When it comes to universal human experiences, nothing is quite as easy to understand as a fear of public speaking. Whether it was in an elementary school play as a pirate, or standing in front of a high school auditorium telling them why they should vote for us, we have all had those moments of pure atavistic fear. Public speaking sucks, and the unfortunate truth for a long time has been that there’s no real way to get over it other than brute force, speaking in front of people over and over until the fear goes away. And for some people, it never does.
Well, those days of making ourselves sweat and stammer may soon be over. People have been using Virtual Reality to solve seemingly unsolvable problems for years now, and though a fear of public speaking may seem like a small thing compared to performing life saving surgeries, or discovering the scientific secrets of the universe, for the people who suffer with it, any new tool in the fight against that awful pit-of-the-stomach feeling is cause for celebration.
The technology works off of a well known tool in psychology known as immersion therapy. With immersion therapy, patients are introduced to the source of their anxiety or fear in an escalating series of carefully monitored encounters that hopefully leads people to feel they have control over the situation and their feelings about it.
With VR, that immersion can be taken one step further. Instead of simply visualising themselves speaking in public, users of one of the array of VR public speaking apps now on the market can place themselves in a simulation of their choosing, and learn how to control their reactions with none of the possible interpersonal fallout. Studies have shown that even practicing public speaking in front of a recorded audience, with a normal 2D display output, can trigger the same feelings of anxiety as speaking in front of real flesh and blood people, so there could be something to the idea of taking that experience to the next level with the hyperrealistic experience of VR.
Here are 5 VR tools available on the market right now, seeking to help you make your next public engagement a success.
Speech Center VR, exclusively for the Oculus VR platform, is one of the first apps to be developed with the intent not only to help individuals overcome stage fright through immersion exposure, but which takes a careful approach to helping people become better public speakers overall. Speech Center uses several different teaching tools that address all facets of public speaking, from interactive VR lessons involving a host of carefully crafted, if ever so slightly creepy, virtual audiences, to live coaching sessions with individuals who know how to work a crowd, and even moderated guest speaker events that allow you to ask questions of the masters.. So whether your problem is eye contact or remembering to breathe, this app will give you the tools you need to fly instead of flop at your next business or school presentation.
Speech Center VR for Oculus Rift: Free through the Oculus Gear Store
The Google Cardboard can seem, on the surface, like kind of a half-hearted device. Literally made out of cardboard, and crafted in much the same spirit as that college-bound Ikea desk, the Google Cardboard pairs with your Samsung smartphone device to give you a virtual reality experience at a bargain basement price. However, the benefits of the Public Speaking app for Google Cardboard are anything but disposable.
The first release from developer VirtualSpeech, Public Speaking has an unassuming name, but could have a big impact on your next big pitch at work. Unlike Speech Center, Public Speaking presents you with real, recorded scenes featuring living breathing humans, contrasting the cute, cartoony generated figures of Speech Center. Whether that’s a good thing or not may come down to your personal preferences, but there’s definitely something to be said for realism. Although the app was developed specifically for Google Cardboard, and thus an Android platform, it is available for iPhone and GearVR, the Smartphone VR offering from Oculus.
Public Speaking for Google Cardboard: Free through the Google Play store
Bloomberg’s Public Speaking Simulator
Although this next app isn’t yet available for public consumption, it is noteworthy for its very existence. This in-house app, developed by power and information broker Bloomberg, was developed in 2014 and 2015 for internal use in their company, and it goes to show how seriously big players in business are taking Virtual Reality. This app has many of the same features as other apps of its kind, and takes it a step further with interactive prompts and notifications that will help train public speakers out of less desirable behaviors, such as inserting too many “ums”, speaking too much to one section of the audience, or speaking too fast.
Virtual Orator is one of the more recent apps to tackle the sweaty palms and racing hearts of public speaking, and like Speech Center VR, it goes the distance to provide users with a realistic experience. Virtual Orator uses generated audiences populated by Sims-like figures who will shift, chat, and if you so choose, heckle just like a real audience would. This app emphasizes the ability for you to choose the level of distraction that an audience will provide, so even if you’re fairly comfortable with public speaking, you can turn up the volume (or the vitriol) and give yourself a true challenge to ensure that when you get called up for that TED talk, you will be prepared to wow your audience.
Virtual Orator is a robust program with a lot of customizability and content, but the $300 price tag is shocking compared to the free offerings of Google Cardboard and the Oculus. Virtual Orator is cross-compatible with several platforms, including Oculus and the as-yet-unrepresented HTC Vive, but unless you have a serious problem that needs correcting, or you work in a clinical setting, Virtual Orator might not be for you.
BeFearless is another app for the low-impact user, available for free through the Oculus Gear VR device. BeFearless has many of the same features as the other public speaking apps we’ve highlighted so far. However, it has one added feature that may put it over the top for some users. Unlike the other apps we’ve discussed, where all the settings and situations are customizable and optional, BeFearless forces you to improve in order to progress, bringing a game-like, or at least competitive, edge to the idea of getting over your fear.
Three categories featuring 4 scenarios each, with progressive difficulty, will have definite appeal for some people, and there is something to be said for appealing to the drive to win. Perhaps for some users, that competitive urge will be the motivation they need to continue using the app, and thus alleviate their problems. Of course, it will probably frustrate or annoy other users, but there are plenty of other apps in the sea, if you’d like to take the scenic route to public speaking success.