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There’s the old Seinfeld joke about public speaking being more terrifying than death on people’s top fears list. As Seinfeld points out with his trademark deadpan, most funeral attendants would rather be in the casket than give the eulogy.Was there any resemblance to a Seinfeld joke in that joke? You’re not the only one who feels this way. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, public speaking anxiety affects 73 percent of people. Training for public speaking should be enjoyable, encouraging, and collaborative. However, the question becomes Can AI assist in bringing some comfort and relaxation to a crowd?
Yoodli, a free platform that claims to help people improve their speaking skills without the pressure of an audience, is built on this principle. It was created by former Google, Facebook, and Apple engineers and product managers. The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence developed the system, which claims to give real-time statistics on technical aspects of speech such as filler words, pace, volume variance, and more.
What’s noteworthy about this is how commonplace, similar apps have grown in another area of self-improvement: fitness. Intelligent mirrors allow users to perfect their training routines without the stress of a crowded gym or a high-intensity class while also providing the benefits of an interactive coach. In other words, as you bumble through the fundamentals, you may leave your judgment at the door.
Yoodli’s public-speaking games have a similar sense of fun: One of the games tests your ability to communicate for an extended period of time without using a filler word. Another feeds you seemingly random terms that you must incorporate into a live discussion. Another game requires you to come up with analogies on the spot. (For instance, “A blueberry is similar to a toilet because…”).
The question is whether an app or digital software can effectively lessen the fear that some people experience when they are asked to give a speech, rather than simply assisting them with the practicalities. It may be challenging to transfer skills gained on an app to a real-world event for those who have physiological responses such as shortness of breath. Yoodli seeks and claims to make the transition easier for users by incorporating interactivity, such as a community-focused integration that allows users to exchange practice talks with colleagues for feedback. And solid mechanics are an essential part of any good speech, with confidence gained through practice and incremental improvement going a long way. This is true for both newcomers and world-class speakers.