Overcome public speaking anxiety with training in VR

Have you ever felt discomfort when it is your turn to speak in a group discussion or when you have to give a speech in school elocution competition? Before giving a speech in front of a large audience, few people practice in-front of a mirror or find a friend to get some feedback in a practice session. Training in virtual reality is likely to be the solution to public speaking anxiety. Studies were done on virtual reality exposure therapy and companies are using VR applications for employee training on public speaking.

Cross reality (XR) which includes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) provide immersive digital experiences. VR actively uses human sensory capabilities (like sight and sound) to provide understanding and general relations of an experience. This can be used to improve public speaking using immersive and realistic simulations. A study published in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy suggests that VR can be used as a therapeutic tool for public speaking anxiety. [1]

There are multiple VR applications that help with overcoming the fear of public speaking. VIRTUALSPEECH [2] is a company that specialises in professional development training with courses for mastering public speaking. The training contains a wide range of self-paced VR scenarios.

TEDx theatre as VirtualSpeech training scenario

VirtualSpeech application is available on VR headsets like Oculus Quest, VIVE Focus 3 and Pico Neo3. Besides the variety of VR scenarios, the features from VirtualSpeech that stand aside are Real-time feedback, display notes in the room on an autocue, and audio & visual distractions from the avatars to simulate real world experience. The Real-time feedback is given while the speech is being delivered; feedback is provided on eye contact, pace of the speech and volume of delivery.

One feature allows speaker to record and upload questions in advance. These questions are then asked by the virtual audience during the speech. Conversational AI can be used to further enhance this feature to allow real time communication between the speaker and the audience.

Real-time feedback in VirtualSpeech

Ovation [3] is another application in VR that helps overcome public speaking anxiety. It also provides real-time training tools and feedback as one speaks to a realistic, simulated audience. Training is provided for Gaze, Voice and Hands. The category, Gaze refers to where the speaker is looking while delivering a speech. This is detected by the movement of the VR headset. If the headset includes eye tracking, it can determine the exact location in the virtual scenario where the speaker is looking. VR motion controllers can be used for training on mic distance. If the mic is too far from speaker’s mouth, a red pulse is displayed and speaker will experience vibration. The motion controllers can also be used to determine the movement of speaker’s hands.

Ovation Public Speaking training in VR

The recommended VR headsets from Ovation are HP Reverb G2 Omnicept and HTC Vive Pro Eye. Sensors in Omnicept can detect cognitive load in real time, it captures the brain power needed to remember and properly deliver the speech. Both Vive Pro Eye and Omnicept detect the exact location where the speaker’s eyes are looking, this is used by Ovation to provide more accurate analytics and better insights.

The study published in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy [1] concluded that one-session virtual reality therapy can be an effective treatment of public speaking anxiety. In future, we can expect to see more VR applications in public speaking training with enhanced features like automatically generated questions and emotional responses from virtual audience based on sentiment of speaker’s speech.

[1] Philip Lindner, Jesper Dagöö, William Hamilton, Alexander Miloff, Gerhard Andersson, Andreas Schill, and Per Carlbring (Sep 2020). Virtual Reality exposure therapy for public speaking anxiety in routine care: a single-subject effectiveness trial. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
[2] VirtualSpeech.com
[3] OvationVR.com

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