This year we’ve started using Google’s Hangout On Air (HOA) tool to connect to our student visitors and help them find the information that they are looking for. We’ve done Hangouts for finding scholarships, using your contacts to find a job after school, how international student can build credit, choosing the right health insurance plan, among others.
One of the challenges to doing a HOA with multiple presenters is making the technology easy to use and robust enough to work almost anywhere. We decided that the easiest solution to implement would be to ship a Chromebook computer directly to the remote location, along with a headset, so that the remote presenter only needs to login to Google with our pre-configured account. Other than connecting to the local WiFi network and plugging in the USB microphone, there is almost no other configuration needed on the remote side.
New software and hardware to improve the quality and features of the presentations:
- Acer C720 Chromebook – inexpensive yet powerful Chromebook netbook with built-in webcam. This is the computer that we ship to the remote presenter, along with the mic and headsets. We ended up purchasing the 16GB model as we knew local storage would not be required and it fit nicely into our budget.
- vMix – Video mixing software that we use on our end to help create the Hangout. With this tool we are able to add chromakey effects, do high-quality screen shares, integrate PowerPoint presentations, display pre-recorded videos and more.
- Sparkocam – I’ve talked about this software in a previous post but it’s the software we use to create a virtual webcam with our Canon t3i DSLR.
- Green Screen – Bright green fabric that’s clipped to the wall. You want make your talent look like they’re on a sandy beach, the moon or the other side of the world? This is the stuff you need. Our needs are a little more mundane, we display the company logo and the logo of the school we’re working with.
- Listen only earpiece headset w/3.5mm plug – This headset allows the on-air presenter on our side to hear the remote presenters. We use headsets in our studio to reduce echo and feedback into our studio microphone. It also has the added bonus of making the presenter feel like a secret service agent.
- Create a script for everyone to work from. Get everyone involved the script. The on-air talent needs to know what to say and the producer will need to know what shots and elements will need to be broadcast. Even an informal Hangout will need some structure and the end results will be better with a plan in place.
- Rehearse the script you just wrote. Don’t wait until 5 minutes before the show starts.
- Test, test, test everything. Cables break, batteries die, drivers fail to load, lights fall over, things happen. Test everything multiple times till it runs like clockwork.
From our small sample set of completed HOA’s with remote presenters, the results have been very impressive. For our first HOA, the featured school profile for Hiram College received 10x the visitors and leads as a regular day. HOA’s have become a very effective tool for us to connect to students and with a little planning and a reasonable investment in tech resources, you can achieve impressive results.