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Becoming an Effective Second Life Presenter

In the weeks since I’ve done my first two Amazon Web Services presentations in Second Life, I’ve spoken to lots of people about what it is like to do a presentation in Second Life. First off, they are generally amazed that is it possible to do a presentation at all. After I tell them about it, the next thing that they want to know is how to do it, and how to be effective. I thought it would be worthwhile to write up what I’ve learned. If you’ve done virtual presentations of your own, please feel free to add your advice in the comment section.

Spend Time In-World

This may be the most important piece of advice that I can give. Experienced residents can detect an outsider or a newbie at a glance. Don’t show up in Second Life as a generically dressed outsider, don’t marvel at what you see on screen during your presentation (making it obvious to everyone that you are seeing it all for the first time), and don’t treat long-time residents like geeks or freaks. If your corporate PR department has asked you to show up in Second Life as part of some effort to show that your company is hip to the latest trends, be extra careful. Attempts to look cool when you are not usually backfire.

Spend a serious amount of time in Second Life before you are scheduled to present. Make sure that you feel at home and that you know some of the jargon. If you don’t know the terms lag or rezzing, you aren’t ready to present. You’d better know what a furry is.

Attend Some Events

There are hundreds of events taking place in Second Life every day. You can log in and visit the Events tab of the Find dialog to locate them, or you can visit the Events Page on the Second Life site. Watch how the presenters interact with the audience, and make sure that you are confident that you can do much of what they do – movements, gestures, chatting, IM’ing, and so forth.

Master the basics of Second Life

Before you even think about presenting, you must be able to move your avatar, spend money, find locations and teleport to them, sit and stand up, invoke gestures, get yourself dressed (and undressed, actually), chat, IM, and to move the camera. Apparently some corporate presenters don’t actually manipulate their own avatars, and instead employ a puppeteer. To each his own, but this seems a bit lame and detached to me. Part of the experience of being in Second Life is to actually be there at the keyboard. If you are not at the keyboard, you are not truly in the world. I have found that the most interesting part of any presentation is actually interacting with the audience — listening to their questions and concerns, watching their body language (are they captivated, bored, excited, or even asleep) and responding appropriately. Anything less and you are simply broadcasting to them.

Dress The Part

Don’t even think about showing up looking like a newbie, dressed in one of the default generic outfits and with non-prim hair. Putting on and taking off clothing is definitely a fundamental Second Life skill, and if you can’t be trusted to get dressed, can you be trusted to present good content? There are plenty of good Second Life fashion blogs and magazines. For you dudes, I can recommend Men’s Second Style. For you gals, there are plenty of places to look including Fashion World of SL and PXP. If you are in a hurry, you might want to consider hiring a personal shopper and spending a few thousand Lindens on some attractive clothes. Last month I actually worked with SL resident Pannie Paperdoll to improve my avatar’s image. In short order we acquired a fresh new skin, a suit, some good shoes, and some prim hair. I still need to blog about this virtual makeover, but it was easy and fun.

Get your Gestures Ready

Gestures are short animations (with optional sounds) attached to your avatar. The gestures are invoked via function keys or by double-clicking them in the Gestures window (press Control-G to open it). I have found that using gestures such as “Yes”, “No”, “Laugh”, “Shrug,” and so forth add a lot of realism to my presentations. Avatars start out with a fairly extensive set of default gestures, but you can buy more at a number of locations in-world including Ludd’s Gestures and Mr. P’s Animation Superstore. I actually created a little “cheat sheet” listing my 5 or 6 favorite gestures before my first presentation. Using these gestures as part of your presentation will take some presence of mind, but they will add realism to what you do, and will also make clear to the audience that you truly understand what makes Second Life special.

Somewhat related to this, don’t be afraid to show up a bit overdressed (an overcoat and a hat) and to make yourself a bit more comfortable part-way through. Once again, these are some real-world cues that add realism and intimacy. You probably don’t want to turn your presentation into a strip-tease, though!

Practice

Doing a run-through in advance isn’t a bad idea at all. If you are presenting in someone else’s space, pay it a visit and get the lay of the land. See what you will see as a presenter and as an audience member. Try out the presentation device and your gestures and make sure that everything you’ll need to do your job is close at hand.

Prepare Biologically

A good presentation is going to take you one or two hours and you are not going to have the opportunity to take a break in mid-presentation. You will probably want to have your favorite work-safe beverage close at hand, and you’ll want to pay a visit to the bathroom before you start.

Watch Yourself

If you have two computers, you can create a so-called “Alt” account and log in twice — once with your primary identity and once with your alternate identity. You can then park your avatar out in the audience and see how you look as you present. Doing this will require even more presence of mind, but I have found that it can be very helpful. During my second presentation I saw that at least one person was sitting on top of the presentation screen, and I never would have seen him but for the eyes of my alt. I know that I can move the camera around, but this was easier.

Make a Grand Entrance

In the interest of adding realism to your presentation, consider making some sort of grand entrance. You could appear from within an explosion, rappel down a rope, or fly in on a dragon. I showed up in my Toyota Scion for my first event, and in my Argolas Hovercraft for my second.

Present

When the big day arrives, give yourself enough time to deal with an unexpected issue or two. Make sure that you are not suddenly faced with the need to download a fresh Second Life client. Follow the Official Linden Blog and be aware of planned outages.

For my second presentation, I asked my audience to express their questions, concerns, and thoughts in the chat window as I presented. I did this to get immediate feedback and to feel more connected with my audience. Tracking all of this real-time input and incorporating it into my presentation was tricky but worthwhile. I also entertained private questions via IM as I was chatting out my presentation to the whole group. Once again tricky, but also worthwhile – I had 8 or 9 simultaneous private threads going at one point.

Ok, so there you have it. Comments and feedback would be great!