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[#BeFearless Part 1] How VR Can Defeat Your Fear of Public Speaking

on March 14, 2016
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Salminaz Shimshilova, a 29-year-old fashion designer based in Dubai, is terrified of public speaking. For her, however, the phobia is more than a mere inconvenience. It has a direct impact on her ability to run her business.

 

After all, in the world of fashion, being able to speak confidently about your latest designs is vital.

 

“I sweat and forget what I have to say,” said Salminaz. “Honestly, making eye contact makes me feel terrible.”

 

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A study published in medical journal Psychological Medicine found that one in five people expresses fear about the idea of talking in front of large groups, making the phobia arguably one of the most common out there.

 

For some, the secret to conquering a fear is to face it head-on. In many phobia sufferers’ cases, taking small, gradually progressive steps in non-threatening situations can help build confidence.

 

To this end, Samsung pioneered its #BeFearless program for the Samsung Gear VR, part of Samsung’s Launching People campaign. The aim of the campaign, created in 2013, was to help people use technology to realize their dreams and live life to its fullest.

 

 

#BeFearless called for volunteers to take part in immersive, four-week, step-by-step virtual reality coaching programs to overcome their fears. Equipped with the Samsung Gear VR, they found themselves in a range of potentially daunting scenarios, made even more real with lifelike audio.

 

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The scenarios comprised three public situations. These included a school setting that required participants to engage in discussions and presentations. There was also an office setting that included a job interview, a business meeting and a conference.

 

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The third setting introduced social situations, culminating in a toast at a wedding and a daunting awards speech.

 

Each scenario comprised four levels of difficulty, and participants were encouraged to repeat levels until they felt completely confident. To advance to the next level, participants had to “pass” stages.

 

Their tests were based on scientific and medically proven criteria, such as changes in heart rate, measured using Samsung Gear S smartwatches, amount of virtual eye contact and self-assessed anxiety checks.

 

Before Salminaz began on the #BeFearless program, she said, “My biggest dream is to speak to an auditorium full of people and feel confident and active.”

 

And after four weeks of concerted effort via her VR training, she was able to do just that – successfully delivering a talk in front of a large crowd at Dubai’s Courtyard Playhouse theater.

 

Following her four-week program, Salminaz was all smiles. “It was a great idea,” she said. “The program helped me get over my fears.”

 

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Take a look at how Salminaz progressed here.

 

Another volunteer, Maria Melkosyants, 25, aspires to be a teacher, but explained that her aversion to the idea of talking in public situations has the potential to hold her back.

 

“Communicating with a big groups, especially people I don’t know, is always emotional,” she said. “I have to meet students, tell them things and help them. That might not sound scary to some, but it makes me feel very afraid.”

 

Maria felt the program helped her come out of her shell in a way she felt comfortable, explaining, “I felt calm knowing that I was doing everything at home in front of virtual people.”

 

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And her VR experiences helped her build the confidence that she had been lacking, resulting in a real-life teaching demonstration in front of actual students.

 

She said, “Gradually I started to speak – I started to feel confident that I could do it, as I felt like I’d done it before.”

 

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See how Maria got on here.

 

Franziska Eichenaur, 19, is another for whom fear of appearing in front of people creates obstacles. She is a student whose academic work includes making presentations in class.

 

Said Franziska, “Speaking in front of big crowds makes me feel insecure. But I’d really like to be able to reach people with what I say and the way I present myself.”

 

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Franziska was also transformed by the VR training, noting, “The training helped me so much. I felt a wave of positivity that just carried me away. And since I have achieved that, I really want to show it to others.”

 

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Like Salminaz, on completion of the program, Franziska was able to overcome her fears and take to the stage in Dubai. Watch Franziska’s story here.

 

The success of the #BeFearless program is supported by research conducted by doctors at Yonsei University’s Gangnam Severance Hospital in South Korea. The researchers used VR training programs with a group of 82 South Korea-based participants. The training sessions brought about a reduction of nearly 90 percent in fear of heights and public speaking in the group.

 

The 82 participants were treated in sessions that made use of the same training materials applied as part of the #BeFearless program.

 

Read about how #BeFearless helped a group of young heights-fearing people overcome their anxieties here.

 

Samsung’s #BeFearless program was part of its Launching People campaign, a search for creative and innovative ideas that show how powerful technology can be when it comes to solving real challenges facing society. #BeFearless was aimed at today’s Digital Natives for whom technology is a powerful tool that they want to use to its full potential.

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