Fear of Public Speaking

It is likely that the most common social phobia is fear of public speaking. Fear of public speaking is the third most common psychiatric disorder and was listed by the Book of Lists as the #1 fear among Americans and an article published in the Wall Street Journal reported that “stage fright” afflicts 20 million people at some point during their lifetimes.

Virtual reality exposure therapy places the client in a computer-generated environment where they “experience” the various aspects of public speaking. The client wears a head-mounted display with small TV monitors and stereo earphones to receive both visual and auditory cues.

In this interactive virtual environment, participants can do role-playing across various scenarios, which may be followed by feedback and discussion with the therapist. Included in the VR world is a prepared written speech presented with scrolling text within a podium frame situated facing a virtual audience. However participants also have the option of making presentations or speeches prepared on their own. Response from the virtual audience can be modified by the therapist to be amicable (e.g., clapping or showing attention to speaker) or unsympathetic (e.g., bored or distracted) to varying degrees. The many options for audience response allows for multiple combinations and changes in conditions during each VR session. The therapist can role play as an audience member and asks questions to the presenter via a microphone. Real-time Bio-feedback provides the therapist with all of the patient’s vitals, including heart rate, respiration, skin conductance, temperature, electroencephalogram (EEG), and an electrocardiogram (ECG). The optional head mount display (HMD) is equipped with a head tracker that detects the patient’s head rotations and position while navigating through the virtual world.

The Public Speaking virtual environment consists of a real video footage of a large (30 person) audience and a small (8 person) office meeting audience. The auditorium is equipped with a sliding curtain. The software enables the therapist to upload any type of document into the VR computer, which allows the patient to use any speech they choose during the therapy session. During the speech presentation, the speaker stands on a custom built platform behind an actual full size lectern equipped with an attached microphone. Participants can easily scroll through speech notes using the virtual puck, a cell-phone sized clicker. A job interview mode is also available.