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There’s the old Seinfeld joke that public speaking is more terrifying than death on people’s list of top fears. As Seinfeld points out with his characteristic deadpan, most funeral attendants would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy. Was there a resemblance to a Seinfeld joke in this joke? You are not the only one feeling this. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, public speaking anxiety affects 73% of people. Public speaking training should be enjoyable, supportive and collaborative. However, the question becomes: Can AI help bring some comfort and relaxation to a crowd?
Yoodli, a free platform that claims to help people improve their speaking skills without pressure from an audience, is built on this principle. It was created by former engineers and product managers from Google, Facebook and Apple. The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence developed the system, which claims to provide real-time statistics on technical aspects of speech such as filler words, rhythm, volume variance, and more.
What’s remarkable about this is how similar and mainstream apps have grown in another area of self-improvement: fitness. Smart mirrors allow users to perfect their workout routines without the stress of a crowded gym or high-intensity class while providing the benefits of an interactive coach. In other words, as you go through the fundamentals, you can leave your judgment at the door.
Yoodli’s public speaking games have the same sense of fun: one of the games tests your ability to communicate for an extended period of time without using filler words. Another gives you seemingly random terms that you need to incorporate into a live chat. Another game requires you to find analogies on the spot. (For example, “A blueberry looks like a toilet because…”).
The question is whether a digital app or software can actually alleviate the fear some people feel when being asked to give a speech, rather than just helping them with the practicalities. It can be difficult to transfer skills learned on an app to a real-world event for those with physiological responses such as shortness of breath. Yoodli seeks and claims to ease the transition for users by incorporating interactivity, such as a community-driven integration that allows users to exchange hands-on discussions with colleagues for feedback. And solid mechanics are an essential part of any good speech, with confidence gained through practice and gradual improvement going a long way. This is true for both newcomers and world-class speakers.