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Big Talk: A digital aid to public speaking

Rebecca Gill Clarke

Riding the subway on your way to that dream audition. Sitting in reception, twiddling your thumbs before that big interview. Nervously pacing backstage before facing the crowd and delivering that all-important speech. 

We all know those feelings of apprehension that rear their head before any crucial public speaking event. Your stomach ties itself in knots, your heart starts to palpitate, and you just pray that you’ll be able to remember all of the things that you’d planned to say. Then the moment finally arrives, and you hear your voice crack under pressure then fade to a whisper. Desperate to fit everything in before time runs out, your words become a fast, high-pitched, jumbled-up mess. All of those buzzwords that you planned to throw in, thoughtfully considered the night before but completely forgotten by the next day. If only you’d practiced more.

Public speaking is not generally taught during pre-college education, but its importance becomes much more apparent as a person progresses through their professional life. Ineffective communication skills can hold people back from advancing in their careers, and a bad interview could stop you from even securing the job in the first place.

The process of readying yourself for a public speaking event takes a lot of effort; first you must prepare what you’re going to say, then you need to practice it regularly to hopefully memorize the content. Lastly there’s the final performance, where the stakes are high and anxiety is looming. Forgetting your words and speaking incoherently are all common responses to a phobia of public speaking, which is often purported to be the world’s number one fear. How can we help people overcome their anxiety and become better public speakers, both in their personal and professional lives?

At this point in time, very few methods of practicing public speaking exist without joining social groups or purchasing expensive VR equipment. Other technology-based solutions also tend to target only one specific area, such as voice analysis or body language, and provide no help with actually creating and organising the content of your speech.

My thesis, Big Talk, concentrates on building a digital platform to tackle the key phases of public speaking, from the preparation stage to the final performance, in a form which is universally accessible through the web. By fusing speech recognition technology and spaced repetition techniques, the tool is versatile enough to be used to practice for any high-pressure public speaking situation, whether it be a job interview, an audition, a presentation, or even a wedding speech.

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Rebecca is a digital product designer from London, currently based in New York.

She is interested in exploring ways in which technology can improve people’s lives, from enhancing everyday tasks and interactions to tackling bigger social issues.