Tips and Tricks for Hangouts on Air
updated Sept. 13, 2012

Hangouts on Air is a service from Google+ that lets any number of viewers watch your Hangout; within Google+ itself or live on YouTube. The final video version of the Hangout is uploaded automatically to YouTube.

Google+ has rolled this feature out to 220 countries on Earth, so everyone on the planet should have the ability to produce a Hangout on Air.

We currently use this functionality for our +Virtual Star Party, where we connect a handful of telescopes to a hangout and broadcast a live view of the night sky. But you could use this service for almost anything.

This guide will give you the basics of Hangouts on Air. If you'd like to learn how to promote your Hangout, read my other guide:

Perfectionist's Guide to Marketing Your Hangout on Air

Important... Verify your YouTube Account

Before you do anything, make sure you have verified your YouTube account. You want to make sure your account can handle videos longer than 15 minutes, otherwise, your Hangout won't get saved.

- The quality of the video camera and microphone matter a lot. Get a good webcam like a Logitech 910C and a headset microphone. Don't settle for crappy embedded webcams.

- Most headset microphones can sound really bad too, so invest in a USB headset, or even better, a desktop microphone like a Blue Snowball.

- You want to run your hangout on the fastest computer you have at your disposal. That will make the video as smooth as possible.

- Every participate should use a wired line (not wireless) to maximize your upload speed.

- Everyone needs to wear headphones or earbuds to reduce echo. No exceptions.

- You want to avoid backlighting, which will make a person dark in the video. Don't have a bright window behind your back. Get some kind of light pointing at you.

- Try to have an interesting background behind you. A plain white wall is really boring. But a big living room can look really great. Just clean your kitchen first.

- Try to get the camera positioned at eye level or even pointing slightly down at you. If you're using a laptop, you'll want to put it on a box or some books. It'll look much better.

- Thanks to a recent update, mobile devices can now join a Hangout on Air. This is a great time to experiment with new ideas. Take your Hangouts on the road and report from the scene.

Integration with Events
- When you know when your event is going to happen, you'll want to schedule a public event so people can put it into their calendars. Make sure you select Advanced options -> On Air Event. Then invite the public to the event.

Make sure you don't choose "Hangout", that will create a trap that puts people into the wrong location.

- You should also schedule another event just for the participants. This will let you coordinate together, but it's not visible to the public.

Initial Preparations
- If you're going to have a lot of people participating, start the Hangout early to get everyone in and settled, with the right devices, etc. Remember that the Hangout is secret until you actually hit broadcast.

- You can only invite people in your circles into the Hangout, so make sure you have all the people you want in a circle beforehand. It's very difficult to invite people specifically if you don't have them in circles. If you do need to invite someone, and don't have them in a circle, email them the URL to the private hangout interface, and they'll be able to get in.

- You can't invite the "Public" into a Hangout on Air. If you do need to do that, you can always copy-paste the private URL to the chat, so people can join it directly.

- Minimize the amount of programs running on your computer. You might want to screenshare various parts of your computer during the Hangout, so make sure you're not going to be broadcasting anything private. Strip down your browser toolbars, turn off chat programs, etc. Autohide your dock/start menu so people don't see it if you need to screenshare.

- Think about copyright/intellectual property before you start streaming. Make sure you own the rights to anything you broadcast, or there'll be hell to pay, with angry lawyers.

- You can join a Hangout twice from two different devices. This will let you put up screenshots, videos, etc in another pane. It also acts like a backup, letting you control the Hangout from two different devices. If one goes down, switch to the other. 

- Queue up all your other methods of promoting the Hangout, like Twitter, Facebook, etc. When you go live, you'll be able to copy-paste the URL and multiply the number of viewers.

- To maximize the viewership, try to stick to a regular schedule. We record Mondays at 2000 GMT and Thursdays at 1800 GMT.

- Create an intro screen graphic beforehand that introduces the Hangout. You'll run this in your hangout for the first 5 minutes before you actually get started.

Running the Hangout
- The Hangout doesn't go public until you actually click "Start Broadcast". Your YouTube recording starts after that point too.

- When you do hit broadcast, the Hangout will appear in your stream, so you'll want people to link directly to the post that contains the Hangout. That way you can get people to post comments, give feedback, etc. You want to corral people into this single location.

- If audio quality is important to you, have each participant choose Studio Mode from their hangout settings. The audio quality is dramatically better, but the upload bandwidth is enormous, so you definitely need a fast wired connection.

Here's a great demonstration with +Daria Musk showcasing the difference between voice and studio mode:

- You can get the permalink to the Hangout by right-clicking on the timestamp of the post that contains the Hangout.

- For the first 5 minutes of your Hangout, run a graphic that explains that the Hangout is about to start. Get all of the participants to mute their audio/video so it's all black screens. You can't talk to each other, but you can coordinate through chat. This will give your audience a few minutes to join in, and settle down. It also gives you time to Tweet, FB share and embed your Hangout in all your websites.

- You can get the embed code for the video in the upper right-hand corner of the window. You can put that into websites. Nobody can see your video until you actually click "Start Broadcast", so you can put the embed code on websites and don't have to worry that people will see what you're doing before you're ready to broadcast. Viewers just see a message that the broadcast will start shortly.

- Your live video will also be broadcast over on YouTube. People will be making comments over there, so make sure you watch for comments on both Google+ and YouTube.

- People find typing and background noises really frustrating, so encourage people to mute their microphones when they're not talking

- You're the director. This means that you can override the camera switching that Google normally does. If you click on a person's pane and make them the focus, the viewers will see that too. But you can also just let the Hangout handle the switching on its own. Just don't forget to click the focus off again.

- Use the Cameraman app within Hangouts on Air to hide and reveal participants to the Hangout. Once they're hidden and then revealed, they'll need to unmute themselves again before they can talk.

- It's okay to be casual and make mistakes. Viewers appreciate that it's real and they're not seeing some overly slick production. But try to create the highest production quality you can.

- Screensharing from a browser is very memory intensive. If you just need to show a picture, consider using an image utility to do that, not the browser. Try to get another participant to screenshare an image, instead of the person talking. We mostly use +Hangout Lower Third to showcase pictures within the Hangout.

- During the course of the Hangout, you'll see the total number of viewers listed in the upper right-hand corner of the Hangout. Yay!

- If you want to let the public into your Hangout and join the broadcast, you can post a link to the Hangout into the comments. Anyone who clicks that link will appear in the Hangout. Once publicized, though, it can never be un-publicized. You're stuck with anyone who jumps into your public show.

- Your hangout is limited to 4 hours of total broadcast time. You'll get a warning when you're an hour away from the end of your time limit.

- The output video dropped into your Youtube account is pretty low quality, so you'll want another way of recording it if the quality is an issue (something like Screenflow).

- That output video is set to public by default. It's also embedded into the original post on Google+ where you hosted the live show. And there's no way to remove it, without deleting the whole post.

- The trimming tools on Youtube take 6+ hours to render, so it's better to just post the whole hangout if you're happy with the quality and didn't say anything embarrassing in the beginning. You'll want to practice minimizing the initial preparations, so you don't need to even trim it.

- Make sure you embed the output video somewhere accessible after the fact. We find we get about 20x the viewership afterwords than what happened live. People will expect to be able to see what happened in the hangout.

Key Extensions

There are three extensions that will make your Google+ Hangout on Air much much easier to run. Unfortunately, at the time I'm posting this, you can't actually run all three together:

+Hangout Lower Third by +Moritz Tolxdorff 
Creates a lower third graphic title, so people watching the Hangout know who everyone is.

+Hangout Comment Tracker  by +Gerwin Sturm  
This will give you an additional pane in your hangout, and show you all the comments getting generated on Google+ and on YouTube for your hangout. This way you don't have to switch around to multiple windows.

You can run a standalone version of this:

+Pro Studio  by +Chad LaFarge 
Gives you a ton of controls over the hangout, including muting members, letting participants raise their hands - you can even kick people out of the hangout.
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