Using Google Hangouts On Air to stream a keynote

On May 7, 2012 Google opened up Google Hangouts On Air—a free service for broadcasting and recording live video with up to 10 participants—to all Google+ users. Six weeks later, the night before edACCESS 2012 started at the Peddie School in New Jersey, I decided to try using Google Hangouts On Air to stream and then archive the conference keynote. A couple of edACCESS old-timers who couldn’t attend in person this year had asked me if there was any way we could stream any of the “public” conference sessions, and I had nothing to lose by trying out this new technology.

Here’s what I did, what I learned, and how things turned out.

Google Hangouts On Air preparation
First I created an empty Google+ Circle and went through the process of creating a test Hangout On Air. This allowed me to get familiar with the process and check in advance for any potential problems. I was able to successfully view myself streaming, and see how the stream turned into a YouTube video once I ended the Hangout. This gave me the confidence to announce through social media channels that the stream would be available (though I neglected to figure out how to provide a link to the stream in advance).

Peddie’s charming and efficient Director of Academic Technology provided a laptop with a decent external webcam and we circled each other on Google+ so I could add her computer to the hangout on the morning of the keynote. (Important note: you cannot invite people to a hangout unless they’ve added you to one of their circles first.) I decided to use her computer to stream video and audio of the keynote speaker, and my trusty 17″ MacBook Pro with built in webcam to setup the hangout and publicize and monitor the feed.

To broadcast Hangouts on Air you must have a linked and verified YouTube account associated with your Google login. This linked account will be where the broadcast stream, and later the video recording will appear. You only need to set up this linkage once, but I strongly suggest you do so (and test it) before your first Hangout On Air. Verification is apparently necessary if you want to save a hangout that lasts longer than fifteen minutes!

Showtime!
Ten minutes before the keynote was due to begin I started a hangout in the usual way by clicking on the START A HANGOUT button on the Google+ hangouts tab. Then I added Emily to the invitee list, named the hangout, checked the option “Enable Hangouts On Air” (and agreed to the warning dialog), and clicked the Hang out button. This led to a normal-looking hangout window, with the addition of an Embed link and a Start Broadcast button at the top right.

Once Emily accepted my invitation, we were nearly good to go. Because the big picture feed in a hangout is switched to the webcam with the loudest audio, I wanted to avoid having the stream switch away from Emily’s webcam so I muted the microphone on my computer by hovering over my small video window at the bottom and clicking on the microphone icon.

But I still needed to share a link to the stream so that anyone could watch. Clicking the Embed link on the Hangout page I obtained the embed code for the stream and quickly created a blog post with the embedded keynote stream. This embedded a YouTube player onto the page, and visitors could watch the live Hangout On Air directly from the page, as well as on Google+ and my YouTube channel. (Note: once the broadcast is over, this link points automatically to the resulting YouTube video post.) I checked the blog page to ensure the video looked OK before we went live and then tweeted the page link to the blog page.

[Later I discovered that when the hangout is starting, if you right-click on the timestamp of the Google+ post that announces the hangout you will also get a link to the stream.]

We were ready!

By this time the speaker was being introduced. I clicked the Start Broadcast button and we went live.

I found that while hosting the hangout on my computer I could watch the broadcast stream, delayed by 5-10 seconds, in another browser window. Pretty cool! I also noticed that an updating count of stream viewers was displayed on the hangout page. Also cool!

After a few minutes I realized that seeing my face in a small window at the bottom of the hangout was probably distracting, so I turned off my camera.

Then I received a tweet from my friend Ruud Janssen in Switzerland(!) who was watching. He asked if I could use my camera to show the slides as the main video, moving the video of the speaker to a small window at the bottom of the screen. This made sense, so I turned my laptop round, pointed it at the slide screen, and clicked on its window to make the slides the main video for the stream. This worked well. (I should have thought of this earlier. Next time I will explore using a tool like CamTwist to pipe presenter slides directly into a hangout feed.)

Unlike a regular hangout, where any participant can override the camera switching that Google normally does, the main window for a Hangout On Air is either determined automatically from the webcam with the loudest audio or by the person streaming the hangout. So I became the camera operator. When the speaker asked for and answered questions, I chose Emily’s webcam. When he began speaking again, I returned to the slides as the main video.

We had no audience microphone, so I asked the speaker to repeat audience questions so that those following the stream could hear them and they would be available on the final YouTube video. I see no reason why next time we couldn’t add a small netbook webcam to the hangout and have a volunteer run it round as a mike (and video) for audience questions.

