Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Create a Merge Newsletter with Google Docs (Just in time for Christmas)

Many people enjoy sending out a year in review Christmas letter. One of the things I've always hated about them is that because they're so generic, they feel impersonal.

There are many App Scripts available that can add features and tools to Google Docs. Autocrat allows you to merge data in a spreadsheet with a Google Doc and save the merged files as a Google Document or a PDF. It will even email a copy of the document to individuals.

Now let's take the concept of the newsletter and expand it. In addition to adding the person's name at the top, let's customize the first and last paragraph (the middle will be the generic newsletter content). If I'm writing to my brother Bob, my first paragraph will be a personal message to him (eg: Great seeing you this summer - thanks for inviting us to your cabin). The last paragraph is also customized for him (eg: Looking forward to seeing you at Christmas - your room is ready for you!).

After you've gone through and created all this content in your spreadsheet (or if it's easier for you, use a form to enter your info), you can use Autocrat to create the merged newsletters. You can print them off or you can let Autocrat email them out.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Simpler Events Page for Your Hangouts on Air

One of the major challenges about using Google tools (hangouts, Event pages, etc) is that to participate you must have a Google+ account. Even something as simple as trying to ask a question often requires your visitors to login - and if you don't have an account already setup, that's another roadblock for your visitor.

However, there are chat services available that makes it easy to participate - without requiring a login account. Zoho Chat ( is one of those services where your visitor selects a name for themselves and then can start chatting. By embedding the code for chatting with the code for your HOA you can create a simplified version of a Google Event:


If you're html handy, you can embed the two pieces of code anywhere, but if you're not, an easy solution is Google's Blogger. You create a specific blog to host your events and then create a new entry for each event/HOA. However you do it, be sure to test it ahead of time as there are many solutions that either don't accept the code (eg. or rewrites the code and it won't function properly (eg. Google Sites). For purpose of this example, I'll be embedding a live version further down.

Creating your chat

Visit and login using either one of the provided services or with Zoho itself.  You need to do this to create and administer your rooms. Once you're logged in, select the Shoutbox style from the right (there are other chat styles available, but this is the one that lets all users chat with each other).

Next, you need to give the name for this chat box (for administration purposes), a title and customize the look of your chat box, changing the colors to match your web site. As I may create a chat for each HOA I create, I'll want to identify it by topic and date.

When everything's looking the way you want, generate the code for the embed. Now you just need to go to a page where you can paste in the HOA code along side the chat code. Here's a live sample below (the current video would be substituted for the HOA code):


If you'd prefer, you could even have the chat open in a separate window:


There's a lot to be said for using Google's comments tools located within Events and YouTube. You can have a conversation that takes place before and after your event, with notifications sent to you with each new posting. However, you still have to have a Google+ or YouTube account setup. Other sites like 
+Business Hangouts have created solutions to make the process easier by allowing viewers to login with Facebook, Linkedin in addition to Google+, but if you have a visitor who hasn't signed up for any of those is still forced to do so.

Although this method is sign-up free, it's not without it's own challenges: you can't moderate the chat or block users. Once the HOA is over, you do not receive any updates of further comments made to the chat. And of course, there's no way to followup with users because they can use false names.  However, you could create a form to collect contact information before providing them with the link to the actual hangout. Still with all it's challenges, if you want a simple way for anyone to join into a conversation without having to login, this is an effective tool.

Want to learn more about using this method? Just leave a comment below and I'll contact you with information about an upcoming training video/Hangout on Air.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Combining multiple Gmail filters into one

Gmail's filters and labels are an incredible powerful combination. Typically users create multiple filters and assign them to a single label, but you can easily combine a number of filters into one by using the OR command.

Just open one of your existing filters and add additional email addresses separated by OR with a space on either side (e.g. space-OR-space): OR OR

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Send Emails with Google Forms

Google Forms is a great tool for collecting information, but you can also use it as a contact form on your website. Unfortunately, it doesn't email you the contents of the form - at best you can have Google send you a notification when there is a change in the spreadsheet.

