A guide to using Google Hangouts On Air

About a year ago, adviser Jonathan Rogers described how he had been using Google Hangouts On Air to bring in remote speakers and guests to talk to his students and archive the talks. Since then, I’ve seen interviews with celebrities, panel discussions on big issues, and even entire digital conferences broadcast using the tool. I even had a chance to host an adviser panel recently using the tool. So it seemed worthwhile to revisit the tool and share a few how-to tips and ideas for staffs interested in using it for journalistic purposes.

What it is

Unlike typical Google Hangouts, which allow private video conferencing for up to 10 people, Hangouts On Air allow users to “go live” and broadcast a Hangout to a live audience. It’s still limited to 10 participants, but you can have an unlimited number of viewers.

How it works

  1. Use an individual or staff Google account (and related YouTube account) to set up or schedule the Hangout On Air.
  2. Invite participants to join in, and encourage them to go in a little beforehand to check their microphone and speaker settings.
  3. Promote the Hangout to your audience using your site and your social media accounts. Share the event link and solicit questions in advance.
  4. When it’s time, start the Hangout, gather your participants, then begin broadcasting.
  5. During the Hangout, click on the thumbnail of the person talking to make that person’s video larger. This includes selecting your own when you’re posing questions.
  6. At the end of the Hangout, end the broadcast. It will be archived on the YouTube channel of the account used to host it.
  7. Embed the video into a post on your site so that anyone who missed it can go back and watch. Promote the post to your audience.

A few tips

  • Don’t invite too many people. Panel discussions are interesting, but only if participants are actually exchanging ideas, and with too many participants, some voices won’t be heard.
  • Give all of your participants another way to contact you, like a cell number they can text message, in case they have technical issues.
  • Advise your participants on their environmental setting. Ask them to light themselves from the front (a lamp or even increasing the screen brightness can help) and move or close the window coverings if there’s a window behind them.
  • If there’s a lot of background noise, ask them to plug in headphones if possible. The earbuds that come with an iphone work great for this since they have a mic built into the cord.
  • During the chat, use the group chat function (top left menu) to communicate between participants. Viewers will not see the chat box.
  • Edit the video as needed in your YouTube video manager.


Problem: a participant has an issue with the microphone or speakers

Solution: Most likely, they need to change the input or output source. Guide them to the menu that appears at the top of the browser window when moving the mouse upward, and select the gear icon to access settings. Ask them to change the settings. If that doesn’t resolve the problem, have them leave the call then come back in. Make sure they don’t have another Hangout window open.


Problem: a participant is not appearing on video

Solution: This is also likely a settings issue. Direct them to the settings menu and have them change the video source. In the worst case scenario that a participant can’t get it to work at all, you could have them download the Hangouts app onto another device such as a smartphone.


Problem: choppy video, lagging

Solution: This is usually a problem with one user’s wi-fi connection. Try to isolate the problem and direct the participant to do whatever is possible to get a stronger connection. This might mean directly connecting through an ethernet cable or changing his or her location.


Problem: you hear an echo

Solution: This problem is usually caused by one user a) having two Hangout windows open or b) working from a computer that has an internal microphone picking up the audio from its speakers. Isolate the problem and ask the user to plug in headphones.

Michelle Balmeo

Michelle Balmeo, MJE, is the adviser of The Whirlwind newsmagazine and online news publication at West Albany High School in Albany, Ore. She's done some print stuff, some video stuff, and some web stuff over the past 16 years as a student media adviser.

Michelle Balmeo has 66 posts and counting. See all posts by Michelle Balmeo

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