When the keynote was over I simply clicked End broadcast. After about ten minutes, a recorded video of the 105 minute hangout automatically posted to my YouTube channel as well as the post on my Google+ Page, and the embed post on my blog. At this point I was able to edit the video information on YouTube, where it appeared as a video in my YouTube Channel with the same title I had given the hangout. Apparently you can use YouTube’s tools to edit the video itself, provided it’s under two hours in length, but I didn’t do this.

Conclusion
Considering the small amount of preparation needed to broadcast this impromptu stream, which upon completion automatically turns into a standard permanent YouTube video, I am very pleased with the ease and quality of the result. Sure, it’s a far cry from a professional broadcast and recording, but for the cost (free!) and minimal effort required, Google Hangouts On Air provides an attractive solution for streaming and archiving events that will fill many needs. I recommend you try out this approach for a low-profile event.

Tips and resources for Google Hangouts On Air
Here are a couple of useful tips from a longer list of Hangouts On Air tips by Fraser Cain:

– You can join a Hangout twice from two different devices. This will let you put up screenshots, videos, etc in another pane.
– 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.

And here are two useful resource guides for learning more about Hangouts On Air:
Hangouts On Air Technical Guide <pdf>
Google+ support page for Hangouts On Air

Got any questions? I’ll try to answer them if I can. Have you run a Google Hangout On Air for an event? Share your experience here!

Tips for organizing Pecha Kucha sessions

Pecha Kucha presenters at Event Camp Twin Cities 2011

Last week, at Event Camp Twin Cities 2011, I emceed my third Pecha Kucha session, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned about organizing events where multiple Pecha Kucha presentations are given, one after the other. (If you’re thinking—What’s Pecha Kucha and why is it cool?—read this post first.) I’m going to gloss over information about venue selection and marketing, since these are pretty well covered on the global Pecha Kucha site. Instead, I’ll concentrate on some of the lesser-known but important issues that arise when you use this popular format to educate and entertain.

PowerPoint or Keynote or both?
The first logistical question any Pecha Kucha organizer has to face is: What presentation software should be used? The Wintel/Apple debate may have lost some of its fervor over the last few years, but in the world of presentation software it’s alive and well in the popularity of both PowerPoint and Keynote. Unless you’re running a session at a school or organization where all the presenters have access to the same software, it’s unfair in my view to restrict presenters to only one of these products. While PowerPoint has greater market-share, Keynote is more likely to be used by the creative types who tend to populate Pecha Kucha presentations.

This means, of course, that you’ll need access to both software packages yourself which means you’ll have to use a Macintosh, since that’s the only platform that runs Keynote. If that’s the case, I recommend you build the single multi-presenter presentation in Keynote, which I consider the superior software for Pecha Kucha-style presentations.

Selection criteria for presenters
If your presentations are to reflect the interests and variety of a community, I suggest you provide relaxed criteria for selecting presenters. Creating and practicing a Pecha Kucha presentation is a significant amount of work, and I am reluctant to impose my selection criteria on what people offer to do. If you receive many more offers of presentations than you can accommodate, then schedule multiple sessions and populate each one with a somewhat consistent set of presenters.

Pecha Kucha templates
To create a uniform look, it’s important to provide all presenters with templates for your session. These typically will include an opening slide containing event logo and presenter and/or topic information, twenty “blank” slides, and a closing slide with presenter contact information: twenty two slides in all.

I like to provide a visual indicator of time passing on each of the twenty slides, and use a translucent circle that moves from left to right in twenty seconds along the bottom of the screen. I do not remember whom I stole this technique from (if you know, tell me and I’ll give credit) but it works well and is appreciated by presenters. Here’s a link to sample Keynote and PowerPoint templates that use this technique.

Make these templates available several weeks before the event. Creating a good Pecha Kucha takes time and the quality of your session will suffer if presenters have to rush to create and practice their presentations. Since the templates are large, upload them, together with a set of instructions, to a file-sharing site and send your presenter the link.

A word about fonts
Tell your presenters not to use obscure fonts in their presentations, as this may cause ugly font substitution effects if the computer on which the master presentation file is created does not have a font the presenter used.

Before the session
Before the Pecha Kucha session, you must round up all the individual presentations, convert them (if necessary) into the chosen software format, check them, and merge them into a single large presentation. Don’t underestimate the time required to perform these steps, as it’s easy to be stymied by a late presenter, omit a slide component when converting, or delete one of the many slide auto-transitions. For a set of six presenters, I’d allow several hours to do a careful, accurate job. I tell presenters that their presentation is due ten days before the session, send reminders a few days before the due date, and follow up immediately if any are not received on time. Invariably, one or two presentations will be late, but at least the rest can be converted, checked and merged into the master file while inveigling the tardy.

