Mixed reality meetings are those in which some participants are gathered together in a physical meeting room (I’ll call these the “in-room” participants”) and others are gathered in a virtual meeting space, like in Second Life (I’ll call these the “in-world” participants). Mixed reality meetings are still on the bleeding edge for business use but will be increasingly used to connect geographically-distributed people for real-time meetings and events. The reason to do mixed-reality meetings is so distributed participants are fully engaged and everyone involved feels like they are together in one place. After participating in a few of these now, with Second Life the virtual world we used (see my Jan. 25th blog post about one of the meetings), I’ve begun to identify some helpful practices:
- Use high-end audio and video streaming and upload slides to separate display. Use the highest-end streaming technology you can so Second Life avatars have a good experience seeing and hearing the in-room speakers’ presentations. Upload presentation materials ahead of time into Second Life so avatars can view them via a dedicated screen; avatars can then zoom in on this screen if they want to. The experience in Second Life is degraded when avatars’ only access to presentation materials is via the video stream. And ideally the Second Life space has one video stream showing the in-room presenters and another showing the in-room audience.
- Choose the right physical meeting room. Choose a conference room or auditorium that supports multiple large-screen or on-wall displays. Set up audio/visual equipment to project the Second Life meeting room onto a couple of opposite walls and any presentation materials speakers will be using, again on opposite walls. In-room presenters and participants should be able to see both the presentation materials and the Second Life meeting without having to turn their heads and look behind them.
- Democratize Q&A. In a presentation-style meeting, have audience participants write their questions and comments on note cards and have a moderator frequently collect these cards. During Q&A, intersperse these questions with questions that come in from Second Life avatars. Use multiple large-screen or on-wall displays. This is how they are doing it at the MetaverseU conference at Stanford University this weekend and it seems to be working well. In a smaller more interactive session, have people who have questions for the speaker get in front of the video camera to ask their question so Second Life avatars can see them.
- Set Second Life chat ground rules. This is especially important if the meeting is open to the public. Some rules are so basic that you’d think you wouldn’t have to state them — but participants should be reminded, probably at the start of each presentation, to treat others as they would like to be treated. The anonymity of Second Life sometimes leads people to behave in ways that I’d bet big money they wouldn’t if we were all in the same physical room. Remind people to keep public chats on topic — there’s always private IM for those sidebar conversations. I think it’s most effective when use of public chat is constrained to reporting technical problems, or to ask questions of the speaker. Off-topic public text chatter in the Second Life meeting room is just as disruptive to a mixed-reality meeting as in-room participants whispering and having side conversations.