Posted by: Peter Quirk | June 19, 2008

On presenting in Second Life

This picture shows the HUD for the projector

Today I presented EMC’s experience of recruiting in Second Life at the Grondstedt Group’s Train for Success meeting in Second Life. Since this was the first formal presentation I’ve given in Second Life, there were several important learnings for me which I will incorporate into future presentations and into my vision for the virtual workplace.

I have attended a number of meetings at Train for Success, and I’ve been to a number of conferences in Second Life. I’ve always found them to be more engaging than web conferences. This time, the experience, as presenter, was quite different. I have to blame my presentation style, which was not adapted for Second Life. In a live presentation, I get a lot of cues from the audience. Even when presenting an audio or web conference at work, there’s a lot of give and take, questions & answers, etc. A lot of that is facilitated by pre-existing relationships. But in Second Life, with an audience of unknowns, unless the audience makes an effort to communicate its interest continuously, it’s very hard for the presenter to pick up the cues. I failed to create the breaks, the questions, the punchlines, the sound effects or whatever was needed to elicit a reponse.

That’s not to say that the audience wasn’t appreciative or didn’t ask questions. It was just hard for me as a lone presenter to feel the vibe. The audience was very respectful and didn’t say much. They kept their questions to the end. (Again, it’s clear that I didn’t leave enough unsaid in order to generate some questions.)

Before the meeting I did an extensive search for animation overrides for the built-in standing poses, looking for some which better represented the moves of a presenter. I found some that better suited a singer, and one that involved pointing at a screen. There were quite a few that involved a holding a microphone, or were packaged with a lectern and PC. Overall, the absence of business-related animations is quite marked (if you ignore those that involve unsanctioned behavior between managers and employees.) After the meeting I realized that the same is true for business audiences. We really need to equip audience members with an appropriate set of gestures and animation overrides to enable them to do non-verbal communication with the presenter.

Erica Driver wrote recently about the problems of rehearsing for a real meeting, a web conference or a meeting in Second Life (I want “Presentation Hero”.) She talks about the power of Second Life to provide rehearsal support (a la IBM’s rehearsal services.) She really wants to see herself from the audience’s point of view. I commented on her blog that you need the obverse too – the ability to synthesize any sort of audience behavior and see how you would react to it, whether they’re snoring, walking out, clapping all the time, or throwing tomatoes.

One alternative to the lonesome presenter format is the panel discussion format, where the panelists interact to support or rebut each other’s positions. Another alternative is to completely rethink the presentation style into something like a undergraduate class with plenty of questions asked of the audience. To complement this format you need an effective whiteboard for the presenter and the students to write their answers. I haven’t looked for one, so I don’t know what’s out there and how difficult they are to operate.

To end this post, I must mention the wonderful slide projector that Anders provided. It’s the Presentation HUD with Intelliload 3.0. It’s fast (unlike most other solutions) and the HUD provides you with a thumbnail view of the next slide to help you make a smooth transition in your narrative. It also looks good, and it’s free!


  1. Thank you, thank you, Peter for an outstanding presentation today!

    I’ve been trying to figure out what triggers the audience to get more involved and make the meetings more conversational and two-way. I think one trick (that works well for live meetings as well) is to start the meeting with some audience questions and conversations and sprinkle them throughout the hour, rather than saving them for the end, so people don’t have a chance to settle into a listen-only mood. But that’s easier said than done, throwing out a question and listening to the silence in a virtual world meeting is in some ways harder than in a live meeting.

    I like your panel format idea. Another format we might try is the interview format; perhaps we need to get a Charlie Rose round oak table!

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