University program solves fear of public speaking using virtual audience

Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman
statesman, scholar and writer

Public speaking can heighten anyone’s anxiety, but a new program named Cicero is promising to help people overcome that fear — with the help of a virtual audience.

Cicero, a program named after the famed Roman orator, calls for participants to use glasses that have the effect of immersing them in the virtual world, making it as real as possible, according to USC News, a University of Southern California publication. In that world, animated avatars that look like real people are coded to react to the speaker. Feedback depends on the speaker’s aptitude. If the speaker is interesting, the audience will lean forward, display facial expressions that convey engagement, nod heads, etc. If the speaker fails to engage the assembly, the audience will convey dissatisfaction by leaning back, looking disinterested, shaking their heads, etc.

“Public speaking is threatening to many people,” says Stefan Scherer, who designed the project with Mathieu Chollet at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. “We wanted to see if we could use virtual humans to create a less threatening, more safe environment.”

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Mike Consol teaches public speaking, PowerPoint presentation skills and business writing to companies and business professionals. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 925-449-1040.