In these two days, I’ve attended two events inside virtual reality. They have been
- The CPD in VR organized by Steve Bambury. The chosen platform was ENGAGE and I was there as one of the speakers. Steve manages this event since 2017, so the organization was pretty streamlined;
- The XR-story WeChat group meeting, organized by Eloi Gerard. The chosen platform was
AltspaceVR, and I was there to listen to a talk by Joao Inada on XR storytelling. It was the first meeting of this group, so, as you can imagine, it was a bit messy.
From these two experiences, I have learned some lessons on taking parts to VR events and on speaking inside them, and I want to share them with you, to help you in being great at them 🙂
Install the social experience way before the event
Do not wait till the last minute to install the application inside which the event will be hosted!
These experiences may require you to download and install the program, and network issues may slow down this process. Then probably you’ll have to create an account (and I had problems in re-using my old Altspace acount). After that there is the avatar customization, and the tutorial to get started.
All these steps require time…. usually at least 20 minutes, and if something goes wrong, even more… so my advice is to install the application the day before, just to be sure that the day of the event, it will be correctly installed on your PC.
And if you have already the app, please check the day before if there are any updates (sometimes this requires you launching the app).
Take your time to get familiar with the experience
VR is still in its infancy, and so, as you can guess, social VR experiences have still various issues: they are buggy, the UX may not be the most intuitive, and so on.
For this reason, if it is your first time inside the chosen social experience, log in before the start time and take at least half an hour to wander around and try its various functionalities. The most important things that you have to learn are:
- How to create an avatar that resembles you (e.g. on ENGAGE there is a new feature that lets you load your real face from a photo and attach it to your avatar’s face);
- How to join a new event;
- How to move in the environment;
- How to interact with the environment (grab objects, activate stuff);
- How to mute/unmute yourself;
- How to communicate with other people (voice, emojis, text messages, etc….);
- How to create/add 3D elements;
- How to load your own personal documents so that they are shown inside the screens of the room (this is particularly important if you are going to have a speech).
It isn’t necessary that you become an expert of the application, but it suffices that you are confident enough to do the basic operations.
If you are the one organizing the event, you have to know the platform pretty well, because newbies will ask questions to you and they expect you to know the answers. Furthermore, as an organizer, there are other things that you have to master:
- How to create an event;
- How to invite and add people;
- How to make the speakers of the event show their material (videos, slides, etc…);
- How to mute noisy people;
- How to record some media (photo, video, audio) to be shared on social media after the event has finished, to spread the knowledge.
Test, test a lot
If you are going to speak in a VR event or if you are going to organize such an event, make a lot of tests.
For instance, it was my first time doing a speech in VR, and so I was a bit scared of doing it. So, some hours before going live, I opened Engage, entered in one of the environments, loaded my slides and started talking in an empty virtual TED room.
Doing this presentation test has literaly saved me. For instance, I discovered that my embedded videos in my Powerpoint presentation didn’t work! So, I reverted to using embedded Youtube videos. But doing this way, I had to learn how to manage Youtube videos playback inside Engage. Thanks God, I had time, so I was able to master completely my slides deck form inside the Engage environment.
Among all these tests to be done, do not forget the internet connection. The XR Story event was held by people living in China, and sometimes VPN from China have a bad bandwidth or stability. So, tune your connection (e.g. change VPN settings, or go from Wi-fi to tethered), until you are sure that there are not issues.
If you are the host, also test how your attendees have to join an event. In the XR Story event, some people had issues in joining us because they didn’t find the event inside
If possible, organize or join a test session for the speakers and the host. This way, everyone can try his connection, his slides, his microphone, the joining mechanism, and all these details. Furthermore, if there is a test session, the host can introduce the speakers how the event will be organized (e.g. from where they should talk to the audience, for how much time, etc…)
Communicate a lot with the organizer
In case of any problems during the tests, contact the host. He will help you in solving them.
During the event, if possible, keep a channel of communication open with the host outside VR, so that you can communicate with him/her in case of troubles with the VR environment.
Furthermore, if you are the host, in the days before the upcoming event, send continuous updates to your speakers and your audience, to remind them:
- When and where there will be the event;
- How to join;
- The rules of the event;
- The schedule of the event.
Prepare for the event
Pre-load the meeting environment inside the app, so it will be
Clean your headset and check the battery status of your controllers (and your headset, if it is a mobile one): my right Touch controller went out of battery just 2 minutes before my speech!
You are smarter than me, so check these details before starting.
Expect some weirdness
Ok, so in the end you are at the point that you have done a lot of rehearsal, and you’re ready to go. That’s great!
But I have to warn you that joining an event in VR is not the same as joining it in real life. Especially, you have to expect weird things happening, like for instance
- People in in-natural poses (like arms going inside their chests);
- People in weird positions: people flying, people entering objects, people sat in mid-air, … The weirdest thing is when
some bodyparts of another avatar trespass you (e.g. you find the hand of someone else inside your head!). That’s creepy as hell;
- People moving everywhere: so, there’s someone talking on the stage and maybe there is someone else that keeps moving and in the end, he goes on the stage as well;
- The weird appearance of some people: for instance during the CPD in VR event, Alex had his face that was completely black and white (because he used a b/w photo to initialize his avatar) and so seemed someone from the Addams Family;
- Microphone noise: someone with the microphone open could have in his/her home some dogs, some babies, or other screaming creatures. Hearing these sounds is a bit strange;
- Other random weirdness: for instance, I have also seen a reindeer flying on a Christmas tree.