That's where scripts come in. Thanks to the genius of others, there are many scripts you can use to extend the functionality of spreadsheets. The one I use is FormEmailer by +Henrique Abreu. This wonderful script makes it easy to send emails with customized messages. Check out the video below and be sure to visit the FormEmailer  site!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Add a Placeholder Video to your Hangout on Air's Event Page

As a new user to Google+, one thing that many people find confusing is that an Event page is not the actual Hangout on Air (HOA). I'll often see comments like "Where's the video?" on the event page 2 or 3 days before the actual event.

Many of these users expect the Event page to be like a television station - there's something always playing, but they're show will start at the advertised time. To help educate visitors, I created this video which I place in my Event's YouTube URL:

Now the visitors know to tune in at the scheduled time to see the live HOA.

Other things you could do:

  • create a "commercial" with your participants that will explain what they can expect when they tune in at the proper time
  • run a related video
  • run a cartoon or movie
  • run your favourite music video
If you want to create your own video, one of the easiest ways is to use YouTube's Slideshow tool. You can create slides in your favourite graphics editor (or PowerPoint), save them as files and upload them. (Tip: use music from YouTube's library so your video won't get pulled for infringement). Or create something in a movie editor and upload.

Easier still, just link to the video I created and paste it into your Event!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Using Google Calendar for Time Based To Dos (Reminders)

For me, there are 2 types of ToDos - checklists and reminders. Checklists include things list:

  • books to read
  • movies to see
  • items to pack for a vacation
  • stuff to fix around the house.

Reminders are the things you do at a specific time (like on your way home):

  • pickup milk
  • go to the bank
  • drop off a prescription
  • mail a letter

I like to see these things in my calendar so I can plan around them, but I don't want them to be included in my personal or work calendar. Especially if I'm sharing my calendar with others.

My solution: create a separate calendar called Reminders. When I create a reminder (e.g. pick up milk at 5:30 p.m.) I enter it in my calendar and assign it to Reminders. When the time comes, I'm notified with all the features of a calendar appointment (popup, email, SMS).  Don't worry about the end time of the appointment  — you're only concerned about being notified once it starts.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Creating Filter in Gmail to Flag your Newsletters

A couple of incredibly power features in GMail is filters and labels. With a few clicks, you can setup filters to quickly organize messages by assigning useful labels to them.

A handy filter I've created allows me to quickly identify Newsletters. These are messages I receive weekly or monthly that I quickly peruse and then delete:

  • weekly flyer from Best Buy
  • travel deals from Expedia
  • Costco News
  • YouTube notices (someone has subscribed to your channel)
Most people understand how to create filters and people will spend hours ensuring they have a filter setup to address each message. But there's a way you can combine a number of filters into one instead of creating individual filters.

Let's look at the list above. I want to create a filter that will assign the Newsletter label to any messages send by these companies. First I need to identify the return email address:

  • Best Buy (
  • Expedia (
  • Costco News (
  • YouTube (
Normally you would create a single rule for each email. First you identify the criteria the filter is to look for:

Then you indicate the action that should be taken:

Now, instead of creating more filters that will do the same, you can combine all the email address together in the search criteria by separating each email with the word OR (in all caps).

Now I have one filter where I once had four! All that's left is to select all the messages, read through them and delete!  :-)

Tip: If you have a large number of emails to filter on, edit the list in a text editor (the filter field is very small). When the time comes, you can add your email at the beginning of the list.

What kind of message can you filter with this?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Meetings - Finding the Right Time

One of the biggest challenges when arranging a meeting is finding a time that works for everyone. Typically you'll send emails back and forth to try and find a time that works for everyone. There's got to be a better way!

Google Calendar

Let's start with the basics. If you're sharing your Google Calendar with another Google Calendar user, you can do a suggested search. However, most of us are often trying to organize meetings with people who we don't share our calendars with. If you want, you can make your calendar available to the public (choosing whether your appointment details are visible or not) and let people subscribe to it. You can also embed your publicly available calendar on a web page or Google Site where anyone can see your availability.

This is a great feature when you want to post your baseball schedule or other activity to a web site. However, the one disadvantage of this method is when you click on an event, it will try to add it to your Google Calendar. If you don't have a Google account, it will prompt you to create one.


