Technology is taking the place of a trainer or coach in all sorts of spheres. Runners have an app to tell them how far and how fast they’re going, to spur them on to ever greater achievements. When I was learning to play bridge, I found the lessons confusing and rather stressful: the breakthrough came with a computer programme. My friend even uses an app to make sure he’s drinking the right amount of water every day. So it was only a matter of time until someone invented an app to coach people in public speaking. (You can read a bit about it in this article.)
I see two problems with this. The first is the danger of relying on the app instead of mastering the skills. The app doesn’t actually do the running or drink the water – and neither is it going to make the presentation for you. In my language-teaching days, I remember a student spending weeks in advance of an exam working out a revision timetable, colour-coding what had to be studied, buying special stationery and so on and so forth, instead of actually getting to grips with the material. My worry is an app will pander to this kind of psychological displacement.
The second problem is that public speaking is really about human interaction. If you’re using the app as a training aid, to help you learn the techniques, that’s fine. (At the moment, I suspect you’d be better off reading a book about it, but the technology will improve and one day a computer will be able to give you a useful critique of your performance, in terms of whether you speak too fast, move around too much and other clearly measurable variables.) However, as far as I can gather, the point of this app is not to support you in rehearsal but to guide you through the real event – and I can’t see this ever being a good idea.
A headset that comments as you deliver a presentation is on the slippery slope to one that tells you how to behave on a date or how to bring up your children (and this kind of thing is on the way). As in these other situations, in public speaking there is no substitute for authenticity.