How can the media use Google Meet to host online events?

Preset #3

Important notice: We decided to create this article as online events are a huge thing now, and many of you try to figure out how to enter this space. Of course, Google Meet is one of the many tools you may use to organise them. Outriders is partnering with the Google News Initiative on training initiatives; however, this article expresses our views only. One last crucial thing – this article is targeted at media organisations and journalists to address their needs in hosting online events.

For a long time, online events were not treated seriously – either by the audience but also by organisers. Both sides always thought they were some poor version of the actual event – so not much attention was paid to developing them as standalone products. With COVID-19 pandemic, everything has changed in an instant, and we see many media organisations trying to either take their existing events online or create new ones.


Why host online events?

If you think that as soon as the pandemic ends online events will disappear, I think you are missing out on a great opportunity. The one crucial advantage of going digital is that it’s very planet-friendly. And you should seriously ask yourself in silence are all the events worth being organised traditionally? I let you answer this question on your own 😉 The other thing worth taking under consideration is that most of the events need sponsorship to be organised – we don’t know what the future will bring (yet) – so it’s better to prepare and simply use this moment as an opportunity to create a new product serving your audience. Digital events have similar or bigger profit margins, but much lower costs as you don’t have to pay for logistics.

Having your community and readers in mind – you have to look for opportunities which going digital gives you rather than just “copy traditional events” – the second approach will never work. One idea – since you no longer have to pay for hotels and flights – it means you can ask anybody to speak at your event. 

At this  stage, I assume you want to get into online events – and you have your “Why?” established – so let’s move to “How?”


Why Google Meet?

Meet has recently been made for free for anybody to use – and before it was a part of G Suite accounts. It’s a group video call tool – which on the one hand seems very simple, but it has some hidden on the first sight yet powerful features which make it a very interesting place to host your events. There are also new things being developed, and since we organised some of our events using this tool, here it is a list of features which come very handy when throwing them. For example, security/encryption – those are important for work-related meetings – but when you host an open event, you expect content to be shared.  What you may want to have is guest handling – approving or kicking out if needed. At least muting – you have those features available. But that’s just an example of focusing on online events, thinking we have in this article.


Features which are very useful for events

Meet has many features, but below I want to focus on selected ones which we find particularly helpful when organising online events and coming up with your event scenarios. 

Recordings

As a host, you can record the whole session, and after you finish – the file will show up in your Google Drive folder. You can either grab the whole session or records part of it.  Couple things to keep in mind here:

  • recordings will be only 720p quality (as the whole Meet event),
  • it is not a 1:1 screengrab – so in the file, you will see the active speaker and the presentation. Even though you may have more people visible in the right bar during the meeting. We actually like it because as we generate session recordings out of those files, we get a raw file with a speaker and their presentation without any distractions,
  • make sure you  notify your participant’s session is recorded.

Static URL

That was a feature which made us consider Meet for many of our events in the first place. You can generate links much in advance, “reserve” it for yourself and no one will take it over. So you can communicate it immediately to participants even if you are weeks from the event. You can also re-use the Meet links so e.g. you can have a “Thursday event” always on the same one. 

It’s crucial also for one more reason – in different types of events, broadcasted ones – on YouTube live of Facebook Live – if something happens to your stream source e.g. WiFi goes down, electricity off – you will lose the generated links. Yes, you can generate links there before, but it’s an absolutely different kind of approach to events. 

If something kicks you out from your Meet event – you can easily get back and resume 🙂

Tab sharing

That’s a brand new feature and a killer one. It solves many problems and allows us to create an even smoother experience for users. So firstly – up until now you had an option to share either full screen or application screen. So depending on how one presented, you would go for sharing Powerpoint/Keynote or your browser if Google Slides. Especially sharing a browser on many occasions was leading to some embarrassing moments, when you would show your email or other tabs by looking for the right one or forgetting you are sharing.

Most importantly, when you share a tab – we FINALLY get a proper sharing of audio from opened sites. So if you have a movie embedded in your slides, it will be perfectly broadcasted to your audience. That is drastic quality improvement. Also, you can start sharing one tab and then easily switch to another e.g. from your presentation to an open website if you want to demo something and then go back. It works much smoother for viewers cause they don’t see all the unnecessary steps you have to take to open a site or so. Just when you are ready – switch a tab.

Tile view

That’s also a very recent addition which opens up to new possibilities. We have now two major views:

  1. big active speaker + around 3-5 other participants in the left columns
  2. up to 16 speakers on one screen.

Then it can be used for different event formats – if we want to focus on the presentation, we go for 1 – if we want to talk and encourage group discussion for 2. We can also mix them – so we kick off with presentations and for Q&A switch to tile view.

Chat

It’s easily accessible from the left side and actually very friendly to use. Somehow in different apps chat is always problematic since it’s not much used – because hey, we talk here, not write. But for events, that’s really important as this is the networking and questions space. We see a lot of action in the comments section during our events, and we also actively encourage it. If you record your Meet session besides the video file, you will also get a chat transcript – which is very cool as you don’t have to worry about missing something you wanted to reply to after the event. 

Browser based

To join meeting from your desktop all you need is a modern browser, and you are in. That really lowers the entry barrier for many – as they don’t need to install any apps. (On a mobile phone app is necessary, but it’s free in App Store and Google Play Store). 

