Practice Makes Perfect as Virtual Reality Helps Students Conquer Fear of Public Speaking

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Photo of Lehman Student wearing VR goggles
Photo of Lehman Student wearing VR goggles

Bronx, NY – Next to the fear of heights, flying, and little critters that crawl, many people rank public speaking high on their list of phobias. Because of that fear, determined Lehman College students named it the number one thing they want to practice.

The Herbert H. Lehman Center for Student Leadership Development (HHL) has introduced virtual reality training for public speaking, using a cutting-edge technology to help students prepare for those dreaded interactions. In a survey of students done by the center, public speaking came up at the top of the list for helpful skills students felt like they needed to learn in order to excel at school and in the job hunt.

"Communication is the number one skill employers in all industries look for—both in writing and public speaking,” says Jane Cleland, director of Lehman’s Program for Professional Communications and English lecturer. “Anything that helps people build skills and confidence is a good thing, and these goggles are certain to do just that."

Students can use the center’s four virtual reality goggles, which are equipped with unique scenarios to fit students’ different needs ranging from a private conference room setting to a bright classroom. The software is able to detect if students are maintaining eye contact with their audience, how fast or slow they are speaking, and how many words are spoken per minute. It then evaluates the student’s performance and, most importantly, offers tips on how the student can improve.

The technology may also prove effective for students looking to practice their interviewing skills; the “Interview Preparation” mode includes questions from distinguished companies such as Apple, Google, Goldman Sachs, and Proctor and Gamble.

Suzette Ramsundar, director of the HHL Leadership Center, said she wanted to give students an experiential learning opportunity and that the virtual reality software serves as a practical solution.

In 2017, the global research and advisory firm Gartner published a case study which estimated that by 2021, 60 percent of U.S. higher education universities will be using VR to create simulations and immersive learning environments. The goggles are a tentative first step in this new direction for Lehman.

John Carlos Rodriguez, a graduate student, was the first to try out the new goggles. “It felt great speaking to a virtual audience,” he said. “I felt like it gave me great practice. Presentations are such a big portion of graduate school, so this came in handy.”

The Center offers two certificate programs focused on building up students’ nascent leadership skills. Through workshops, an invited guest speaker series, weekend retreats, and excursions to visit the nation’s capital, students have a chance to study the practice, language, and habits of thoughtful leaders. The public speaking practice rounds out the program with another critical real-world skill.

Students interested in using the goggles may schedule an appointment online at

For more information on Lehman College’s student leadership program, visit: