8 ways to improve your conference with Google tools

Andy Wolber provides eight practical ways to use free Google tools for events and conferences.

Improve conference with Google tools

In November 1660, 12 people met at Gresham College in London to talk about a common interest: science. The group met often to discuss experiments and share ideas, and it eventually evolved in what we now know as the Royal Society. (Notably, the Royal Society is also the publisher of "the oldest scientific journal in continuous publication.")

Much like conference-goers today, the Royal Society consisted of people who gathered together as a result of a shared interest in a topic. People gave talks, shared papers, and established social connections. Unlike today, these early conference-goers relied on handwritten or printed papers to organize and share ideas.

Thankfully, modern conference planners can move beyond paper. We have access to the internet--and a whole host of free Google tools to help manage events and conferences. Here are eight practical ways to use these tools to support your conference activities.

1. Organize sessions

Organize and share your conference schedule on either a Google Sheet or Calendar (Figure A). For example, the organizers shared a Google Sheet to display the schedule for an August 2015 EdTechTeam North Carolina Summit. The Google Developers Events calendar displays a wide-range of learning opportunities, each with an "Add to calendar" link in the event details.

Figure A

Figure A
Share your conference schedule on a Google Sheet.

2. Simplify search

Choose and publicize a standard hashtag for the conference. For example, the Council of Michigan Foundations chose #cmfac15 for their conference to be held in November 2015. That's easy to remember: it includes the organization's initials (CMF), "ac" for annual conference, then two digits to indicate the year. If you expect thousands of guests--or the attendees are especially tech-savvy--you might choose a hashtag for each conference track or session.

A hashtag makes it easier for people to discover conference-related content and discussions (Figure B). Type the hashtag "#cmfac15" in a Google search, and you'll see pages with conference details. During the conference, a Google search for a conference hashtag will also display results from Twitter.

Figure B

Figure B
Create a standard hashtag to help people discover conference content.

3. Link to Content

Gather and share workshop session content online. Ask each presenter to provide either a file--or a link to content online. Organize the files (e.g., PowerPoint presentations, PDFs, and other documents) in conference folders with Google Drive. Share the folder so that "anyone on the internet" can find and access the files. Add links to content for a session in either a Google Sheet or Calendar event (as mentioned in item 1).

4. Be social

Help people connect outside the conference. Encourage each presenter to include contact information on a slide at both the beginning and end of a presentation (Figure C). For example, Alex Komoroske and Elisabeth Morant each listed both a Google+ account and Twitter account on a title slide from their presentation for Google I/O 2015. If your conference is relatively small, you might ask each attendee to add their contact information to a shared Google Sheet.

Figure C

Figure C
Ask presenters and participants to include contact information on conference materials.

5. Take notes together

Create a Google Doc that anyone can edit to help session attendees take notes for each session (Figure D). With multiple people taking notes, details not found in session materials may be documented. For example, the organizers of the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference shared a shortlink to an editable Google Doc for every session of their conference on a Google Sheet.

Figure D

Figure D
Share an editable Google Document to help attendees take notes together.

6. Livestream sessions

Stream your conference session live to YouTube with a Hangout on Air (Figure E). Your broadcast could be either the conventional webinar-type format, where someone reviews shared slides, or a live broadcast of a meeting or event. For an example of Hangouts used in a webinar format, see "The Power of Marketing with Google Apps," session presented as part of the gCon 360° conference. Hangouts also allows the Mountain View Whisman School District to stream school board meetings live and make the video available for later viewing.

Figure E

Figure E
Stream sessions live with Google+ Hangouts on Air, and view sessions later on YouTube.

7. Share photos

Google Photos can help you document your event. Install Google Photos on your Android or Apple smartphone, and set the app to automatically backup photos you take to Google. Later, choose the photos you want and share them with your colleagues.

8. Seek feedback

Create a Google Form to seek feedback--on presenters, on sessions, or on any aspect of your event. Add your own questions to create a new Google Form--or search for Google Form templates to modify. A search for "session evaluation" returns a useful form by Christian Ohl, which you might then modify.

With all of these Google tools, you can share your conference content far beyond your event's walls. Google's tools remove barriers of cost and distance. It's up to you--and your conference participants--to create an event worth sharing.

What other tips do you suggest for using Google tools for events and conferences? Let us know in the discussion thread below.

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