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As a remote team of 12, we've come to depend on Google Hangout video calls for our weekly standup meetings. The tool is free, quick to access and familiar to everyone on the team. Though like any other video conferencing software, Hangouts comes with hangups.
Can you hear me?
Can you invite my other Gmail account?
If you use Hangouts, you've been there (or soon will be there). And when that day comes you're googling incessantly looking for the answer. Hopefully, you'll need to search no more.
The following Google Hangout video call guide shows you how to get started, invite participants, record a call, collaborate over a Google Doc and more.
To use Google Hangouts, you'll first need to have a Gmail, Google Apps for Business or Google Apps for Education account and activate that account's Google+ profile.
Now it's time to find where to access Hangouts video calls. If on a computer, you can start a Google Hangouts video call from one of two places: your Gmail inbox or Google+. In Gmail, look for the Hangouts icon in the bottom left corner, and on Google+, look in the upper right corner.
If you haven't yet conducted a Hangout, you'll be prompted to download a plugin. So if you're expecting to do you first Hangout later today, download it now and give it a test run to make sure you're set. Having to email attendees just as the meeting starts to say, "Hold on, I'm downloading a plugin," isn't fun. I've been there. (Using Safari or Firefox? Check out Google's support page for more instructions.)
If you're using Google for both personal and work email, say you have a Gmail and Google Apps account, then make sure you're hanging out from the correct account. This is important on either end of a video call—sending or receiving an invitation. Think of your two accounts like two different telephone numbers.
If you initially set up your Google+ profile with one Gmail or Google Apps account but now want to transfer your circles and connections to another Gmail or Google Apps account, check out Google Takeout. The main function of Takeout is to download your data, but it facilitates a transfer, too—use the icon called out below.
I performed a Google Takeout last year when I switched jobs, began using Google+ for my new position and wanted to take advantage of past connections I had established.
If a colleague says, "Let's Hangout" with a capital "H", it likely means they want to initiate a one-to-one or group video call using Google Hangouts. Though you might also hear them say, "Let's hold a Hangouts On Air". It's similar, but a Google Hangout On Air is published on their Google+ profile or page and YouTube channel. For meetings, you'll most often rely on a Hangouts video call, but there are some clever On Air uses, such as sending a recording of the call right to YouTube. (We'll cover how to do so later.)
If you're looking for a Hangouts On Air guide, I recommend the following resources:
If a colleague says, "Let's hangout" with a lowercase "h", gnarly! Enjoy the hang out session.
So what does a Google Hangouts video call look like anyway? If you haven't yet participated in one, here's a quick tour of the what you'll see on your first call. Each aspect will be discussed later in the guide.
If you're using Chrome—if not, skip this step—download the Google Hangouts extension to make initiating and joining Hangouts more convenient.
The browser add-on makes Hangouts its own app, meaning now longer do you need to go to Gmail or Google+ to start a video call. If you use a Hangouts mobile app, too, it also syncs your history and notifications across devices.
With a few of the basics covered, now comes the most important part of a Hangout: hanging out!
You're able to invite as many attendees as you'd like, but Hangout Video Chat limit is 10 participants (the first 10 in), unless you have a Google Apps for Business or Google Apps for EDU account, in which case it's increased to 15 participants. If you fall in the latter category, make sure you've activated Google+ premium features for your Google Apps account to take advantage of the higher limit.
There are a variety of ways to invite others to a Hangout.
Click on the Hangouts either on top of your Google chat bar to open a new window that offers invitation by either sharing a link, sending an email invitation or adding a telephone number.
Regardless of what page you're on, just click the Hangouts icon on the browser toolbar (or on a Mac, in the menu bar, too) to open the stand alone app.
From there, you have a two options:
Click the Hangouts icon in the upper right hang corner where you'll find a menu that works the same as the Chrome extension walkthrough above.
Look to the bottom of the list for this quick link to open a new Hangout window where you'll then be prompted to invite participants.
You can also find a Hangouts link under the "Home" button:
If initiating a one-to-one call, you can also visit a contact's Google+ profile and click the Hangouts icon.
If you have the video chat window open, it's not too late. Just look for the "Invite People" button on the top toolbar to add individuals, Google+ circles or a combination of both to the call.
Once again, look for the Hangout icon, that's your ticket.
Extending a video call invitation can be done ahead of time, as well, by employing Google Calendar.
When creating a new event, click "Add video call" (in my Google Apps for Business account, this action is now selected by default).
Add attendees in the "Add guests" field.
"Save" the new event and an invitation will be sent.
Here's what the invited attendee sees:
Google also recommends that you send a quick email or chat message to attendees 10 minutes before the meeting with the video call URL. This way your participants will be reminded it's a Hangouts video call and they won't need to go searching for the URL of it at the last minute.