How to merge multiple Pecha Kucha presentations into one master
Here’s the procedure I use to merge multiple Pecha Kucha presentations into one master file. Start with an appropriately renamed master copy of your Keynote template. Next, decide on the order that the individual sessions will be run. How you merge each individual presentation into the master Keynote file depends on whether it’s Keynote or PowerPoint.

Keynote merge
It’s easy to merge an individual Keynote presentation into the master file.

  • Switch to Navigator View of the individual presentation, and click on one of the slides in the slide view
  • Select all (Command-A) the slides and copy (Command-C) them.
  • Switch to the master presentation and click on the slide right before where you want to insert.
  • Paste (Command-V) to insert the entire individual presentation into the master file.

PowerPoint merge
As you might expect, merging a PowerPoint presentation into the master Keynote file is more complicated, and there are more opportunities to make mistakes.

  • Begin by adding a blank copy of your presentation Keynote template into the master Keynote file, using the technique described in the previous section.
  • Copy the presenter supplied text on the opening title slide and paste it into the corresponding slide in the master Keynote presentation.
  • Click on the first of the twenty PowerPoint presenter slides and carefully select all the elements on the slide, except the animated timing circle.
  • Copy your selection, switch to Keynote and paste into the corresponding Keynote slide in the master file.
  • Click on the animated Keynote circle and choose Bring to Front from the Arrange menu. If you omit this step, the moving circle may not be visible when the slide is shown.
  • Repeat the above three steps for each of the twenty presentation slides.
  • Finally, copy the presenter supplied text on the closing title slide and paste it into the corresponding closing slide in the master Keynote presentation.

Final steps
Since the above processes may take several hours, be sure to frequently save your work!

You may want to add a title slide for the entire Pecha Kucha session to the front of the completed master file. I also like to add a black slide at the end for the production crew to display once the final presentation is over.

Testing the master presentation
Once you’ve created the master presentation it’s time to test it. To avoid font and hardware problems, use the computer that you will be using at the event.

Testing the master presentation requires constant attention for the entire duration of the presentation. Check that:

  • The presentation pauses on each presenter’s opening and closing slides.
  • All slide elements have been copied correctly from each of the twenty slides in the individual presentations.
  • The presentation auto-advances every twenty seconds on each of the twenty presentation slides.
  • You have only one animated circle moving on each slide.
  • The animated moving circle is visible on each of the twenty slides.

Presenter tip
In your instructions, emphasize that practicing the session is important. Even if the presenter knows her content well, discovering what can be said in the twenty seconds before the current slide advances takes time, and multiple run-throughs will help presenters learn to recover from the inevitable minor slips that occur.

It’s an art to match what you say with the twenty seconds each slide is on the screen, and, like most art, one’s skill improves with practice.

Sound concerns
As with every presentation, your Pecha Kucha session can be severely impacted by poor sound. If any of your presenters have included sound in their presentations (yes, it happens) you will need to arrange to mix the sound output of the presentation computer into the sound system for the event. Presenters should use a wireless lavalier (preferred) or wireless handheld mike so they are free to move about during their presentation. Ideally, three microphones should be used (one for the emcee, one for the current presenter, and one for the upcoming presenter) but you can get away with a single handheld microphone if that’s all that’s available.

Presenter introductions
Think about how you will introduce each presenter. The approach I like, much appreciated by audiences so far, is to ask each presenter to write a short poem about herself. So far I’ve employed the haiku (4 line) or cinquain (5 line) forms—you can obtain a description of these online. I encourage presenters to be creative and/or amusing with their poems, and not to worry about following the precise formal poem structure. At the event, the emcee slowly reads each presenter’s poem out loud before she starts.

Other miscellaneous tips
Budgeting Pecha Kucha sessions is not complicated. Unless you’re holding a for-profit event (which requires, incidentally, a minimum donation of $200 to the PechaKucha organization) you are normally aiming to cover your expenses. These are chiefly venue rental and A/V services; if you are serving drinks I suggest you employ a cash bar. Your income can come from an event sponsor, or a modest door charge.

If you’re holding a Pecha Kucha session at a conference, consider reserving time right after the presentations are over for the presenters to lead small group discussions of their content. Allow about thirty minutes for this, and suggest that audience members can move between groups as desired. We did this at Event Camp Twin Cities 2011, and it was very well received.

Finally, if at all possible, video the entire session and have someone take photographs too. The movie can be uploaded to a video-sharing site, and photographs provide a great memento for presenters and good content for advertising your next event.

Other Pecha Kucha organizers out there: what tips do you have for organizing a Pecha Kucha event? Please share your experiences and advice in the comments.

Photo by Ruud Janssen