As a shy, introverted high schooler Kristen Newman acutely feared public speaking. It’s a common fear shared by a large segment of the population, but she found that many of the “cures” were insufficient or downright unhelpful. Her frustration, and a desire to help others, provided the inspiration for Kristen to found VirtuREAL – a public speaking assistance app.
Kristen’s fight against glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, began at an unlikely point in her life. As a high school freshman, she had to deliver a speech to 200 of her classmates as a part of her campaign for student government. She panicked. “I began to speak, and quickly choked up. My mouth felt frozen, I started to sweat profusely, and my legs started to shake where I was sure I was going to collapse,” she says. “I was scared out of my mind, and I wanted to run right out of that auditorium.”
With help from a teacher and mentor in high school, Kristen was able to gain confidence and reduce her public speaking anxiety. In her senior year, she participated in a Junior Achievement of New York/NASDAQ business plan competition. For her proposal, she drew on her knowledge of the most helpful techniques to increase public speaking skills. The business plan she created would be the birth of VirtuREAL, a project that Kristen carried with her to Drexel LeBow.
When Kristen, a pre-junior marketing and MIS major, arrived on campus, she pursued a strategy she’d learned in high school: “Talk to everyone you can talk to. Set up a meeting with someone with knowledge you want to gain, ask them questions, and go from there.” With knowledge gleaned from conversations with Drexel professors and other Philadelphia entrepreneurs, Kristen was able to create the version of the VirtuREAL app that is currently in the production phase.
The app functions as a personal speech coach. A user delivers their speech as VirtuREAL records, analyzes and produces a grade based on the speaker’s speed, pitch and use of filler words. Based on the app’s analysis, it offers tutorials and tips that address the areas where the speech needs work. For additional feedback, the app can also upload a speech to Facebook, where chosen reviewers can offer their advice and critiques.
Kristen sees a potential broad audience for VirtuREAL, from students to corporate executives. In the short term she’s focusing on producing the app, hiring new team members and securing investment funds. If all goes well, she hopes to launch the app as a free download this fall. “Basically I want to see VirtuREAL change public speaking for the better. If I see the number of Americans who fear public speaking drop, then I will have done my job.”