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June 9, 2008

Toby Lewis:Virtual events for virtual lives

There is no doubt that social networking and greener ways of working are today’s hot topics. Facebook and MySpace have infiltrated all our digital lives plus awareness of sustainability and green issues abound at home, on the high street and in business.

Events in Second Life take advantage of the emerging understanding of ‘virtual lives’ and also contribute towards greener ways of working through limiting energy usage at venues and reducing delegate travel. They now represent a serious option for companies looking to organise events.

We recently organised a public sector event where delegates could attend at a venue in London and via a virtual conference hall created in Second Life.


Do virtual worlds offer delegates more choice?

The brief
The client’s aim was to provide a conference for virtual and non-virtual delegates simultaneously. Although it had previous experience of working in Second Life it was looking for a partner with which to explore how the concept could be developed further.

Why go virtual
Virtual events harness the power of technology to integrate with people in more lively and interesting ways and are a move towards a greener way of working.

Our client wanted as many key delegates attending as possible, but not all had the time to travel to and attend a meeting in Central London. By offering a Second Life option delegates had more choice – attend conventionally or attend virtually.

The delivery and the challenges
As seats were taken in a venue in London, the conference hall created in Second Life was also being filled. Feeds from 15 speakers at the conventional event were broadcast live into Second Life, meaning virtual and non-virtual delegates were seeing the same footage at the same time. Vice versa, footage from the Second Life event was simultaneously broadcast into the green room at the conventional event.

Delegates in the virtual conference were also able to submit feedback and questions to the ‘live’ event into a chat room in real time, which ensured interaction from both locations.

Measuring success
Some 50 virtual delegates attended the virtual event, listening to speakers and submitting feedback as though they were at the corresponding event in London. No lapses in communication happened and the additional experience gained has meant we can now offer a more refined and professional virtual event service.

Advice for the industry
There are many elements of Second Life that can be used for events; meeting places, forums, chartrooms – we wanted to see what we could use to make the event as interactive and engaging as possible. In a live event, delegates can raise their hands to ask questions or submit feedback via engagement technology. We wanted to make sure that the virtual equivalent could be done within Second Life.

Virtual events are a new area for the events industry. The challenges come in transferring the type of service we provide at live events, to the virtual world. There are some things we can’t do, but there is always an alternative – challenging and exploring a brief in terms of virtual avenues always results in the right solution.

This particular event was a good example of how traditional and virtual events can be combined, providing greater options to the delegates and organisations involved. We tried new ideas at this event and stretched the concept of virtual events further than before. Sometimes the only way to improve skills within an area is through trying them out, we are now confident that we can provide successful virtual events and look forward to developing the concept even further.

Toby Lewis is managing director of Live Group

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