Columbus, OH. In creating any experience, there’s an element of storytelling. In an immersive experience like virtual reality, that story is multi-dimensional and taps into various senses. As more and more people are strapping on virtual reality headsets for the first time, we’re learning about how to make that experience better and more intuitive.

A few techniques we’re experimenting with to guide the user during the VR experience are:

  • Iconic visuals – creating intuitive imagery rather than text
  • Environmental cues – bringing into focus the area where we want the user to look or go to
  • Spatial audio – using voiceover or sound coming from a specific location (i.e. behind the user) to draw his/her attention


Let’s talk about spatial audio. When a user first enters the VR environment, their eyes want to get used to the visual space. We’re recognizing the importance of sound and voiceover to guide the user during this time. The eyes don’t want to split concentration between visual and text, so reading written words is sometimes distracting. However, if voiceover is used to direct the user, the eyes and the ears can work harmoniously to navigate.

Even if someone outside of the VR environment is working to guide the user, it’s less effective than a voiceover within the experience that knows exactly where the user is and can guide him/her accordingly.

In a recent VR implementation, we created a host “orb” similar to the game Portal. The orb greets the user and guides him/her through the experience, recognizing when the user needs help. Using audio the orb channels the user’s attention and we are able to bring forward the features of the program.

In our team discussion, we jokingly reminisced about Clippy – the Microsoft Office Assistant that would pop-up when it sensed that you required help. Clippy was much needed in the beginning as all of us were acclimating to MS Office products and weren’t familiar with the pathways through the software. As we adjusted and learned the controls and commands, Clippy became a nuisance.


Perhaps we’re at the “clippy” stage with VR. New users are adjusting to how the headset reacts to certain movements, how to trigger a selection, and how to move within the environment. They need a guide to help us get used to the environment. Spatial audio helps to create that hosted experience and ultimately craft the story.


About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for shaping the company’s perspective on the next era of healthcare marketing. Through thought leadership, strategic innovation workshops and new products and capabilities, Leigh focuses on identifying marketing approaches that will fuel that new era and generate significant growth for clients. Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for over 17 years. She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she had several leadership roles at one of our agencies, GSW. There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business. Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes. A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice, Leigh also was recognized as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.