Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hosting a Mixed-Reality Event the Right Way

Location: Conference Room at Work

In late August, the Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable held a really interesting meeting in which we interviewed Tom Boellstroff and Celia Pearce, two of the authors of Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method.

I wanted to have a local audience attend, and most of them do not have avatars or did not see the need to sit in a virtual space to hear our speakers. With a laptop, a video adapter, and a big screen, I both hosted the local event and, as voice-to-text transcriber for the meeting, connected the virtual and physical audiences. I learned a few things:
  • Promote and arrive early. I always do for such events, using campus e-mail, plus direct appeals to interested faculty, staff, and students. Then I get to the room half an hour before the event in SL begins. This mitigates the usual problems of connecting to SL, teleporting to the venue, and doing sound-checks.
  • Second Life sound is lousy. To compensate, I had my camera location as my listening point, and I positioned the camera between our two speakers and moderator
  •  Focus is key. There was no need to show the crowd constantly. I focused the camera on the speakers, either from in front or just behind, and this avoided any raised eyebrows from avatars dressed like Hooters waitresses or body builders (such avatars were mostly non-academic visitors at the SL meeting)
  • Explain who, what, where. Some of my campus audience did not know the nature of the presenters' book or VWER. It took some quick task-shifting, but I was able to transcribe, provide side-notes orally, and share questions from our audience.
  • Provide interaction! Even with my system lagging, I was able to convey a few questions from campus and get responses from the virtual venue. We followed VWER with some real-life chat about the potentials of virtual worlds.
  • Be serious before, during, after. This is an academic audience. In my 2007 enthusiasm about SL, I wrecked a great chance to show good content to my audience of nearly 20 at a campus conference. What went wrong? Blathering about "the next Internet" and showing how easy it was to dance and change avatar appearance (to a Wynx Whiplash gorilla avatar, no less) was the stupidest thing I have done since my 21st birthday.
The audience on campus came away impressed by the professionalism of VWER, and they learned a great deal about the topic (read the transcript here). In other SL demos, the interface or world got in the way. Not that day, and I'll apply my tips to every "mixed reality" event I host from now on.

1 comment:

Viv Trafalgar said...

Hooray! I'm glad it went so well.