Lisa Lindgren has brought solid presentation advice to hundreds of thousands of people during her professional career. For nearly a decade she published the critically acclaimed Presenters University Web site and its monthly Presentation Pointers newsletter. Now a member of the Steering Committee for InfoComm’s Presentations Council, she continues to work to enrich the industry and advocates for improved presentation techniques and standards.
Geetesh: Tell us about Second Life, and how it can be a platform to deliver and share PowerPoint presentations.
Lisa: Second Life is a 3-D virtual world where you navigate “inworld” using your own, personalized avatar. It claims to have millions of participants and many companies and universities have built presences there with the hopes of capitalizing on it. The reviews are mixed, although I did hear a presentation given by Sarah Robbins from Ball State University about her experience in running her class lab in Second Life. She said that one of the challenges was that her students got so engrossed that they forget to go to their next class! This is precisely why I think that there may be some potential for giving presentations there when you can’t physically be in front of your audience. Unlike a Webinar, or a podcast, it’s a very rich and consuming experience, one that your audience is not likely to listen to half-heartedly while they check their e-mail.
I should make it clear that I am not an expert on Second Life, but I have had the opportunity to visit the Virtualis Convention and Learning Center located in Second Life. There may be other presentation-oriented locations (called islands) there, but this was the one that I got to visit; or, more precisely, that my avatar visited.
Geetesh: Tell us about your experiences. And what sort of potential do you foresee for something of this sort?
Lisa: I watched a basic presentation, without any animation or fancy bells and whistles. But that didn’t really matter, at least to me. I was so engrossed in the total experience that perhaps it was best that the visual slides were simple.
Because it is a virtual world, the possibilities are literally endless. There were a variety of pre-set rooms and seating arrangements, such as a large theater-style room and small classrooms. The classrooms were equipped with individual workstations, where streaming video could be displayed. There were even break areas where your avatar could enjoy a coffee break, and a ballroom complete with a dance floor and disco lights.
Just like a Webinar or Webcast, your audience logs on from wherever they happen to be. Then they direct their avatars to the pre-determined location and have them gather to watch the event. They can sit in chairs, or since the avatars don’t get tired that really isn’t necessary. They could position themselves wherever it was easiest to see. You could even have them fly and hover around the presentation screen. Although in his Tips for Second Life Presentations, Gary Barber suggests you seat the avatars “very close together in almost a tiered traditional speaking pit of amphitheater arrangement…” He offers some other common-sense suggestions for the would-be Second Life presenter.
One of the strengths of using Second Life is that the audience members are likely to pay more attention since they are actively participating in controlling their avatars. Of course, if it is a boring and truly awful presentation, they are still likely to tune out, just like they do during Webinars or in person. So the responsibility is still on the presenter to provide engaging content.
Second Life has some advantages over traditional in-person presentations too. Instead of simply showing photos of a new product in a sales presentation, one that you couldn’t easily bring to a physical venue, you can literally create a working model of it inworld. And the physical limitations disappear. Need to teach your technicians how to repair your latest copier, for example? Build one 50 times to scale and take their avatars “inside” to see the mechanisms. It’s really pretty amazing when you think of it in these terms.
Geetesh: What does one need to get started with using PowerPoint as a content source within Second Life?
Lisa: The obvious requirement is that you need a presentation forum in Second Life. Similar to presenting on the Web, you can either build/buy your own or use a service. Virtualis is one option for using a service and there may be others. Building your own may not be as daunting as it sounds. Many large companies of course already have islands in Second Life, but Andrew Burton in Giving a PowerPoint Presentation in Second Life, and the ensuing commentary below his article makes it sound like it would be a pretty doable endeavor, assuming that you were already competent in building simple structures in Second Life and didn’t need a lot of fancy extras for your audience.
After you have a place to present your slides, you then need to import them. They must be imported one slide at a time as GIF, JPEG, or PNG files. So no animation or transitions, but because it is such a visually rich environment, you want to keep them simple so that they don’t compete with the experience. Finally, you have to pay in Linden dollars to import your images. You purchase Linden dollars with real money, so there is a real expense in this virtual world.
The final “cost” of presenting in Second Life is both you and your audience need to create avatars and learn how to operate inworld. It’s really not very difficult, but I’ll admit I was a bit intimidated at first. My friend, and presentation consultant, Ellen Finkelstein, offered to accompany me at first, and it was reassuring to have her there with a helpful tip or two as I learned the basics. But Second Life really does make it pretty easy. There are standard avatars from which you select, which can be customized later. And you start your inworld experience on a beginner’s island, where everyone is learning. There are tutorials to walk you through what you really need to know and host and hostess avatars available to answer your questions. Only newbies are around you at first, so you are less likely to be embarrassed.
Is Second Life for everyone? Certainly not. You need an open mind and a business culture that will support it. If management or your client base perceives it as just a game, they are not going to be receptive. But for the right companies and markets, I think it’s a powerful option.