screen-sharing is easy to do during the broadcast. There is a link on the left-hand side of the screen.
  • The camera will automatically switch to the person talking. When you don't mean to be talking, you might consider muting. It is in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. The presenter can select which person is the focus of the camera in the recording, but by default it will switch automatically.
  • There is a limit of 10 panelists in a hangout. If there are only two people in the hangout, only one person will be visible at a time. If there are more than two people, then small views of all participants will appear under the main view.
  • Also note that sometimes participants are muted by default when they join the hangout, and need to unmute in order to talk. Muting and unmuting can lag a few seconds, so it is easy for the participant to get confused as to whether they are muted or not.
  • We use the "Hangout Toolbox" to add an overlay to our video stream. This will   show up as a link in the left-hand side of the page after joining the hangout. Clicking it will activate a panel on the right-hand side of the page. We use the "lower third" settings in that panel to set an overlay with our names and twitter handles.
  • We take questions and comments from our IRC channel (#alfresco on freenode). There is a delay between our discussion and when others can see the broadcast, so questions from the IRC channel often come after our conversation has moved past a specific topic. We try to gracefully loop back to the topic.
  • Remind everyone to turn off ringers on desk phones, cell phones, instant messenger, and other interruptions.
  • Remind coworkers/family/friends/roommates that you are doing a live video broadcast. We have only had one minor interruption during a recording, but there is a lot of potential for embarrassment.
  • If you get disconnected, just click on the URL in the invitation again to rejoin. If the host gets disconnected, the recording will stop. The host then has to send out new invitations and start a new recording. After the broadcast we can put the two recordings together before posting.

Tips for the organizer:

  • It is easy to embed the YouTube broadcast URL into the G+ event page, or any other page. Shortly after the broadcast it is also available for re-play in the YouTube channel of the presenter.
  • If you create a G+ event page for the hangout, check the box under Options -> Advanced -> Hangouts. This allows you to say the event is online only, and it can't be specified later.

Unfortunately, the Hangouts team appears to change the interface every month, so be prepared for surprises.

Good luck!

Updates: I've been adding more tips to this post as I think of them.

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