In my last post, I shared my list of viable tools for videoconferencing. Several clients then requested that we use my preferred tool, Google Hangouts, for our next meeting. The only glitch was that they were unsure about how it worked. Perfect subject for a new blog post!
If you don’t already have a Google account, I highly recommend that you set one up. Google provides an entire suite of applications, which includes Hangouts, Gmail, YouTube, Drive, and Docs. As a designer/developer, I also use their more technical apps, such as Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics.
People with Google accounts have immediate access to Hangouts. Those without Google accounts can be invited to Hangouts by the host. Key features that I particularly like are videoconferencing, screen-sharing, chat, taking control of other participants’ desktops, and deep integration with other Google apps (like file import). The quality of video and sound varies from high-end to very good, depending on bandwidth and time of day.
Where is Hangouts?
If you are logged into your Google account, look in the upper right corner of your browser window. You’ll see a small 9×9 grid of squares next to the round image that contains your Google identity gravatar. Click on the grid to reveal the drop-down menu of apps. If you don’t see Hangouts in the list, click on “More”. Select Hangouts.
Type this URL into the address area of your browser window:
Here is the Hangouts homepage:
Initiate the Call
You can start a meeting in several ways. There is the tempting option to click on the circled hyperlinks “VIDEO CALL” or “PHONE CALL”. A new window will pop up and you’ll be prompted to type in the email address of the person you want to connect with. It sounds simple, but in actuality, it didn’t work as smoothly as I had hoped.
I’ve found that a simpler and more successful solution is starting a New Conversation. Look on the left side of your browser window and select the Conversations icon (directly below Contact icon). You can either select a person who’s already on your list from previous Hangouts, or click the New Conversation button at the top. Inside the empty field, enter the email of the person you want to meet with. As you begin typing, Google will identify the person(s) if they are in your contact list. I like that. Otherwise, continue typing the entire email address. Select their gmail address if they have multiple email accounts.
If the person doesn’t have a gmail account or has never used Hangouts before, you’ll be prompted to invite them.
Making the Call
Once the new conversation has been established, a narrow window will pop up on the bottom right side of the browser window. Here, you can message the person, add them to a Hangout group, or simply start the Video Call by clicking on the video icon. The gear icon opens the options area where you can archive or delete the conversation, block the user, get notifications, and view the history.
Google must like windows, because yet another window will pop up (the last one!), separate from all the other tabs in your browser. That will be where the videoconferencing takes place.
Note where all the important buttons reside:
- TOP OF SCREEN ON RIGHT SIDE: add participants, options, share screen and chat (three dots).
- BOTTOM OF SCREEN IN CENTER: microphone, video, end call
- BOTTOM OF SCREEN ON LEFT SIDE: message
Receiving the Call
If you are a participant receiving the call, be sure to log into your Gmail account a few minutes ahead of the scheduled time. Go to the Hangouts page or stay in Gmail. Either way, you’ll receive a notification that a Hangouts is about to begin. Allow camera and microphone access for the app. When the chat window appears (along with a chimes sound), click on “Answer”.
You can watch the video tutorial I made that shows you how to use Google Hangouts: