A last-minute trip landed Meg Hooper Pearson in Germany in late January — thousands of miles from a key United Way board meeting in Ottawa.

The director of the United Way of Franklin County Association was faced with a dilemma. A gathering of the board was set to take place Jan. 30 at Neosho County Community College’s Ottawa campus, 900 E. Logan St. More than 15 members of her executive and corporate boards planned to gather for the dinner meeting to discuss the results of the 2012 fundraising campaign. This group of board members — corporate executives, small business owners, church leaders, organization representatives and others — were anticipating Hooper Pearson would lead the meeting.

“I had to go to Germany on very short notice, and the [United Way] meeting would have been too difficult to reschedule, because it would have required coordinating way too many people’s schedules [to pick a new date],” Hooper Pearson said.

So Hooper Pearson said she opted to conduct a videoconference through Google+ Hangout, a social and professional medium that is gaining traction across the country, including at the White House. Armed with her wireless laptop, Hooper Pearson started the meeting about 1 a.m. Munich time from the kitchen of her cousin’s flat — seven hours ahead of Ottawa.

“It was kind of awkward to watch people eating at 1 a.m. my time. They had lasagna, and it looked like they were enjoying themselves,” Hooper Pearson said, laughing. “Honestly, I thought the meeting went fairly smoothly.”

An online solution

Hooper Pearson chose Google+ Hangout, she said, because it allowed up to 10 active participants in the conversation at the same time.

“If you have a [Google] Gmail account, you can access Hangout through Google+,” she said.

Another United Way board member, Carine Ullom, an Ottawa University staff member, joined the videoconference from the European country of Macedonia, Hooper Pearson said.

“The technology works great, but it’s only as good as your wireless connection,” Hooper Pearson said. “Our connections in Europe were what I would call sketchy, and Carine dropped out at some point. It’s kind of like a cell phone — sometimes you have four bars, sometimes you don’t.”

Hooper Pearson said she also had trouble hearing board members who were sitting in the back of the room in Ottawa.

“I could see their mouths moving, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying,” she said. “The people on the front row had to tell me what they said.”

But Hooper Pearson, who said she had not tried to conduct that complex of videoconference before, said she would do it again.

“The meeting lasted about an hour and a half, and with that many people I thought it went pretty well,” she said.

‘Fireside Hangout’

On Jan. 30, 2012 — exactly one year before the United Way videoconference took place between participants in Ottawa and Europe — President Obama used a Google+ Hangout videoconference to discuss his Jan. 24, 2012, State of the Union address. The White House dubbed the Hangout session the “first online conversation to happen at the White House in real time.”

Obama discussed drone strikes and online piracy during the 2012 Hangout video chat, though most of the questions he fielded were about the economy. When the wife of a semiconductor engineer said that her husband had been out of work for three years, the president told her to send him her husband’s résumé, according to media accounts of the session.

The president conducted a similar videoconference Thursday. During this “Fireside Hangout” — a play on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signature “fireside chats” — Obama took questions from a panel of participants and others.  During two other recent Google+ Hangouts at the White House, Vice President Joe Biden discussed policy proposals about curbing gun violence, and Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, discussed immigration reform.

Skype option

While Google’s Hangout is emerging as a social medium, Skype, another video chat medium, has been around for a decade. The service, introduced in 2003, has about 700 million users, according to industry estimates.

The service allows users to communicate with peers by voice using a microphone, video by using a webcam, and instant messaging over the Internet. Phone calls may be placed to recipients on traditional telephone networks. Skype also has become popular for its additional features, including file transfer and videoconferencing, according to media reviews of the service.

When her husband, Chad Caylor, a commercial pilot, was flying jets for Net Jets, Sara Caylor said, the family would make a Skype conversation a part of their daily routine.

“He would be gone for a week at a time, and we would use Skype almost every day,” Caylor, an Ottawa city commissioner, said.

In addition to helping traveling family members stay in touch, Skype is a good way for a company’s employees in different locales to communicate without having to travel from office to office, Caylor said.

“It’s much cheaper than getting in a car and driving someplace, and it’s much greener, too,” Caylor said.

While on a business trip to Wichita, Caylor used Skype to participate in an Ottawa City Commission meeting from her hotel room in June 2011 — marking the first time the city had used Skype in that capacity.

The newly elected city commissioner peered out at the audience from a computer screen placed in her usual seat.

“I was able to participate in the discussions and vote,” Caylor said. “It worked out really well.”