360p and 720p

In your settings, you can set what quality you want to transmit and receive. Maximum is 720p which is not Full HD and 360p… well – it’s really good for weak connections. So here it’s really up to you to decide whether you see this as an advantage or not.  If your focus is more on the maximum available quality – then you may want to go for another solution. On the other hand, it allows those with bad or mobile broadband to join without much hassle. With the introduction of Tab sharing the quality of showing the presentations is really good even if it’s 720p.


Meet vs others

There’s no perfect tool – so, in the end, you have to decide on your own. Some features which are for example in Zoom, as the possibility of streaming to YouTube or Facebook Live are missing in Meet. Though it can stream the event using its custom feature (it won’t show up on any mentioned platforms – so that people can watch without joining the meeting).

For us, the biggest advantage is that it works. And it is very convenient for all three parties necessary to throw a good event – audience, speakers and organisers. Every time before organising a special / bigger / new meeting, we simply analyse if this is a useful tool for us to use or not.


Scenarios and case studies

So here are ideas based on our own experience how you can set up a Meet to throw different types of events.

Community meetup

This one is very easy – if there is not much agenda and more of the lively conversation – then you can just go for the “tile view” and enjoy the conversation.

This setup can also be used to town hall meetings or open newsrooms.

Debate

There are two ways to do it. First is to organise a regular meet – and speakers are debating, and the person who talks becomes the active speaker – so Meet will throw them to the big screen. Tile view won’t work as it will also show participants. Unless you have 16 debaters – then it will be perfect 😉

But you can also use Meet to record and later on distribute just the recording. Or have debaters in Meet and viewers just watching the stream.

Workshop/training

For this purpose we use it extensively – and it’s very natural for all sides. With the new tab sharing one gets proper audio and screen quality, making it an excellent choice for workshops. I am actually surprised by the quality of video streaming. “Normal” screen sharing makes videos usually go with lower quality or dropping frames. Not to mention, the sound is horrible. For this purpose, Meet is a go-to tool.


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Conference

It’s very much doable. For example, Splice Low Res happens regularly on Google Meet and gathers around 80/100 participants and 4-6 speakers. It uses a regular Meet look. Two hosts moderate and ask each speaker to take place, and they screen to share their presentation. In this case – everything happens at Meet. 

But for our last edition of Outriders Festiwal, we also used Meet – though with a small hack ;). So all the presentations and production was happening in Meet which was used on computer A – but then the screen was mirrored to computer B via an HDMI grab card – so the audio and video were very smooth. And from computer B we streamed to YouTube and Facebook Live. So that was a workaround – but we wanted to go this way – cause we had many speakers, from different continents and they were jumping in and out and different times.

With bigger events – a lot of responsibility relies on hosting and preparation of speakers + establishing ground rules for attendees. Here is an example of the housekeeping slide we have during our events:

Tips and tricks

One of the last things before you throw your event – just a couple hints of what we advise to take under consideration to make a great event.

Two hosts

If you can have a co-host – go for it. It always helps to have a backup, and you will have less pressure to stay on top of everything knowing someone is also paying attention. You can divide roles and speakers. It’s also always more engaging for the audience to see dual voices. 

The simple division is that one host takes care more of production and technicalities + audience engagement. Second – focuses on speakers and listening to what they say to ask initial questions. 

You can also decide who introduces which speaker – and swap roles during the show (between moderation and production).

Not to mention very simple things – it’s much easier to have a toilette break knowing someone is looking over your event 🙂

Chat engagement

Don’t wait for your participants to speak up – engage them on the following occasions:

  • welcome everybody in the beginning and ask to introduce themself, 
  • halfway through a single presentation encourage to ask questions,
  • drop a link to a Google Doc where everyone can keep notes or write comments,
  • prepare a summary survey  and drop a link to 20 minutes before the end of the event,
  • if you have questions/comments from the audience – as a host make notice – mention some, read aloud or just comment you see them and will get to them at a certain point.

Rehearsal

Even though Meet is really easy to use, there is one particular thing with which speakers tend to have problems – screen sharing. There is a slight delay from the moment you click Present and select the window until sharing begins (we talk in seconds here). After screen sharing begins, you won’t see your presentation nor be able to control it from the Meet tab – you have to tab or application window where your file is open. Which means that while the speaker presents, one won’t be able to see the Meet window (and chat). 

It’s okay after a while, but it can be confusing at the beginning. So our advice is to organise a small rehearsal for speakers – a day before or one hour before – so everybody just tries to share their presentation correctly.

Collect presentations

In case something goes wrong, and your speaker is fighting with screen sharing – it’s always good to have a backup plan. So just ask everybody to submit/share their presentation with you before. So in the “worst-case” scenario, you share it for them and present it as they speak. As we don’t really like when the speaker says all the time “next slide please” we ask them to say “hey” whenever it’s time to go next. It’s funnier and smoother for everybody 😉

Hotkey

With either Command on Mac or Ctrl on Windows/Linux you can easily switch on/your microphone and camera:

Camera – ⌘/Ctrl + e

Microphone – ⌘/Ctrl + d

Off you go! 🙂

Okay, so we covered the basics and more. Now it’s up to you to decide how you want to throw your online events and which tool in the end to use. Remember last one thing – spend some time playing around with many tools and choose the one with which you feel comfortable. It really helps to throw a demo event with your team or friends to see it in action. You know, technology – it always has some surprises and different organisations have different needs and flows. 

So find yours 🙂