Before having someone as a panel guest in a Hangout on Air, it’s essential that you hold a practice run-through, especially if the person is new to Hangouts. Even if the person has done a Hangout or two, it’s a good idea to hold a quick 10 minute meet and greet via the Hangout platform to iron out any potential issues.
There are so many different variables that can affect your hangout, and you don’t want technical glitches on the part of your panelists to ruin the experience for your guests. Nor do you want a panelist to feel like a failure or to stress out on camera. The practice session will increase the confidence of your panelists and help them to focus on the topic instead of the technology.
Invitations and Joining
Before the practice session, make sure the panelist and host have circled each other. (The circle should not be the default one called Following.) Instruct your guest to be logged into that G+ account and have G+ open in a browser tab. Usually, the guest will see a pop up invitation to join a hangout or video call. But also instruct the guest to check the red bell notifications. As a last resort, you can send the URL of the actual hangout window via email or chat. If the guest has problems joining, you will want to iron those out before the event when you have plenty of leisure to get it right.
Assuming can be dangerous, so I’ve learned to ask, “Is this the device you will join the actual hangout with?” If not, I will continue with the run-through but try to schedule another quick trial run on the different device. What works smoothly on one computer may not work at all on another.
Once inside the practice session and the pleasantries are over, I begin with the visual element.
I typically ask my guest if that is the actual location in her home where she will be joining the live panel. If not, I ask her to go ahead and move to that spot if possible.
If there are issues with a cluttered and distracting background or poor lighting, I gently suggest changes. In the case of lighting, we actually make the adjustments on the spot — turning lights on, opening curtains, or repositioning to another angle in the room.
Sometimes I ask the participant to raise her computer or webcam or to lower her chair when the camera angle is too low. Another situation is someone joining a hangout with a laptop literally in her lap! In that case, any motion will cause the entire screen to jump and shiver. Not good.
The bottom line is to look carefully at the appearance of your guest. Anything that is visually a problem needs to be solved during the practice.
The next big part is the audio. A lot of people will enter the hangout without any earbuds or headphones, so you will need to remind them to put them on before joining.
Ask, “Are those the headphones you will use for the actual hangout?” And if they are buying new ones in the meantime, you might want to do another quick run through. I’ve seen new hardware derail the quality of a show when a participant doesn’t have the settings modified for a new headset. It can be stressful at the last minute to walk someone through these settings. So I like to be safe and make sure our trial run includes all the equipment that will be used in the actual hangout.
I do warn the guest that she will probably be automatically muted when entering the hangout so that she doesn’t panic when no one hears her.
Buttons and Knobs — Using the Hangout Tools
After the location, audio, and video are set, we move to learning how to use three key features: muting audio and video, lower thirds, and chat.
I normally tell a funny story about one of my own first practice sessions when I learned the value of turning off your video and audio. That day, my cat knocked down a lamp behind me. When I got up and turned around to right the lamp, my friends got a full view of my rear end and a lot of jumbled noise. The laughter when I came back to the hangout taught me a memorable lesson about muting audio and video whenever a need arises to get out of your chair. The same rule applies when you need to make large motions, yell across the house, answer a call, or blow your nose.
After I teach the guest how to mute and turn off video (including actual practice of doing both functions), we move on to the lower thirds.
I walk the guest through the steps for installing the hangout toolbox and finding the lower thirds tool. Invariably people ask me what to add for a tagline and are worried about the “backwards” presentation of their lower thirds. I patiently walk them through the set up, let them play with the settings, and remind them that they will have to open the hangout toolbox again for the actual hangout.
Lastly, I teach the participant how to open and use the chat function. We ask our participants to keep the chat function open during the hangout so that we can send little reminders. And, yes, I admit that we are known to tell little jokes or give verbal high fives inside the chat column too. It’s part of the fun “insider’s circle” of being on a hangout panel.
As a side note, I mention that some people in the hangout will be monitoring the comment tracker but that they don’t need to worry about that tool. I’d rather they focus on the dialogue inside the hangout instead.
Before signing off, I remind the participant to come early to get set up and to stay in the greenroom after the hostess says “goodbye” to the audience so we can debrief. Once we had a guest hangup prematurely, not knowing that we continue to chat behind the scenes once the hangout is no longer live. I learned to give that direction during the practice session.
I also make a few remarks about promoting the event before hand (sharing versus inviting) and mention some follow up activities that they may want to participate in. The most important action is to monitor the event page afterwards for comments, questions, and mentions. That interaction is vital to the community we desire to foster with our hangouts, so it is an expectation we have for all panelists in a hangout.
Expect your panelist to forget what you taught them when they enter the green room before the live event. They may be nervous and unsure. You will probably have to run through lower thirds once again and remind everyone to mute, to open the chat feature, and to stick around after the event is over. Be gentle, friendly, and encouraging. With a thorough practice session and some kind reminders in the greenroom, your hangout will be a success, and you will hear those wonderful words from your guests, “That was so fun! I want to do this again!”
Hone Your Skills
If you need a bit more support with HoA, I recommend (affiliate link) Ronnie Bincer’s Hangout Mastery course. The investment will help you wade through the confusion and get right to what you need to know in a timely manner. It took me only three months of membership to gain confidence with Hangouts. After that time I canceled my membership. But other people stay on long-term. The choice is yours.