Doodle ( is a free web service that asks the question "Which time works best for you?". You start by selecting a number of dates and times for your attendees to choose from. You email a link to them and they select the ones that work best for them. As they make their choices, you can see which date/time is the most popular. When you've chosen your date/time, Doodle can send an email  to the group letting them know or you can add the date to your Google calendar or a Google+ Events page.

Advance feature: if you login with your Google account, you'll be able to see your own schedule when choosing dates (ensures you won't be double booking yourself) and you'll be able to directly add the chosen date as an appointment to your calendar. You'll also be able to look back on any of the polls you've created.


A great replacement for Google Calendar's Appointment Slots, YouCanBook.Me is a free web service ideal for those who want to schedule certain times for visitors to choose from to book an appointment. Unlike Appointment Slots (which is only available to Google Apps for Education/Business), you don't need to have a Google account.

Logging in with your Google account allows the service to see your Google Calendar. You then select the days/times people can schedule appointments with you. Once you're done, you can either point them to a page created by YouCanBook.Me or you can embed it on your own site. As appointments are booked, they are greyed out.

There are lots of features that come with the basic free version of YouCanBook.Me - you can schedule lunch breaks, set a specific date range to be available (so you don't book during your holidays), customize the form, confirmation message/email, logos, etc.

Upgrading to a paid version allows you to have payments processed through PayPal, send followup emails/sms, remove YouCanBook.Me branding and more.

Look at their demo page and discover some exciting ways you can use the service!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Try the 4 Day View in Google Calendar!

At the beginning of the week, I like to check my calendar and familiarize myself with what's coming up. However, by the time I get to Thursday, my screen real estate is taken up by appointments that have happened in the past (past events have been greyed out):

One of the unique calendar views Google offers is 4 Day. It displays yesterday, today and the following 2 days:

The beauty of this is now I can actually ready my calendar!

So, what's your favourite calendar view?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Use Custom Graphics for Link Placeholders Added in Youtube

When you're doing a Hangout on Air (HOA), you may want to direct your viewers to other videos on the web. Unfortunately, you can only add active links to your video after you've completed your HOA. Once it's been archived, you can use the Annotations tool in YouTube to add text and links. 

+Ronnie Bincer uses a great technique where he will point his finger in the air where he will later put in the link. When I tried this method, however, I always pointed to the wrong side of the screen (it looked correct to me, but in playback was not). I also often had trouble finding the location where I wanted to place the links because I tend to wave my hands around and would mistake that for pointing.

My solution: create graphics that I could load up when I wanted to refer to a link. I named the graphics something like Banner 1 (only 1 banner on the left side) and Banner 2 (2 banners). Banners were easy to find and I never got confused which side to put it on.

To do this, you use the Lower Thirds App from the Hangout Toolbox.

  1. Start a Google Hangout (you don't need to invite anyone else).
  2. Launch the Hangout Toolbox (if it's not available on the left, select if from the View more apps at the bottom).
  3. Select the first tab from the toolbox (see Step 1). This is where you create your lower thirds (be sure to check out +Ray Hiltz tutorial on using lower thirds).
  4. Select the Choose File button underneath Custom Overlay and navigate your graphic  (see Step 2).  Upload the file.
  5. Click the on switch to the right of Custom Overlay. Your graphic will now appear on your screen.
  6. Add a name for the graphic in the field below Presets and hit save  (see Step 3).  The present and graphic will be added to the list below.
  7. Repeat for the second graphic.
You can see it in action in the short video below.

You can create your own graphic or you use the ones I've provided. Just right-click and each image and save to your desktop.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Easy Language Translation with Google Chat

I read somewhere that Google's testing on the fly language translation that will someday be available in Hangouts. For the moment, that's only rumour, but you can get easy translations when using Google Chat. There are a number of google language bots (robots) that can provide you with quick (although not accurate)  translations.

Years ago I was chatting with the parents of a french exchange student who was staying with us. I had 2 chat windows open - my chat with the parent, and another window where I would chat with 2 robots en2fr (English to French) and fr3en (French to English). Check out the video below to see how I managed it.

