Managing a Large Virtual Event

Recently, I assisted some of my Second Life contacts in preparing and running PeaceFest 08, their multi-location fundraising event.  Along with developing a LSL script for distributing the event schedule and calendar, I helped greet people and manage security at the main event sim location.  The following are suggestions (based on my observations of what worked and what needed improvement) for anyone planning a multi-location event in Second Life (focused on text chat only without voice).

1.  Security

Griefer attacks will happen at any well-publicized event.  You must have a plan to deal with this eventuality.

  • Prepare your frontline staff to identify possible griefers.  Be sure they know who to IM if they spot something suspicious.
  • Have adequate staff with the power to ban people from land ready to respond to frontline staff requests.
  • Lurkers, or avatars dancing or standing underwater or at corners of the sim could be griefers in waiting.  Ask if they need help.  If they don’t respond, warn them.  If they remain unresponsive, boot them from the sim for safety.
  • Watch out for the imposter leaches too, especially if you are collecting money.  While welcoming guests, someone arrived with a sign above them announcing, “give $1 here”.  Since our event had donation stations located around the area, they were obviously attempting to skim donations from the event.  After requesting them to leave (with no response) we eventually booted them.

2.  The Schedule

The schedule of events must be easily found, distributed, understood, and updated.

  • Make the schedule easily accessible.  All too often, event planners think in real life terms that limit distribution possibilities.  Put the schedule in a publicly accessible Google Calendar.  Staff can chat the calendar link to guests, which then need only click to access the schedule.  You can also script objects to chat the schedule link automatically, leaving the human staff to be more personable in their interactions with attendees.
  • I also scripted a simple calendar sign so that people could touch and receive the event main location and the link to the google calendar.  This automated approach helps for remote locations without welcome staff and to augment efforts of human staff.
  • Be sure to clearly communicate what timezone is used.  Since it is an online event, you will probably have worldwide visitors.  Either provide functionality in your schedule to display times from the viewer’s timezone, or stick with the SL time (PST).
  • The staff also placed their schedule on a notecard.  I noticed each time there was a change, the staff had to not only IM the new version to all the greeters, but also put the correct version in the automated schedule distributors.  It caused a bit of confusion and a lot of needless work.  Just like printed schedules for real life events, notecards are tough to update when changes happen.  Thus, they are probably not the most effective schedule vehicle.

3.  Getting the Masses to the Places

People need to know how to get to the event locations, and navigating in Second Life is often difficult, especially to those just beginning.

  • Establish SLURLS for the main locations in each sim you use.  Station human staff at those locations to greet and answer questions.  You can publish the SLURLS on the web (maybe in a Google Doc, Event website, or event blog) and list them in a notecard inworld.  Staff can chat the SLURLS to give guests instant clickable access (teleport) to the location.  The easier it is for the guest to get to where they need to go, the better.
  • Be sure to make it flexible enough so that when (not if) the location changes for an event, you can easily update everyone simply by updating one calendar, not multiple ones.
  • At the event, use signs judiciously.  Don’t overcrowd the area.  Arrowed signs work well, as do glowing or particle-emitting signs.

4.  Frontline Staff

Frontline staff are the face of an event.  They need to know the schedule, where things are, when they happen, and how to quickly explain this to multiple guests simultaneously.

  • Have frontline workers pull-up each visitor’s profile when they arrive.  Check for unusual names with numbers such as “sean874902 Hax” and for birthdates within a few days.  These may be disposable alt accounts that griefers will use for an attack.  Having a recent birthdate indicates this avatar was recently created.  IM the avatar and ask if they need any help, since you notice they are new (nice gesture if they are innocent, acknowledgement that you are watching if they have nefarious intent).
  • Equip your frontline staff with basic chat scripts for the anticipated repeatable statements, such as, “Welcome to PeaceFest 08,” and, “You can find the schedule at the following link:  http://tinyURL.com/PeaceFest08”.  This frees up time to be more interactive and personable.  Workers can copy and paste into chat to save time.  I used these today and trust me, with 20+ IM conversations occuring at the same time with guests, they were a lifesaver.  You could even use scripted greeter programs for this augmented by humans, but it does lose the personal touch.
  • Even if they are volunteers, take the time to do some basic training/orientation with the greeters.  It should at least cover all the numbered items in this post.

5.  Staff Coordination

Staff must have multiple back channels for effective communication to all levels of Staff.

  • Create a group for the Welcomers, Security Crew, and whatever other logical groups your events require.  Use the group chat to keep everyone within that group up-to-date on changes, problems, and status.  We utilized this to great effect to insure we balanced the appropriate number of greeters at each location, instantly moving staff to where the crowds needed them the most.
  • You can use Skype or in-world voice direct call when typing is just way too slow.
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