As a last resort, just share the link. To invite someone into the same Hangout room as you, all that's needed is a link (and one of 10 or 15 spots, of course). To do so, go to your browser's address bar, copy the URL of your Hangout and share it with them via chat or email.
We use our own automation tool at Zapier to automate a weekly reminder message in our team chat app, Slack. To do this, we connect Google Calendar to Slack via Zapier, having it automatically create a new chat message each week 15 minutes before our standup starts. The message contains our meeting order (we go in order of birthdays) and the the Hangout URL.
Zapier also integrates with chat apps HipChat, Campfire, Hall, Kato and Sqwiggle, making this automation with Google Hangouts possible with each.
Add the UberConference Hangouts app—apps will be discussed below—to enable a dial-in number for your Hangout.
Not so fast. As promising as this headline sounds, it must be admitted upfront that Hangouts video chat doesn't currently offer this functionality. But that, of course, doesn't stop the Internet from doing so.
The most recommended way to record a Hangouts video call is to use a screen recorder app. After finding one that suits you, use it to select the window displaying the call and click "record".
At Zapier, we rely on Screenflow, a robust screen recording tool, to archive our Hangouts when needed. The tool sells for $99, which is a relatively high price for this kind of tool but it's well worth it for other screen recording videos. Whatever app you land on, just make sure to check the maximum recording length—some free ones only offer up to five minutes.
Google+ blogger and consultant Martin Shervington offers a clever workaround for Google's lacking video calls feature: use Google Hangouts On Air but keep it private.
Though it doesn't save the full Google Hangouts experience, using the UberConference app inside of hangouts offers the option to save the audio as an MP3 and retrieve it in your UberConference account.
Google Hangouts offers apps to let you get more work done with the others on the video call.
At start, a few Google apps are pre-loaded in the left toolbar, such as YouTube and Remote Desktop, but when you access them for the first time you'll need to go through a couple final steps. For more apps, click on the ellipses on the bottom of the left toolbar to bring up the app store.
Use the Chat app to share links or short notes with other participants, but be aware of two quirks:
Screenshare offers a variety of ways to show other participants your screen, be it by app, window or the full desktop.
Use the Google Drive app to work on a Google Doc together. You can either start a fresh doc or sketchpad or access one from your Drive account.
Google provides a glimpse of the Google Drive app in action:
With Hangouts Remote Desktop app, you can give another participant control of your computer, helping you solve a tech issue or walking you through a new trick in Keynote.
If you need to review your product's new promotional video with the creative shop behind it, the YouTube app could be a handy way to watch together and then have a quick discussion around it.
Much like watching a YouTube video, you can also view a SlideShare presentation as a group with the SlideShare app for Google Hangouts.
On top of what's been already covered, keep the following in mind when you using Google Hangouts. Hopefully it'll save you a headache in the future.
With an aim to improve audio on conference calls, Hangouts automatically mutes your mic when you type.
Click on the gear icon on the top tool bar to make sure you're using the correct camera, microphone and speaker. Even as a heavy Hangouts user, I'll stumble on this issue myself.
Use the Hangout Toolbox Hangouts app to add lower thirds to your video output. This can be very helpful for conference calls of five or more people.
Google Hangouts will automatically switch the main video feed to the person currently speaking. But if you want to keep the camera on one person, maybe that's the participant with a SlideShare presentation, you can click on their box at the bottom of the Hangouts window, which outlines it in blue and keeps it there. Click on it again to go back to the default automatic switching.
A couple months ago Google added a "Quiet Invitation" option to allow you to turn off the ringing sound when notifying the participant of the invitation. They'll still get a notification in their Hangouts list in Google+, but they won't be interrupted.
If your fellow participants are telling you your video is choppy or not coming in, you have two options:
Like other Google products, Hangouts comes equipped with keyboard shortcuts, too. The most convenient two on Mac are ⌘E to turn your camera on and off and ⌘D to mute and unmute your microphone. For a full list, see the Hangouts support page for keyboard shortcuts.
Want to get direct feedback from your customers? Try hosting a weekly public Hangout video call on your Google+ profile. Limited to 10 participants, this is a great way to connect with users to field questions and ideas.
Google recently rolled out a Hangout start button, which can be embedded in any app or website. Early users include CRM tool Insightly, which lets users startup a Hangout with contact from inside their app, and Zendesk, which gives customer support agents a quick way to jump on a video call to discuss a ticket.
Google has also begun selling a video call kit, the Chromebox, that promises to improve your video meetings. The device cost $999 and requires a $250 per device annual fee.
Though this resource is titled the "complete guide," Hangouts is constantly changing and its users are discovering new ways to make the most of it. If you have a Hangout video call tip or trick that was left out above, please leave a comment below.
For more resources on Hangout Video Calls, I recommend the following resources:
If you're a Google user who enjoys getting more out of the tools they offer, then check out app automation and integration made possible with Zapier.
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