How VR can help with public speaking and anxiety

Fear of public speaking, or “glossophobia,” is the single most common fear in our society. In fact, a study by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health found that three-fourths of Americans suffer from this phobia.

Not surprisingly, many professionals seek treatment, even hypnotherapy, to overcome this fear.

Perhaps glossophobia stems from our early days on this planet. Back when we relied on our tribe and community to survive, being rejected or disgraced in front of our peers could literally mean life or death.

Nowadays, of course, it’s just another natural response that has stayed with us. Rarely are we in danger of physical harm.

But mentally, public speaking can still be grueling. The idea of talking in front of others can cause all sort of anxiety-related symptoms such as sweating, palpitations and dry mouth.

Image via Turning Point

At its worst, glossophobia can hamper personal and professional growth.

Aside from traditional and holistic therapies, a more contemporary option has entered the fray to help combat this epidemic. I’m talking about VR therapy.

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET)

We know that VR is helping improve physical therapy in healthcare, but how can it help with mental healing?
As the name suggests, VRET uses VR technology to expose a patient to a simulated environment almost identical to one that would trigger their anxiety in the real world.

At its worst, fear of public speaking can hamper personal and professional growth

The idea was first introduced in 1994 by a publication named Virtual Environment and Psychological Disorders by psychologists Max and Sarah North. Their research outlines how using VR can desensitize a phobia and offer an alternative for those who are too fearful to revisit a situation.
Since then, countless books, studies and research have gone into this field with some very positive results from patients.
More recently, Colorado Psychologist Dawn Jewell spoke of her experience in treating patients using Limbix — a medical-grade VR kit which uses guided programs and therapeutic support to ease a patient through uncomfortable situations.

Image via Limbix

Public speaking is one of the top experiences they provide, along with driving, heights, flying and claustrophobia. 
Jewell discussed how she helped one of her patients overcome a fear of driving after a traumatic car accident. Together, they revisited the spot — with the patient using the Limbix headset. Over time, the client has felt a reduction in anxiety.
Limbix isn’t the only provider of therapeutic VR. In fact, developers have been creating apps that individual users can download themselves to try to overcome their fears.
Below I’ll highlight a few that can help with public speaking.

Four VR apps for public speaking

  1. Virtual Speech
Image via Virtual Speech

Previously known as Public Speaking VR — the Virtual Speech app is available on various app stores — including Google Play — and compatible with many mobile VR headsets.

Self-described as giving users an “unfair advantage,” the app offers courses on improving your speaking and business pitching techniques. Having been used to help some prepare for Ted Talks, it seems like a lot of thought and expertise has been put into the app’s content.

2. Speech Center VR

Image via Speech Center VR

Available on Gear VR and Daydream — this app helps you “become a better communicator through a series of interactive VR lessons.”

The program can apparently help with distractions and how to cope with any outside influences that might interrupt your speech. For anyone who suffers from a stutter when under pressure, their tongue twister exercises could also be of use.

3. #BeFearless

Image via VRScout

Samsung’s VR app offers five different simulations that are relevant for professionals, including job interviews, meetings and presentations.

BeFearless seems like a clever app. It responds to the various nuances of your body language when you begin speaking, such as the speed of your speech, volume of your voice and eye contact. This could be a great way to work on specific pain points when practicing.

4. Public Speaking Simulator VR

Image via Hypergrid Business

This app is free on iOS and Android, which is good news for those that don’t feel like spending massive bucks to conquer their fears.

Public Speaking Simulator VR is a bit more stripped-back, featuring a simple office simulation which can be adjusted to suit the needs of the user. The app lets you adjust the size of the audience, and decide whether you want supportive listeners or want to be brave and face the hecklers.

We can leverage VR to overcome our fear of public speaking

For such a common anxiety that a large majority of us face, it’s good to know we have options. VR hardware is moving at such a rate that many of the methods we swear by today — including therapy — can often be enhanced by embracing virtuality.

The technology is still young, but the ideas, practices and research — not so much. We could be well on our way to reducing or even abolishing the issues that hold us back as individuals, thanks to the pioneers of medicine and technology.


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