Educators in VR co-produced the 3-day Global HR Summit with Genius Ventures and BentoHR, September 8-10, 2020, in AltspaceVR. We thought we’d share a few of our thoughts about the event and images here, to help you understand how easy (and challenging) it is to host an event in virtual reality.
Honestly. Skip the Zoom Fatigue and online conferencing tools and go straight to VR. As proven over the past few days, while there are still challenges to VR conferences, the biggest challenge is mental. Once you get past the fears and myths and step right in, to quote the keynote speaker, Nick Vujicic of Life Without Limbs and AIA – Attitude is Altitude:
“It’s amazing to feel like you are right here with everyone, yet I’m right in my own home…to add to the experience, I just heard the garbage truck outside my window, yet I’m here in this room with you from around the world. It’s beautiful!”
This was also a fundraiser for the Virtual World Society. Founder Tom Furness inspired the packed audience with two events and attended most of them, including the social where we hung out in a virtual hot tub solving the challenges of integration of immersive technologies in business and education.
The closing keynote with Matt Fleckenstein of Microsoft Hololens Marketing and strategies, showed us the future of innovation, manufacturing, and education as we enter the world of mixed realities and extended reality (XR). It was inspiring and stunning to realize that the future is here, now.
Will Business Get This?
Educators get VR. They see the potential for connecting with students, breaking down barriers and borders. They see the potential for empathy and relationship building, for collaboration and sharing. They see the dream of unleashing imagination and offering unique problem-solving situations to guide students into the future workplace. The challenge for the teams from Genius Ventures and BentoHR was whether or not human resource professionals and corporate businesses would get VR.
The obstacles they overcame were tremendous. This wasn’t like a conference where you send out a few emails, post some fliers in the real world and across social media and hope people show up. People had to be convinced that this was worth their time. More than that, they had to know there was solid ROI behind all the virtual reality stuff that their children and grandchildren play games.
Matt Burns of BentoHR, and Navjeet Chinna and Marah Berezowsky of Genius Ventures spent countless hours personally calling speakers and attendees to encourage them to participate. They talked about the potential for virtual reality not just for events but for businesses. They shared the facts and research that backs up their claims, the fact that by 2025, 25% of G2000 firms will use “integrated workplace sensing systems to optimize and personalize the employee experience,” and that by 2025, this will not only become normalized, but 20% of G2000 workers will use “fit for purpose” forms of human augmentation and assistance, expanding into exoskeletons, robotics, AR, VR, and wearables to ease workflow and communication. The technology is here. It is up to businesses to embrace it, and watch their efficiency and productivity improve, and employee attitudes improve as the workplace becomes more interactive and, literally, visually helpful.
The feedback from speakers and participants across the board was amazing. They got it. They loved that they could connect with others from around the world from the comfort of their home or office. They loved the wonder that came with the experience as well as the ease of use. It worked. There is a new energy and interest. Most importantly, this wasn’t Zoom. The ripple has started and is spreading around offices and companies that this is something they need to embrace, and fast. Especially right now.
This event would not have happened if it wasn’t for their dedication. We’re eager to have them present an event soon for Educators in VR to discuss how they overcame the challenge so many of us face on a regular basis: How to convince administration to accept virtual reality as a viable educational tool.
Save Money and the World
As mentioned in our original lessons learned from hosting a VR conference and research into the benefit to the environment for going truly green with virtual reality conferences and meetings, a 3-day event like the Global HR Summit would have cost hundreds if not thousands to attend, and thousands to produce.
For under USD $100, a Windows 10 computer or Mac with Windows partition, or under $500 VR headset, this conference was yours to attend and meet people from around the world changing how business works and bringing together educators, students, and human resource managers, consultants, trainers, and experts to face the future of digital transformation together.
We also saved many trees, and in this time of massive wildfires around the world in addition to the pandemic, protected lives. Seems grandiose, but we heard conversations across the three days of people so grateful they didn’t have to travel right now. There were stories behind that sentence.
Slide Shows Aren’t Why They are There
Due to technical and security issues with AltspaceVR, slides became more than cumbersome to use. The team managing the speakers convinced speakers, many long-time keynote and public speakers, to step away from their dependency on Powerpoint and Keynote, and embrace conversation and storytelling as a way to connect with the audience. We learned this lesson repeatedly over the past two years, and our co-producers were brave enough to go with that premise.
While visuals can be helpful, they are more often a crutch, helping the speaker remember what comes next rather than engaging with the audience. The speakers set their fears aside and embraced the conversational style. By the second day, the events started to run a little behind with audience interaction as people became more accustomed to this new format. They loved it. Conversations and imagination were ignited and people wanted to be a part of this.
Educators in VR will continue to push forward and evolve this as engagement thrives in VR.
It’s All About the Event Space – Or Is It?
As Educators in VR expands our conference and event consultation and services, we continue to be challenged with the concept of the event space type.
There is one theory that we need to provide comfortable and familiar event spaces, seats, tables, microphones, screens, auditoriums, stages, etc., to make the audience feel comfortable and transition better to VR. Another theory is that in virtual reality, anything is possible. Why not have events in outer space, underwater, or hanging upside down? There are pros and cons to both.
What many attendees didn’t know is that the event presentation space was custom developed by Microsoft and AltspaceVR for the Microsoft Developer Days conference earlier this year, one of the first annual corporate conferences to be mostly in VR. We were able to work with Microsoft to agree to allow us to use the event templates, and we are so grateful. People enjoyed them.
The social event space was developed and designed by the Educators in VR world building team, one of many we are now offering for rental of VR event, conference, and educational classrooms. We customized it each day with interactables and had a fun hot tub complete with bubbles and fish on the last day. This brought fun and interactivity to the event.
The team behind the Global HR Summit was determined to introduce HR professionals to this new medium as it is game-changing for their industry and the workplace. Offering a familiar transition was wiser than throwing them out into space, floating in the air surrounded by stellar objects on their first adventure into VR.
However, this audience was very savvy, getting the point of the potential of virtual reality communication and interaction immediately. By day two we were hearing participants ask questions about the event spaces and why the limits weren’t pushed more.
It was so exciting to see their enthusiasm for seeing how far VR and virtual worlds could go to not just emulate the real world but push the boundaries of imagination in meeting spaces. Producing and hosting more than 600 VR events a year to introduce VR to educators and the education industry, we are so ready to embrace that mindset!
It Takes a Team and a Village
The Educators in VR Production Team is long experienced in VR and virtual event productions, from classroom design and development to hosting thousands of attendees from around the world. Working with the teams from Genius Ventures and BentoHR was a delight as they took our advice seriously, yet were willing to make this their own as well, which we respected. As always in this innovative space, lessons were learned on all sides.
Much thanks goes to Tom Furness of the Virtual World Society, our Educators in VR production and video crew, and everyone at Genius Ventures and BentoHR. Together, we embraced the technology, overcame the obstacles, introduced dozens of people to this new way of interacting and connecting, and started a conversation that will be continued for years to come.
The key characteristic it takes to produce and host events in VR is belief. You have to believe this is possible. Only with belief in the future and potential of this technology will we move into it willingly. It’s here. Now. We just need to walk into the virtual light together.
Here are some highlights from the past three days.