6 Tips for a Successful Google+ Hangout On Air

October 31, 2013

A part of our SparkNotes blog series on social media.


A Hangout On Air is a public video conference or “Hangout,” broadcast live on G+ and are archived immediately as YouTube videos.

A Hangout On Air is the next level of group video-chatting powered by Google’s shiny new-ish social network Google+.

For those of us who are long-time users of Google’s Gmail and Gchat and video chat (guilty as charged), you will be pleased to know that the chat feature is now fully integrated with Google+.  A chat or video chat is now called a Hangout.

Video Hangouts are a lot like Skype: they allow you to join up to 10 people in a live video chat for free (Skype requires a paid subscription for a video chat with more than one person).

Why “Hangout”?

By default, your conversations on G+ Hangouts or chats remain private, which for personal purposes is the most common choice.  Since January 2013, you also have the option to make your Hangout a public, live-streamed event—which  Google calls a “Hangout on Air,” and this is where you can start having some fun with your organization’s G+ page.

What we love most about Hangouts is that they’re free, they let you bring together several people (think: experts, youth, staff) into one video conversation no matter where in the world they are. All they need is a web camera and a decent Internet connection. When the Hangout On Air ends, you get an instant YouTube video that you can edit and share (as long as your account is connected to a YouTube account.

If you want folks to participate without requiring that they be on G+, it’s easy to embed the streaming video into your website or blog: once you have set up your Hangout, you’ll get embed code as you would any other YouTube video. Audiences can use the chat feature or Twitter to ask questions (give them a hashtag to use or have them direct Tweet your account, and have someone monitor it during the Hangout).

In September, we partnered with the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange to host our very first Hangout On Air. We joined Save Our Streets Crown Heights, a Brooklyn, NY violence intervention program modeled after CureViolence (previously CeaseFire) and a journalist on youth justice issues to discuss why and how their program works to stop violence in New York City.  We also helped the New York Academy of Science host a Hangout on Air as part of Google’s Nonprofit Hangouts Month.

About G+: G+’s main function is focused around the creation and interaction within customized Circles of friends to help organize your network into compartmentalized groups. Check out what we’re doing so far on SparkAction’s official G+ page.

Here are the six biggest lessons we learned about how to create the highest quality broadcast and why it’s worth it.

  1. Give yourself time to test, troubleshoot, and test again
    Do a test run beforehand with at least one participant who’s not co-located with you. Then, on the big day, give yourself 45 minutes to an hour before the broadcast to set up and test with all your participants. We did one test that worked fine, but when it was time to go on air we had some unexpected technical difficulties.
  2. The Camera Man App is awesome
    The Camera Man App is an extension available through G+ that takes 10 seconds to attach. Camera Man helps the back end or moderator have more control over the On Air hangout, like mute other people’s lines, change whose camera is featured on the top and hiding cameras. This is particularly useful for a hangout with a lot of users.
  3. Use headphones or sit in a silent, non-echo-y room for the best sound quality
    When you have lots of people on a conversation, a little bit of background noise or feedback can do a lot of damage to audio quality. If you don’t have a silent (and we mean silent) room to sit in, wear headphones, ideally with a built-in mic.
  4. Low-effort preparation
    G+ hangouts are designed to be conversations, and here at SparkAction I put in my vote to keep On Air conversations entertaining, light and natural. So planning the content of a G+ hangout takes relatively light effort—prepare some questions and create a loose agenda.  Make sure your participants are comfortable and prepared but don’t over-structure it. I approach it as though we’re all having a professional coffee talk, sharing info about our work.  If you’ve got the right people, they know how to talk about what they do or care about with very little prompting.
  5. High reward: putting a face to the name
    Hosting a video chat online is a great way to highlight the personal element of your business or organization, which is what everyone strives for on social media by and large.
  6. High reward: immediate, shareable multimedia
    Hangouts are archived immediately as a YouTube video (which are also editable, if necessary). So, by hosting a Hangout you provide your YouTube channel and organization with relevant and entertaining multimedia that you can share continuously after the event has passed.  It also allows those who missed out on the broadcast to be a part of the experience by watching it later.

Thinking about hosting a Hangout On Air? Check out this online guide on how to set one up, and browse Google for more information on G+.


Alison Beth Waldman is Editorial Associate at SparkAction. Email her at alison[at]sparkaction.org.


Find other social media tips and tricks in our SparkNotes series.

Alison Beth Waldman