Recently, one of my association clients asked for my team’s assistance in producing an online event in only 10 days. My team began scrambling, trying to figure out how we could pull this off. What platform would we use? What would the format be? How would we get everyone signed up? A colleague of mine suggested Google+ Hangouts On Air (HOA). We gave it a try, and since the launch of our first Google HOA, this series of virtual events has become wildly successful for our association. The process of setting up and executing an HOA can seem a bit convoluted at first, but allow me to answer some of the basic questions with the five Ws, plus a couple of Hs:
What? An HOA is a video call streamed live on Google+ and YouTube. Be aware that people you don’t know will be able to watch, and everything that happens in the video call is recorded and made publicly available for on-demand playback on YouTube later.
Where? It exists in cyberspace. Planners can launch an event from anywhere in the world and bring together groups or speakers located in several different countries across multiple time zones. Attendees can see all the panelists at once in real time on their computer screen, so it’s as though they’re watching the panel discussion in person. In less than two weeks, we grabbed three speakers from different parts of the world and live streamed them talking about a single topic, which happened to be cybersecurity.
Who? Anyone around the globe can participate in an HOA, as long as they have three items: a solid Internet connection, a Gmail account and a working webcam. Organizers and event planners can put together innovative events for their companies without anyone having to get on an airplane. It also allows for access to high-level speakers on the other side of the world who may not have been able to travel for an event.
When? You can do an HOA anytime you choose. Since each session is automatically recorded, people can immediately watch it afterward on-demand on YouTube if they weren’t able to see it live. You can also email it to employees, members, customers or clients who may have missed out.
Why? It’s a modern-day solution to gathering people. It’s also a buzz-builder and keeps attendees engaged. The platform has an instant-messaging chat feature built in, but we wanted to bring it to another level. So we added Twitter to the equation, assigning a hashtag to all the Hangouts we produced and fielding questions live on Twitter during the event. This gave us more exposure on social media and helped build interest for future Hangouts.
How? Google+ has a best practices seminar, helpline and online tutorial to assist new users. It’s incredibly easy to put a Hangout together once you’ve learned the tricks of the trade. You should conduct a dress rehearsal of sorts beforehand to get all speakers signed on and comfortable, similar to an on-site dry run.
How much? It’s a free service, and if you play it smart, you don’t have to pay your speakers either. They are usually honored to be asked, as it’s a good way to promote and establish themselves as experts in their field.
David Stankiewicz is strategic programs project manager for IEEE’s meetings, conferences and events division. Contact him at email@example.com.