Public speaking is my favorite part of my job, and the pandemic basically destroyed that, so when JobCon 2021 asked me to keynote its virtual event, I jumped at the chance. I figured it would be via a normal videoconference, but the organizers had a surprise: virtual reality. You know, with that weird headset and hand controls.
I was skeptical, but said, what the heck, let's do it.
Plus, my teens were super excited about the free Oculus headset JobCon sent me to do the presentation. Admittedly, I had them set up the system and teach me how to use it. They taught me, and I wrote the speech and it was a success. Here's what happened and what I learned.
Motion sickness when standing still is real
I hadn't ever worn a virtual reality headset before, and the first thing my teens set up for me was a virtual roller coaster ride. I literally had to lie down after standing still, because the virtual reality induced real nausea.
For the presentation, JobCon staff gave me training on how to move my avatar so I didn't get sick during the talk. Their tips were helpful and very necessary. Stay away from the virtual roller coasters before you have to speak!
It's much more "real" than a videoconference
Even though I had a cartoon avatar and some of the people in the audience had monster, plague doctor, or space alien avatars, it felt more authentic than a Zoom meeting with everyone in little boxes.
Some people came in late, some shifted in their seats, and some (though I hate to admit it) got up and walked out mid-speech. Ouch! But they seemed very real. I could see real responses to what I said (albeit, silently, as the techs had muted everyone but me). It felt much more like a live presentation than any of the numerous video presentations I've done in the past 18 months.
I could move around the stage, point to things, use hand motions (although they looked a little strange!), and act like I was really on a stage, instead of in my living room.
I experienced a conference stage without leaving my living room
I stood in my living room, wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and no shoes. My avatar was professionally dressed and a whole lot thinner than I am. That's handy! They even included my trademark glasses on my avatar.
But, because the virtual reality headset blocks out all reality, I had to shut all the doors so a cat didn't wander in, come up to me, and scare the snot out of me because I couldn't see it. I also couldn't really take a pause to take a drink. I couldn't see my water bottle, and I would have had to put down my controllers to drink. I managed to do an entire hour without a gulp of water. I think that's a record for me!
Good tech makes all the difference
As I said, my kids set up my headset, but the tech crew at JobCon went above and beyond to make it a great experience. They had my slides projected behind me--that I could point to and interact with. But they also had them in front of me, so I could see them. They could have included notes as well, but I don't generally use notes for my speeches.
The Q & A portion was so real
While, in a videoconference, you can see people's faces, people often turn off their cameras or feel self-conscious. As avatars, people seemed much more human. When the tech crew turned on microphones and I took questions from the audience, the virtual body language helped me understand their questions. Yes, some hand movements are exaggerated and you aren't going to notice everything you would in a live setting. But I felt connected to the audience.
I hope my audience felt connected to me!
Will virtual reality conferences become a thing of the future? I think we'll see more of them. If you get the chance to attend one, give it a go. And if you get a chance to speak? Jump on it. It's a learning experience and a leap into the future.