Glassophobia (commonly known as public speech anxiety) is a problem that most of us (in fact, over 74% of us) have faced at some point in our lives. A fear of public speaking can manifest itself in psychological symptoms such as elevated levels of stress and anxiety, or physical symptoms, such as nausea, sweaty palms, uncontrolled body trembles, or even fainting.
Sarah Al-Humadhi, a young Saudi woman from the Eastern Province, is one who has suffered her share of speech anxiety and stage fright. As a teacher at Prince Mohammed University (PMU), Sarah found that no matter how effortless her lecture preparation or subject comprehension was, her knowledge seemed to dissolve away she set foot in front of the class, as anxiety took over.
To alleviate the problem, she enrolled herself in various public training programs, yet found them inconvenient for her busy lifestyle. Even after she overcame some of her stage fright, she noticed that her students shared the same issue, especially when presenting in a second or third language.
Fear of public speaking is not exclusive to students and young professionals, and it's not a mark of inexperience; it has touched the lives of the most successful and accomplished among us. Business magnet and legendary investor Warren Buffett, for one, famously credited his success partly to his triumph over public speaking fears. After enrolling himself in a Dale Carnegie public speaking course, he managed to overcome his stage fright and speak more freely about his experience as an investor and entrepreneur.
Yet these courses are not accessible to everyone. Sarah is now hoping to bring the concept to her city in Saud Arabia, by building StandingO, a software tutorial that will help speakers anywhere face down their everyday public speaking problems. The software recognizes speech patterns at different settings, and then leverages crowd-sourcing to give real, interactive feedback to the user. Users can set what type of presentation they will be given, at what difficulty, and choose a language as well.
Here, Sarah discusses StandingO, which is set to launch in a few month. We spoke about the project, the backstory that led to its development, the current team structure, and the role of Saudi female entrepreneurs.