Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is said to be one of the most common phobias. After the years of social isolation caused by the pandemic, that fear has only increased for some people.
To combat glossophobia among students, Central Connecticut State University implemented the VirtualSpeech application in the XR Lab in the Applied Innovation Hub. XR Lab Manager Kris Bickell said the app uses VR headsets and handsets to bring users into virtual rooms where students can practice public speaking. In the app, users also can record their presentation, practice answering questions, and receive constructive feedback.
“This is really a dynamic program that can do a lot,” Bickell said. “The beauty of it is that it can be useful for any class in any major where students need to do speaking.”
Dr. Drew Harris, a professor of Management & Organization in the School of Business, recently invited faculty to experiment with VirtualSpeech and learn how they can incorporate the technology into their classrooms.
“In small, preliminary trials last spring, students reported that they practiced more and gained more confidence in their public speaking abilities when compared to their previous self-guided preparation to public speaking. Their performance in subsequent live public speaking — in my case, elevator pitches — suggested they were better prepared than in previous pitching situations,” Harris said. “This is but one of many possible use cases for this powerful learning tool/environment.”
In addition to recording presentations and enabling the user to answer questions, the Virtual Speech app allows users to upload PowerPoint presentations and practice famous historical speeches. It also rates users’ eye contact with the audience, speaking pace, volume, and use of filler words (such as “oh” and “um”), as well as the presentation’s time length and listenability. This can help users improve their presentation skills and get over their glossophobia.
Central Art professor Dr. Leanne Zalewski attended the demonstration to get first-hand experience with the app and its capabilities. She read and recorded part of a speech by Winston Churchill to see how the analytics work and determine what it would be like for her students.
“Wow! So, this is like being in a classroom with an audience,” Zalewski said as she explored the virtual environment. The app also allows users to draw or write on a chalkboard and erase their work as needed.
As Bickell guided Zalewski through the program, he described some of Virtual Speech’s features.
“You can prepare questions for the class and upload them into the program, so when they get to the Q and A, your questions are the ones they get,” Bickell said. “Then students can practice answering them.”
Zalewski said she plans to use Virtual Speech for her Impressionism seminar this fall.
“Students need to give oral presentations about an artwork, and I think VirtualSpeech offered many great tips for students to consider and opportunities for students to practice,” she said. “Having the VR headset on gives one the impression that they are alone, which I think would ease some anxiety.”
However, one thing about VirtualSpeech concerns Zalewski.
“I am not sure yet how a whole classroom of people practicing their speeches out loud all at the same time in the XR Lab will work,” she said.
The XR lab has 12 VR head and handsets that can be used at the same time. Bickell said he and Harris are relatively new to the Virtual Speech app and are still working out some issues.
“In general, having a lab full of students all talking at the same time could certainly be noisy. To mitigate some of the noise, faculty can have students rotate speaking so only a few are talking at once or bring in smaller groups to spread out the students,” Bickell said. “As we get more faculty using this app, we'll certainly keep this in mind and document ‘best practices’ that help make this workable for all.”
Because he anticipates the XR Lab filling up quickly this fall, Bickell said he encourages professors to contact him early in the semester to experiment with the equipment.