For more information on the various robots available, visit

Monday, March 11, 2013

Set background colour of spreadsheet cells using conditional formatting

I'll often use Google's spreadsheets as a sort of checklist - the collaboration function is great when you're working with others. However, looking at a long list of items and trying to see what has been completed vs what needs to done can become a task in itself. That's why I like to use conditional formatting to change the background colour of cells - helps me determine where to focus my energies.

Let's pretend I'm building a house and I have the framing all in place. I'm trying to co-ordinate 2 trades: electrical and drywall. Obviously, the electrical needs to be in before the drywall goes up. Once those two tasks are done, I can go in and paint.

As each trade is finished a room, I ask them to place a Y (Yes) in their column. Once both columns show green, I know the room's ready for me to go in and paint. This spreadsheet will also let the drywaller know when he can go into a room and do his work. Here are the steps you need to do this:

  1. Select the cells you want the conditional formatting to run on.
  2. Select Conditional formatting from the Format menu.
  3. Select the condition you want met (in this case, text contains Y).
  4. Select the colour of the text/background you want when this condition is met.
  5. Save the rules.
As I like to visualize where the holdups are, I add an additional rule that makes the cell red if empty.

Check out the spreadsheet in action!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Clearing up the Confusion of Google Events and Hangouts on Air (HOAs)

Creating a Hangout is so simple but when it comes time to tie it to a Google+ Event to promote it, the simplicity breaks down. Many people seem to think there is some magic connection between the two. The first thing you need to understand:

Google+ Events and Hangouts On Air are 2 separate things

The Event is an invitation to an activity; the Hangout is something that happens at the activity.

Let's try this analogy: I'm going to host an Oscars party where everyone is invited to come and watch the awards being given out. When you get the invitation, it tells you where and when. Do you care what channel we're going to be watching it on? No. As long as it's on the screen when you get there, you're going to be happy.

Remember, an Event can be something online (i.e. Hangout/HOA) or an activity with a physical location (BBQ, concert, etc).

So let's explore the process step by step:

  1. From your Google+ page, select Events from the left side and then select Create Event from the top right (red box)
  2. Enter your basic information (name, address if applicable, date/time, details)
  3. If this is going to be an online activity (like a Regular Hangout or a Hangout on Air) select Advanced from the Event Options.

    Note: Selecting Google+ Hangout will place a link for a Regular Hangout into your invitation. Selecting Make this an event on air will NOT provide you with a link - it only ensures that your event is viewable to the public (i.e. everyone).

  4. After selecting Make this an event on air, click on Show additional fields. Take a look at the extra fields you'll now see.

    Notice the YouTube link - you can place any YouTube video here. For my Oscars party, I placed the 2013 Oscars promo video. This is optional, and you don't have to use. Eventually, at the time of your HOA, this is where you'll put the link to your HOA.

    Note: The extra fields are available to you regardless if you select the Hangout/HOA option or not.
  5. Add people to your Event. If you're planning to use this as a HOA, Public will already be selected (remember, a HOA is available to everyone). Public means EVERYONE in your circles will receive an invitation to the event and it can be shared!

So, your invitations have been sent out. To take full advantage of your communications, you'll post this at least a week in advance so it can be shared throughout your circles (and hopefully be shared and reposted). Your Event page becomes your "landing page" for where people can read about the details of the event and at the proper time and place, watch your HOA. It also becomes your communications hub, where people can leave comments/questions and you can reply to them.

The Big Day - Your Hangout On Air

Here's the second most important point:

You will get the URL for the HOA when you actually start it!

This is an important difference between Regular Hangouts and HOAs. Regular Hangouts aren't being recorded or streamed, so you can create a regular Hangout in the future and the link is automatically available and functioning. HOAs are streamed live and recorded using your YouTube account and are created when you start a HOA.

So, you used your Event to invite people to watch your stream. You would then use the Hangout to invite those who you want to participate in your HOA as your online guests (you would usually do this 15 - 30 minutes before your show is scheduled to start). When you start your HOA, you are not automatically broadcasting. You would use this time before you broadcast to get your guests on board and to updated your Event page with the URL for the HOA.