What I want to say is: expect strange things to happen and ignore them, if you are going to speak on the stage. Tell your brain that whatever it will see, it will be innatural and your brain has to accept that (a bit like when you are at a comic-con :D)
Find a new way to pitch
Talking in public in VR is really strange, because your interaction with the public is small or inexistent. What I want to say is:
- If the host mutes the microphones of the audience, you will not hear any sounds from the people listening to you. This means that when you go on stage, no one will encourage you. When you say funny jokes on stage, you hear no one laughing. When you finish, no one is going to clap you. Some social spaces mitigate this issue by letting people spawn emojis (e.g. clapping emoji or smiling emoji) and this helps with feedback… but anyway, it is still a very basic one;
- You can’t see the facial expression of people: when I speak on stage, I like seeing people nodding when I speak, or watching me with interest, or smiling, or such. I also like when friends of mine that are in the audience give me silent messages with hands or face telling me that I am going well, or that I have to go faster or slower. In VR you have nothing like that. The public is made by cartoon dolls with limited expressivity and so you can’t have these subtle hints. For some shy people, this may also be an advantage, because faces that are non-realistic make you feel less
- You can’t look people directly into their eyes. I love watching my audience in their eyes when I am talking with them… but in VR, I can not, because there can’t be any real eye contact (maybe with eye-tracking devices this will become possible, who knows);
- People can’t see your expression and body language. As you can’t see the expressivity of the public, the public can’t see yours. Maybe you are dressed incredibly well and have the posture of the perfect alpha male (or female), but no one will notice that in VR. Your body language and your facial expressions may be the best in class, but they will be lost in the metaverse.
Just to make you understand how this can impact you as a speaker: when I finished my talk about the Vive Focus, having heard no reaction to it, I had the unconscious impression that it went really bad and no one had appreciated it. It was only later on, when I went on Twitter and read the compliments of the other participants, that I realized that in the end, people had enjoyed it.
My advice here is: expect no feedback in return from people. Pitch as if you were going to talk in an empty room with a camera that sends your words in streaming. People won’t react: IT IS PERFECTLY NORMAL. Go on, you
Furthermore, since you can’t exploit body posture and facial expression, the only things that you really have are your voice and your rough body posture, so you have to point only on these two features. Be more explicit with your body pose (great movements of hands) and modulate your voice in a way so that it makes your pitch interesting.
Regarding the slides, take in count that the streaming of the deck will corrupt its quality and the low resolution of current headsets will do the rest to make things look blurry. So, write texts that are big and possibly with a big background/foreground contrast.
Find a new way to attend
Attending an event in VR, even being part of the audience, is different.
During real-life events, I am used to listening to the person talking on stage, but also to having small chats with people around me, check the phone once in a while and all these other small activities.
In VR, this is not possible. If you speak with the person next to you, everyone in the room will hear you… and so you can’t do that. That’s terrible, because for instance during the CPD in VR event I have finally met in person some people with which I’ve only spoken on Twitter, but I was not able to have small chats with them. For instance, I was next to Ali Fardinpour, with which I always talk on Twitter and Linkedin, but we were not able to talk each other, because he was in the audience and so he was muted 🙁
Furthermore, since I have explained that for the speaker is hard to speak without having feedback from the audience, as an attendant, you have to be the most explicit possible. If you can clap using emojis, do that. Otherwise, do a very explicit gesture of clapping your hands to show appreciation. I resorted to that after the other speakers finished talking. I really wanted them to understand that I appreciated their work.
Be creative in your feedback: at the end of the event, Steve Bambury wanted to take a picture of all of us… and in these cases, I am used to making funny faces. But in VR, I couldn’t do a stupid face, so I resorted to doing a stupid body pose, dabbing with my headset on. Everyone laughed.
So, be creative even when you are in the public.
Take VR breaks
If the event is long, your body may feel fatigue from being in VR all the time. If you can, take some little breaks by removing your VR headset from your face and drink a sip of water once in a while
Don’t worry: you can follow all the pieces of advice of this world, but in the end, something will always go bad. That’s part of Murphy’s laws, baby 🙂
Just relax and solve the problems that will come with a smile 🙂
There are a lot of events in Virtual Reality with amazing people that just want to hang around, learn new things and meet new people.
You don’t have to be perfect: we VR innovators understand that this is a new field and it is normal that things will go in an unexpected way. The only important thing is meeting together and have fun together talking about virtual reality. All the rest that comes is just an added value.
So, don’t worry and just enjoy your time!
Participating in these two virtual reality events has been a very interesting experience, and I want to really thank Eloi and Steve for having given me this opportunity. And next week, I should speak at an event held by VeeR in AltspaceVR, so I won’t stop enjoying VR events!
Happy VR to everyone 😉
Join my super-exclusive club!
Receive for free AR/VR articles like this + a weekly roundup of the most important XR news of the week straight in your inbox!