The Company Meeting, Cloud-Style – The Technical Details

February 13, 2013 Appirio

by Glenn Weinstein
Co-founder and CIO

On our CIO blog yesterday, I wrote a post on how we pulled off our virtual annual company meeting, using nothing more than our existing cloud technologies. Here, I’ll provide some more details.

Most of the action was at HQ in San Francisco, where about 100 Appirians joined in person.

  • Our CEO, Chris Barbin, spoke from a podium, directly in front of a portal Logitech webcam mounted at eye level on the top of an easel. The webcam connected via USB to the laptop that was hosting the Google Hangout. This created a TV-like effect, allowing viewers a sufficiently close-up view to see facial expressions.
  • Guest speakers sat in a chair directly next to the podium while being interviewed by Chris, so they’d be visible on the webcam.
  • The Google Hangout host machine was connected to a projector aimed at a portable screen. We also enabled Mac OSX screen sharing, to allow the “deejay” (yours truly, sitting at a table off the to the side) to control the Hangout remotely, switching views to, say, the Chicago location when someone there received an award. These “camera switches” also controlled what Hangout On Air viewers saw, adding to the TV-like effect.
  • Audio was supplied to GoToWebinar via analog phone, for best sound quality. Our HQ office is outfitted with a Crestron telephony controller that pipes audio to ceiling speakers, and takes inputs from both lapel and handheld microphones. Chris used the lapel mic, and each guest used the handheld mic.
  • As it was time to play each pre-recorded video, we’d send the unlisted YouTube URL via the GoToWebinar chat window. This allowed participants to stay on the same machine and projector, and easily switch between the live GoToWebinar video feed and the recorded videos.
  • As the deejay, I kept four computers nearby:
    • A MacBook Pro, where I stayed on Gmail to receive Google Talk Chat messages from other site hosts, controlled the Hangout screen share, and launched the GoToWebinar;
    • A second MacBook Pro, which was the presenter machine and displayed full-screen PowerPoint;
    • The wireless keyboard and mouse to a nearby iMac that controlled the main office video screen, which was logged into the GoToWebinar as a presenter; and
    • A Dell Latitude, whose sole purpose was to record the GoToWebinar.

We also learned a few lessons. These are the deep, dark tricks of the trade.

  • Hangouts On Air are visible to the public. They’ll show up in YouTube searches, as well as on your Google+ feed. To maximize security, we gave the Hangout an arbitrary name, deleted the Google+ posts (note, a new post shows up anytime you invite someone new), ensured all participants were muted, and made sure the camera was only pointing at faces, not slides with confidential info. If someone outside the company managed to find the live feed on YouTube, they’d be treated to nothing more than a silent movie of talking heads. After the meeting ended, we deleted the YouTube recordings.
  • Hangouts On Air have a 4-hour time limit. We had to start a new Hangout during our break, re-invite the other 9 remote sites, and re-distribute the YouTube URL to all participants.
  • GoToWebinar polls are limited to multiple-choice questions. For fill-in-the-blank polls (like “what one word best describes Appirio?” or “name a customer to whom you are considered a trusted advisor”), we used the Questions/Chat box in GoToWebinar. The results are available to the administrator via a downloadable report. After some quick pivot table magic, we posted the resulting lists to the Chatter Group.
  • Remember to mute the main microphones when you tell everyone to play the pre-recorded videos, to avoid “double sound” at the remote locations.
  • Make sure to have something like a Logitech Wireless Presenter (aka “clicker”), so the speaker can advance the slides at their own pace.
  •  Consider finding an employee who has a good SLR camera to take photos of the event!
Google Hangout On Air

We ended up having a fun and motivating meeting that combined the energies of Appirians all over the world. We delivered a 5-hour multi-media meeting to 19 group sites and 160 home offices, without a single server, without a corporate network, and with no incremental costs. And without a hiccup!

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