Glossophobia (n.): fear of public speaking, speech anxiety.
For some of us, public speaking can be torture. What if you trip on your words or your mind goes blank? Studies show that when you rehearse, in advance and multiple times, your credibility increases and the impact of your presentation skyrockets — and yet, many of us don’t.
This was what Principal Design Manager Robin Troy and her team at PowerPoint first wanted to understand. And then, they wanted to know how they could help.
Approaches to (not) rehearsing
When thinking about why people rehearse, Robin initially thought there were only two types of presenters: those who rehearsed and those who didn’t. However, after she began talking with customers, she discovered that the truth was more nuanced and uncovered two types of “non-rehearsers” and two types of “rehearsers.”
- Eager: Doesn’t rehearse because they feel they perform better without rehearsing
- Nervous: Doesn’t rehearse, but said they knew they should rehearse
- Eager: Rehearses in advance because they take pleasure in the preparation
- Reluctant: Unenthusiastically rehearses, only because they think it’ll help
When she reviewed her research notes with her team, Robin was concerned that the feature wasn’t something people wanted. And that’s because more than half of the group didn’t like to rehearse. But a closer look showed something surprising.
When Robin and her team looked at the group as a whole, she noticed that three out of the four groups felt they should rehearse. The data led to an exciting idea. How could the team create an experience that would make it less painful to rehearse and that’s enticing to use? Robin and her team saw this as an opportunity to create a feature that would genuinely help customers feel more prepared.
A path to confidence
Why do our customers rehearse? What do they get out of it? Why do they want to be better presenters?
Through their conversations with customers, the PowerPoint team found that people want to look calmer to appear more confident and credible to land the message with the audience. By looking nervous, they lose credibility even if the content is excellent.
As Robin and her team learned what motivates people to rehearse, they saw a clear path to help customers feel more confident in the process. Robin explained, “We just needed to make the experience fun, non-threatening, and beneficial — like having a supportive coach by your side.”
Making a feature that doesn’t feel like a chore to use — one that could help reluctant rehearsers and even non-rehearsers — was the team’s next challenge.
When Robin and her team designed the first version of Presenter Coach, the right technology to build that kind of intelligent experience didn’t exist yet. However, when the PowerPoint team started making Live Captions & Subtitles, a feature in PowerPoint that transcribes a presenter’s words in real-time and presents them on the screen as captions, it laid the groundwork for the broader vision of people interacting with PowerPoint using their voice.
Enter Siliang Kang, who iterated on the research and refined the design. “We wanted to experiment with voice technology, like creating technology identifying people’s speech and different voice signals,” says Siliang. So the team built an initial prototype on top of the Azure speech service.
The separation is in the preparation
Currently available for public preview in PowerPoint for the web, Presenter Coach gives you real-time feedback as you rehearse by analyzing three key parts of your presentation: pace, slide reading, and word choice.
When analyzing pace, Presenter Coach detects how fast or slow you’re speaking. It then recommends changes to your speaking speed to help your audience retain information.
Presenter Coach can also detect if you’re reading your slide word for word. Audiences can lose interest in a presentation when the words on the slide are the same as what the presenter is saying.
Word choice not only tracks filler words — like “um,” “ah,” “like,” or “actually” — but also notes culturally insensitive phrases people use. For example, if someone says, “the best man for the job,” the app provides more gender inclusive word suggestions like “the best person for the job.” When you finish rehearsing, you’ll see a summary of suggested changes to make your presentation stronger.
As Presenter Coach detects one of these common pitfalls, it uses your general speaking pattern to intelligently decide when to best provide the recommendation.
Words matter, especially as we try to build a more inclusive world. Microsoft believes designing for inclusivity helps us build better experiences for people and more accurately reflect the world around us.
Senior Writer Roger Haight, who helped develop Presenter Coach, says, “We’re not trying to tell people what to do. We’re trying to gently nudge people to take a moment to think about what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.”
“People might not even be aware of the language they’re using,” reiterates Robin.
Presenter Coach was designed for the modern workplace. And part of what it means is collaborating with people that might have different life experiences. Program Manager Angelo Liao adds, “We recognize that in the workplace, you need inclusivity to engage your audience. Everyone wants to do well and work well with other people, so we’re helping them with that.”
Practice makes perfect
Siliang says Presenter Coach is something she herself would use. “I want to be a better presenter, but I don’t have someone that can spend an hour rehearsing with me when I’m in a pinch. With Presenter Coach, all I need is an empty room, my laptop and 30 minutes. The app can tell me what I can’t figure out myself.”
We all tackle presentations differently, but we all know training and feedback are vital becoming more effective presenters. And for people with glossophobia, Presenter Coach is precisely what the doctor ordered.