Let's go through the steps for that.
  1. Select Start a Hangout (you can do this from your Google+ main page or from the Hangouts page.
  2. Add the individuals you want to be part of your HOA (i.e. your on-air guests).
  3. Give your HOA a proper name. This will be the name of the archived video in your YouTube channel.
  4. Check off  Enable Hangouts on Air.
  5. Start your Hangout.

  6. At the top of the page, select Embed. This will provide you with html code to place on your web site as well as the URL for the live stream (once the HOA is completed, this same URL will link to the archived version).

  7. Copy the YouTube URL.

  8. Go back to your original Event page and place your cursor in the details area (you'll have to do this in a separate window from the actual Hangout). A pencil will appear beside the title - click on this to edit the Event's details.

  9. In the YouTube field, paste in the URL for your HOA and save.

    On your Event page your viewers will see an empty black YouTube window. Once you select the Broadcast button, you'll see a 10 second count down and then your show will begin. At that time, the empty window on your Event page will be replaced with a live stream of your HOA.
When your show is complete and you've clicked on the button to complete your broadcast, YouTube will begin the process of archiving your video to your YouTube stream. Once that's complete, the video on your Events page will now point to the archive version automatically.

Advanced Tips and Tricks

The instructions above are intended to help you through the process of getting an HOA going, but there are lots of other actions you can take to ensure a successful Hangout:

  • learn how to moderate comments so you can take questions while on-air
  • post the YouTube link to your HOA in the comments or update the details to include it (mobile devices can't see the video displayed on your events page, but they can watch it through their Youtube app)
  • learn how to add a lower third to your video to display your name
  • if possible, have one person act as the producer to handle switching/comments while another person acts as the host
For other common tips and practices, search for #HOAtips or #hangouttips or check out the great section of videos by +Ronnie Bincer 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Easily Schedule Hangouts with Google Calendar

A few months ago +Ronnie Bincer  and I were discussing the pros and cons of organizing Hangouts using Google+ Events versus Google Calendar (check out our results). As much as I like Events tool, I still believe Google Calendar is the easiest way to schedule a regular Hangouts for one simple reason:

Everyone understands how calendars work

Events have some great advantages over an appointment created in Google Calendar, but for something as simple as "let schedule a time to meet" and do it as a Hangout, this is it.

The image below shows a typical appointment window. The important items to note are
  1. Add a Google+ hangout. Clicking on this will generate a URL for your hangout and now becomes attached to this appointment
  2. Add guests. You can type in contacts from your address book or an email address. The beauty of this is you already have their contact info.
  3. World Clock. When creating an appointment, you can see what time it is in other places. This is one of the tools in Gmail Labs ( You can select a number of different world timezones to be displayed when you create an appointment.

Another important thing to note: when you create an appointment and invite someone, the time is shifted to their time zone. For example, when I invited +Michael Daniels to an appointment I created that started at 1p.m., it showed up in his calendar at 3 p.m. ( 

Question: for the majority of your regular Hangouts, would Google Calendar work for you?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Using Google Presentations in a Hangout

Created January 8, 2013 by Trevor Beck and Ronnie Bincer

Using Presentations

Setup before starting your hangout

  1. From Google Drive (not the Google Drive for Hangouts tool) open your presentation document (typically will open in a new tab).
  2. Move new tab (Presentation) into a new browser window.
  3. Using the dropdown menu (Present) in the upper right, select “Present with Speaker Notes”.
  4. Resize the presentation window to remove any black bars (optional).

Once the hangout has started and you’re ready to give your presentation:

  1. Select Screenshare App from within the Hangout window.
  2. Select the presentation browser window to share.
  3. Bluebox yourself to keep your presentation window front even when others speak.
  4. Use the speaker notes window to drive the presentation forward by clicking on the thumbnail for the next slide.

Note: this will provide you with a browser window that will allow you to display your presentation, as well as open additional tabs to surf the web. Any tabs opened on this window will be viewable through the screenshare.


