The Empathy Engine and My First Presentation in AltspaceVR

Kenneth Fisher has challenged us to an interesting topic for this month’s T-SQL Tuesday: TSQL Tuesday #127 Invite – Non SQL Tips and tricks

“…something completely unrelated.” <- well okay then, so here goes!

The Empathy Engine

As most of the people who know me, I am into virtual reality (VR). My twitter tagline is just that, “SQL By Day, VR By Night”.

A book was published in 2018 by Jeremy Bailenson, Experience on Demand. He knows what he’s talking about- he has been using high-end VR systems for over twenty years, mainly in academic environments. He has said that VR is one of the best empathy engines we have access to. And now with affordable consumer grade VR headsets, even more so.

A few years ago, a great movie came out, Green Book. Highly recommended. And recently a new VR experience has been trending on the Oculus Store, Traveling While Black.

It is free on the Oculus Store so I downloaded it this morning and experienced it this morning too. About an 8GB download and takes about 20 minutes to run. It is a cinematic VR experience shot in 360 degree video. So one just sits back and watches (no interaction like in a game) but one can look around with your headset on. You feel like you are immersed in the storytelling. Watching a movie on a screen is one thing but being immersed in it with an intense sense of presence is just different. So if you have a VR headset compatible with the experience, I cannot recommend it highly enough.


AltspaceVR is a company recently acquired by Microsoft. It is a social VR platform with lots of places to explore and see. The two main ones I like are Educators in VR and XR Creators.

My First Presentation in AltspaceVR for XR Creators

This past weekend, I gave my first presentation in AltspaceVR. One can see the recorded livestream on YouTube here.

As with any new presentation medium, there are always going to be new challenges to be overcome. It is not a technical presentation until something goes technically wrong, right?


That’s me on the left. FYI- the main screen is a web browser inside of AltspaceVR which has been configured to pull from

Beforehand, I had loaded up the slides on and re-started my desktop computer. NOTE!!! That site mangled my PowerPoint slides when I uploaded it; if I had time I would have gone in and tweaked all them on the website, fixed word wrapping, images, etc. I even uploaded a couple of hours before just to be prepared!

I have never used before. I logged into the virtual space over and hour early (with gracious help from one of the hosts) to test and I noticed my embedded YouTube videos didn’t work anymore- no autoplay. So I had to go into and adjust (and learn how to adjust) the videos to autoplay. Then I also noticed my slide advance could only go forward- no back. So think about that for a moment- I am trying to use a VR controller to advance the slides with the pull of a trigger. If I accidentally touch it, how can I go back? Was getting nervous about not having all of this figured out beforehand. So I thought, well, I can angle my avatar’s body 45 degrees on the stage, “look” over my left shoulder to see the slides and then move my head to the right a little to see the audience. Not ideal but it could work.

So with the help of the host, I learned that one can launch a presenter-only browser to be used like a professional monitor. With that launched, I could go back and forward by using the keyboard Page Up and Page Down. Have you seen high-end presentations where the speaker has a fancy monitor below the stage level only they can see but the audience cannot? Very similar. And what’s cool is that I can re-position it anywhere! It is transparent to the audience. I can completely face the audience, look at my “monitor” in front of me while my avatar is off to the side and be able to advance slides too. Tested it several times, watched videos successfully play, etc. Problem solved… Took a bio break and drank some water.

15 minutes before go time, I re-don my headset, watch avatars start to stream into the venue, and try to quickly move splash slide to my first slide and back again just to be sure everything is working.


Keyboard was not working! Refreshed my monitor browser and tried again. Nothing. Closed and re-pasted URL. No change. Stopped live presenting in and started live presenting again. Nothing. More avatars streaming in. “Todd, how’s it going? Are we good to go?” So I’m talking to the hosts trying to figure this out and say “hi” to people coming in.

I bailed on the presenter monitor and went back to the 45 degree angle thing. I asked one of the hosts, “If I have my left controller in my pocket (so I can operate Page Up and Page Down on my keyboard) and my right controller in my hand, does this look ok?” He was parallel to the giant slide show and it looked fine from his perspective.

But when I watched the livestream afterwards, oh my.

The virtual camera to record is positioned in the middle and above the audience. At that viewing angle however, my left hand controller didn’t look like it was naturally hanging from my left side.

It looked like I had my avatar’s left hand on my crotch the whole presentation.

Dear Lawd.

Lessons Learned

1. The mic on a VR headset will pick up EVERYTHING. It is only a couple of inches from your face, not like desktop mic. We were having a terrible windstorm that day and it kicked up dust and pollen and my allergies kicked in. I felt so embarrassed counting the number of times I sniffled.

2. While I was sincerely passionate about the content, not starting off as smooth as I wanted to rattled me. Practice in the medium as best you can. uhm(s), transition phrases, repeated phrases, etc. I know this was my first preso in VR but I am pretty hard on myself and expected better.

3. Expect the unexpected. Train for it. Know it will happen. How well will you react to things going wrong? While overall I’ve received positive feedback, I still feel bad Mr. Murphy showed up.

4. Speaking of feedback- all of those bubble sounds in the video are people throwing up emojis of claps, hearts, etc. That is what was really unique about this VR presentation medium- immediate and real-time feedback to things you are talking about.


VR is still a wild and woolly place. A lot of the software is still beta. But we need to and should, explore and test this new medium as it has so much going for it and so much potential to help people walk in the shoes of another.



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1 Response to The Empathy Engine and My First Presentation in AltspaceVR

  1. Pingback: Non-SQL Tips and tricks – #tsql2sday 127 Rollup | SQL Studies

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