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Speak Out to Play a Bigger Game

Technology for public speaking can be a dangerous decision

June 24, 2020 | Paula Smith

Virtual reality in public speaking

Using technology for designing or crafting a powerful presentation can be a dangerous decision.

There is nothing new about Virtual Reality (VR) for public speaking or presentation skills training, it’s been around for many years and its effectiveness for overcoming the fear of speaking through exposure therapy techniques seems to work at some level.  And there are many ‘apps’ and public speaking simulation programmes also being developed and marketed to millions with the promise to help you master your speaking skills or to help analyse the quality of your presentation or pitch, which again seems to work at some level, however be aware of the limitations of these trendy tech programmes.

As an expert in the speaking and presenting field I am often asked to review many of these applications on behalf of clients who have been searching for something to help their teams improve or practice their presentations prior to or after I have delivered my presentations skills training workshop for some additional support. In fact, I am a bit of a fan of some virtual reality offerings as a great learning and engagement tool for lots of training topics such as cultural awareness and conflict resolution. The military have been using simulations for decades in their training initiatives and I am sold on gamification as as great learning metholodogy or engagement strategy in many industries.

I have been quite impressed at some of the innovation behind many of these programmes and still believe that there are some useful tools out there that I can recommend to some of my clients to achieve some of their learning outcomes. Although I did find the legless and armless torso’s in some of the VR programmes a little disturbing. However, as I dug deeper and reviewed many more of these prorgammes for developing speaking skills, I found a few holes and limitations that I believe could be quite dangerous for an unsuspecting inexperienced presenter.

One afternoon I received a phone call from a client who asked me to have a quick look at one of these applications, as they thought it would be a great fit for a group who needed to develop and practice their pitches. I logged in and had a play. At first, I was drawn into the fun I was having trying to improve my pace and vocal variety. Come on, I was a professional speaker and I was only getting 82%, I kept trying and trying until I had finally hit the 90’s. I would record a short presentation, then in a matter of seconds I received a report on my performance. This is great, the app also analysed my pitch, tone, pace, clarity and conciseness of my message. How cool was my initial thought, this was one of the best I had seen.  As I was preparing to give my feedback to the client, I thought I would do one last test and record a terrible pitch. And when I say terrible it sounded something like this.

“Hello, my name is Paula and I don’t know what I am really doing today. My product isn’t quite ready, but I thought I would go ahead and show you something that is unfinished and looks awful anyway. I don’t know if you should invest in this product as I am not sure it really works, and I am not really confident it solves anyone’s problems anyway.  I do apologise if I sound tired, I didn’t get any sleep last night as I was out with friends and didn’t really care too much that I had to pitch this to you this morning. That is my pitch I hope you were impressed with me, my product and wish to support me”.

Now you do remember I had been practicing my pace and vocal variety before this practice, so I did expect to rate quite high in these areas. However, I was shocked that the clarity, content and conciseness of my message were the highest I had rated. I guess it was concise. Wow.  After a few more presentation practices, with both good and bad scripts, I was getting more of a feel for what the programme could do and what it certainly couldn’t do.

I do believe that these programmes have a place in helping people with a range of presentation deliverables, but they can become a dangerous tool without any other feedback from trusted colleagues or a presentation skills coach.

Many of these applications may help with confidence, pace and vocal variety so if that’s what you are looking for help with, I recommend you give them a go, but DO NOT rely on technology to design and craft  a powerful presentation or pitch designed to engage, influence or empower a real human audience.

Keynote Speaker CSP, Master Trainer and Coach
Paula has been helping experts, entrepreneurs, leaders and teams to harness the power of powerful presentation skills and high-level communication for the past 30 years. 

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