Well, on Thursday, April 16 the second Library OnConference was held! It’s hard to believe that all of those months of brainstorming, organizing, and preparing have come and gone. This was our second conference (the previous one was held in August) and I’d definitely call it a success thanks to our awesome keynote speaker, Beck Tench, amazing moderators, social media organizer, and participants!
It’s been about 1 year since Gwyn and I decided to even create a virtual conference completely held on Google Hangouts. We were inspired by our time at PLA 2014- meeting so many inspirational librarians and also talking about the benefits of Google Hangouts in your library. We had so much fun that we decided to build a (free) virtual conference around these two concepts. Now that we’ve successfully completed two conference (and yes, we’re going for big number 3 in 2016!), these are some lessons that I’ve learned and want to pass along:
1) Keynote: The first time that we did the conference, R. David Lankes was our keynote presenter and he spoke LIVE on Google Hangouts On Air. This time, Beck recorded her keynote in advance and we aired it at a specific time. The benefits of speaking live a la Lankes is that it adds to the allure of the conference: this is live, we’re all watching this happen in the moment, and it’s pretty cool to see the clock countdown on YouTube and you see the speaker get on air. BUT there’s a downside to this. What if they have tech issues? What if there’s a bad storm and the Internet is out? What if something awkward happens- like phone rings, someone comes into the room, uncontrollable coughing fit, etc. etc. SO MANY VARIABLES. Thankfully we didn't encounter any of these with Lankes, but nonetheless we didn't want to chance it with Beck. The pro of having a pre-recorded keynote is that the conference doesn't have to be set at a specific date/time when the keynote is able to present; because it’s pre-recorded it can happen anytime really. The keynote speaker also has an opportunity to watch their presentation and edit it if they so choose and the conference organizers can watch it in advance and possibly adjust publicity and programming around the central message. And it goes without saying, the added relief of not worrying about if all the stars will align and the presentation will not experience tech problems is major.
2) Google Hangouts Updates: Google Hangouts always seems to be evolving and I noticed a few improvements to the process during our second conference. One of my favorites is the fact that when you schedule a Google Hangout or Google Hangout On Air, it will send you a notification, put it on your gcal, and then send you a reminder the day before. Also, on your Google+ page it will have it listed as “upcoming events.” Best of all, it provides a link so that you can create hyperlinks on your conference’s webpage and people can access it that way too. But because these updates on Google Hangouts seem to happen pretty regularly, you need to stay current!
3) Training: That being said, not everyone sees the joy of Google Hangouts. In our post-conference survey, people mentioned how they felt that Google+ was confusing or they had technical difficulties getting into their group. Although we sent out pre-conference instructions (for the first conference we offered drop-in training sessions but they were sparsely attended), it does take practice and you have to encourage participants to practice on their own time pre-conference. Of course, there’s no real way to enforce this, but its highly recommended. That being said, as much as someone may practice using Google Hangouts- their Wifi, computer, bad weather, whatever can just make it not work for them that afternoon. Realize that is the nature of hosting a virtual conference.
4) Group Size: I mentioned earlier that Google Hangouts is always doing updates and one of them is that they expanded their hangout size from 10 to 15 participants. That’s awesome, but not necessarily conducive if you want to have a meaningful, networking experience. We capped our groups at 8 people and I think I’d keep it the same amount. Plus the less people, the less chance for awkward feedback or tech problems.
5) Registration: we used Google Forms for registration this year which was so easy to use and I highly recommend. You can use a Form Limiter tool so that you can cap registration. Google Forms makes things look pretty and you can embed it to your website. We had 6 different Google Forms since we had 6 different hangout sessions. This was a huge improvement to last year when we just had people register and then we tried to corral them into their appropriate small groups.
So there are some definite things to take into consideration when you’re planning a virtual conference or networking event with Google Hangouts, but I think that its well worth it. Its free, interactive, and there are endless opportunities for trying new concepts. Let me know if you have any questions or comments!