  • you can adjust the size of the fonts for the speaker notes using the minus and plus signs at the top right of the Speaker Notes window. Or you can start the speaker notes at a larger size to begin with.
  • for a more focused presentation, you can present the window without tabs by selecting “Present in new window” first.
  • you can resize the slide window to a smaller size to give you more room on your desktop. Caution: this may slightly affect the displayed content size in the hangout.
  • if you add animation to objects or transitions between slides that are set to appear on click, you can click on the thumbnail in the speaker notes. Do not advance by using the slide numbers drop-down menu below the thumbnails.
  • your cursor will be visible to your audience (it’s a screenshare). Place your cursor away from the window if you don’t want it visible. (Could be a Bonus... for pointing to things in the live presentation... like a laser pointer). If you do utilize the pointer as part of the presentation, then use your Arrow Keys to advance the presentation.
  • if you are presenting by yourself through Hangouts on Air (HOA), your screenshare will automatically display at full screen (no filmstrip will be visible to your audience). If there are other participants in the HOA, you can achieve the same effect of full screen by video-muting the participants’ video thumbnails in the filmstrip (Cameraman technique).
  • remember to bluebox yourself/your screenshare so that others can talk without interrupting the display
  • participants using mobile devices will be able to view the screenshare - they cannot collaborate on documents within the Hangout.
  • remember not to use fast transitions for slides and objects (minimum of 2 seconds)
  • if using your mouse as a pointer, make it larger
    • Macs: System Preferences → Accessibility → Display
    • Windows: Control Panel → Hardware and Sound → Devices and Printers → Mouse

#hangouttips #hangouts #googledriveinhangouts

Associated videos:

  1. Google Drive Hangout App is NOT for Presentations
  2. Using Google Presentations in a Hangout or HOA
  3. Summary with Q & A for Presentations in a Hangout or HOA

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Google Drive Hangout App is NOT for Presentations

Discover the proper way to use the Hangout App for Google Drive

Using Google Drive Documents inside a Hangout has a lot of value, but it is not very useful if you are trying to do a presentation to a group within the hangout or to a group watching it from the outside. The main problem is everyone in the hangout can open up their own version of the document and may be at a different place than the ‘leader’ or ‘presenter’ is. We have some great ideas on how to utilize Google Drive docs as a presentation method which will be shown in our example HOA/video.

What the Hangout App called Google Drive is really quite useful for is online collaboration inside the hangout. Inside a hangout, you can have a virtual meeting where each party involved can brainstorm, discuss, etc. and get those thoughts into a shared document all at the same time in the same meeting.

If you're any kind of a power user of Google Docs (i.e. Google Drive), you know about the power of collaboration. Your document lives in "the cloud" (i.e. Google Drive) and is only available to you. However, by "sharing" your document, you can assign specific rights (view, comment or edit) to individuals. Now a group of people can work on a document together - either at the same time or at a time convenient for the individual (how to set up document sharing:

If you understand this, then it's easy to see the purpose of the Google Drive tool within Hangouts - it allows you to *edit* collaboratively within a Hangout. You basically see the same window, except it’s within the Hangout. With Google Drive for Hangouts (GDH), you choose from the files you have access to that you want to work on with the participants of your Hangout. Just like working on a document together from Google Drive (web app) you can see changes being made in real time *if you're both looking at the same page*. This is where the confusion comes in.

Let's assume we're both working on a Google word processing document in a Hangout. By default, it opens on the first page and as I make changes, you see it happen in real time. Same thing goes for a spreadsheet or presentation. However, we can actually work on different parts of the document at the same time. With word processing, I could be editing on page 2 while you’re adding new text on page 5. However, because the default view for both of us is page 1, we can’t see the edits happening.

This is why many people are confused about using the presentation tool. When GDH is loaded, we both see slide 1. Here again, we could both be working on different slides. However, you’ll also notice there’s no way to actually view it as a presentation within the Hangout - the purpose of GDH is to *edit* the document collaboratively.

So, is there a way to present a presentation? Yes there is and we’re working on instructions on how to do that and will be presenting that very soon.

#googledrive #hangouttips #hangouts #googledriveinhangouts #HOA