Virtual reality devices could become a new tool to help students who struggle with public speaking anxiety, said Amir Behzadan, Texas A&M associate professor of construction science.
“In science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, many employers are looking for people who can effectively communicate their ideas in a public setting and work in teams, but not necessarily someone who graduated with a 4.0 GPA,” said Behzadan.
In a one-year study funded by the Engineering Information Foundation, Behzadan and principal investigator Theodora Chaspari, Texas A&M assistant professor of computer science and engineering, are studying whether students can reduce their level of public speaking anxiety by making presentations on general-interest topics to a variety of computer-generated audiences they see in a low-cost, VR headset.
“This study will examine how wearable devices and VR can be integrated to provide new, personalized opportunities to improve students’ public speaking effectiveness,” said Chaspari.
Student participants will speak to virtual audiences with varying demographic, characteristics, attention levels and venue sizes while a consumer-grade “smart” watch records physiological data, such as pulse, sweat level, and voice pitch and volume that are related to the speaker’s performance and anxiety level.
These readings will be compared with benchmark data recorded with the subject’s presentations to a live audience.
“When we compare the two readings, we’ll be able to see how much the VR presentations helped reduce a subject’s fear of public speaking and improve his or her speaking performance,” said Behzadan.
In a later portion of the study, students talking to a live audience will get instant feedback on their presentation via a wireless headphone connection from researchers monitoring the speakers’ physiological data.
“This will strengthen a student’s public speaking skills because he or she will instantly be aware of an insecure-sounding voice, excessive hand movements, or other symptoms of elevated, stress-related physiological signals, and improve their presentation on the fly,” he said.