How about a “Rehearse Slideshow” Mode with a Virtual Reality Audience?

Sometimes the most loved word in a presentation is “conclusion”.

Speaking in public is a skill most people need to develop, and some people actually fear. Let’s face it, few people are naturals, and it’s easy to do things wrong. There’s the complexity of the topic you talk about, the hard-to-predict behavior of the audience, the strange situation of having dozens or even hundreds of people looking at you, and so on.

No wonder why many people fear speaking in front of an audience, and many are bad at it.

I listened to two presentations about (or related to) virtual reality today, and I wonder: Would a rehearse slideshow mode with a virtual reality audience, and some reflection on the behavioral data you could gather, help here?

After all, you can use the “Rehearse Slideshow” option in Keynote to try out the presentation. You see the presenter display, and with a second screen also the slides. You can also record what you say — which can provide you with some information on whether you are understandable (tempo, pronunciation, structure, etc.).

Why not go one step further?

Wear a virtual reality headset (here’s hoping for Oculus Rift) and not only see the presenter display and the slides, but a simulated  place and audience as well. Select the kind of setting (from a small private gathering, to a large lecture hall), the size of the audience, the friendliness/hostility of the audience, the reaction to certain parts of the presentation.

I mean, hell, you probably don’t have to select it. It might be possible to analyze the speaker’s behavior (at least things like tempo, pronunciation, etc.) and simulate the suiting reaction of the audience. If you are hard to understand, they might get unruly or disengage by falling asleep. Hmm, think of it as an extreme business version of a severely improved Guitar Hero.

With some other sensors (e.g., camera, wearables with motion tracking), it might be possible to take the speakers posture, gestures, and perhaps even facial expression into account. Afterwards you could present a movie of the speaker and the audience’s reaction to the speaker and go through the main issues. Still in the virtual world, you just step aside and watch yourself speaking. Have the computer point out the main issues. Have another human (e.g., professional coach) watch it and give feedback. Of course, speakers shouldn’t all sound the same, but certain standards should be met.

It’s also difficult to prepare for rare but devastating worst cases, e.g., actually having to deal with the situation when the projector doesn’t work, or an audience that becomes hostile. But with VR, like in a flight simulator, you could specifically train for these circumstances. (And haven’t you always wondered whether speaking in front of a naked audience is actually easier on the nerves?)

Frankly, I see a lot of potential here. Public speaking is something that needs training, is usually hard to train, and even harder to notice improvements.

Because to be honest, doing a presentation in front of a large audience can be a lot of fun. To talk about an interesting topic, convey some ideas, perhaps even enlighten a few members of the audience and allowing them to see the complexity, or beauty, or gravity of an issue … that’s something.

It would be sad if some people, who are creative and have something to contribute, don’t do it — out of fear of speaking in public. Sure, there are courses to learn speaking, but a virtual reality rehearsal mode might be a major help here to overcome that fear.

And for all others it might improve their presentation style.