Wearable Technology to Assist Public Speakers

Most people have a fear of public speaking, and even the most charismatic speakers may admit that they feel a little nervous before a big speech. Now, you could say that if even the A players are feeling stage fright then there would be no place for us to get through with this “public speaking” thing.

But believe me, you can get through this successfully with guidance. Speaking in public is like theatre, it’s not a movie, you can’t do retakes, it’s just one shot to get it right. But the good thing here is that now you can not only improve your performance while speaking in public but you can also adapt to the needs of the audience and offer them the best listening experience ever. All thanks to recent advancements in wearable technology.

A team of researchers from the University of Rochester’s Human-Computer Interaction Group have built a brilliant user interface for smart glasses that allow the speakers to get real-time feedback on their volume modulation and speaking rate without being distracted from delivering their speech.

The group have named this real-time feedback system “Rhema” after the Greek word “utterance” and have presented it in a paper to the Association for Computer Machinery’s Intelligent User Interfaces (IUI) conference in Atlanta.

A speaker can use Rhema integrated into smart glasses to record their performance, which is transmitted to a server to analyze volume and speaking rate. This process is completely autonomous and the results are provided to the speaker in real-time. Using this feedback, the speaker can adjust volume, speaking rate and more to enhance their performance.

Source: Rhema: A Real-Time In-Situ Intelligent Interface to Help People with Public Speaking

Ehsan Hoque is an assistant professor of computer science and also the senior author of the paper. He has tried and tested the system himself. He says that his wife used to tell him that he always ends up speaking too softly in public, but that now Rhema reminds him to keep his volume up.

And with practice, he is more aware of his maintaining volume even when he is not wearing the smart glasses, demonstrating that using smart glasses to enhance your public speaking skills won’t make you dependent on them. Rather, it will enable you to master your skills by focusing on every detail.

Hoque and his students also explain in their paper that providing feedback in real-time to the speaker during a speech presentation has its challenges. The first challenge they say is to offer speakers the performance-related data without distracting them from their speech. They also write in the paper that a significant distraction can also induce some unnatural behavior into the speaker like stuttering or awkward pausing. And another challenge was that the head-mounted display had to be positioned near the eye which can cause some inadvertent, yet serious, attention shifts.

Tanveer, the lead author of the paper says that they were focused to overcome these challenges. And to do that, they tested their system with a group of 30 people who spoke English as their native language. The team evaluated various options for delivering the feedback using Google glasses. They experimented with several colors, words, graphs, even no feedback at all.

The Rochester team researchers also experimented with a constantly changing display and a sparse feedback system. So when the speaker is delivering a speech, most of the time they won’t see anything on their glasses except for the time when the feedback comes and that too will stay for a few seconds. After very thorough user testing and delivering feedback every 20 seconds in the form of words like louder, slower, good job, and more, the system was considered to be one of the most successful systems by most of the test users.

In these tests, overall, the users felt that the system helped them deliver better performance in comparison to users who received constant feedback and the users with no feedback at all. The researchers also checked whether, from the audience’s viewpoint, the speaker wearing the glasses appears to be distracted when they receive the feedback.

Hoque even made the audience rate test users for their appearance as being spontaneous, pausing too much, using filler words, and most importantly, whether they maintained good eye contact under three different conditions like word feedback, continuous feedback, and no feedback.

After analyzing the results of their first tests, researchers came to understand that their live feedback system can be very helpful to people with social difficulties and people working customer support services and aided them in a private and non-intrusive manner.

Judging by the results from the initial tests, I can say that we might be seeing more of these systems in the future. And if you are a nervous speaker, or just a smart working professional who wants to give your public speaking skills an edge, then this wearable technology could be the perfect choice for you.

This was originally posted on SpeakerHub Skillcamp.