A Brand New Way To Practice Your Presentations (Really!)

I’m generally skeptical of new technologies that purport to make you a better public speaker. But a blurb in The New York Times about an app called VirtualSpeech recently caught my eye:

Virtual reality has become a popular experimental treatment for a variety of anxiety disorders, including public speaking. Advocates say it is an efficient and safe form of exposure therapy, and a growing body of research backs them up.

At treatment centers, participants are immersed in a computer-generated 3-D environment, where a therapist guides them through contact with feared stimuli.

Thanks to a free app from VirtualSpeech, students can try this method at home. By plugging a smartphone into Google Cardboard or any VR headset, users will find themselves in a 360-degree virtual presentation room and have the option of uploading their own PowerPoint, which appears on the virtual screen as they address the virtual crowd.

I was curious about the product, so I downloaded the app and ordered a headset. (The app is available as a free download but requires a virtual reality headset, such as Google Cardboard, which you can order from Amazon for $11.99.)

I’m not especially tech savvy, so I was pleased to find that the Google Cardboard box took just a few seconds to put together. Once it’s set up, you just slip your phone (with the VirtualSpeech app open) into the box, and can immediately begin practicing your talk.

By turning your head, you’re able to see the menu box and change the options. Among other features, you can choose to speak to a large audience of 93 people (below), a conference room of about a dozen people, or a small interview room. You can decide to have the people animated (which is better) or stationary. You can even upload your own slides, although I did not test that functionality.
VirtualSpeech App
I personally found the smaller boardroom environment to be more useful, perhaps because the “people” in that setting were larger and seemed truer to life. I can see how practicing with visual “distractors”—such as audience members sipping coffee or nodding their heads—can be preferable to practicing alone in an empty office.

That said, I don’t see this as a replacement for more typical practice methods (e.g. speaking into a mirror, practicing in front of peers, rehearsing in the actual speaking space), but rather as a supplement to them. As an example, you can’t always practice in the actual room in which you’ll be presenting (you may be giving an out-of-town talk), so this method may help you get a bit closer to the real speaking environment.

This is a promising product that, with time and technological advances, will only get better. For the price of a $12 headset, it’s well worth the investment.

The app is available as a free download but requires a virtual reality headset, such as Google Cardboard, which you can order from Amazon here for $11.99.

*I have not been compensated by VirtualSpeech in any way for this review. The links to Amazon are affiliate links; your purchase through those links will help you support this blog without spending an extra penny.