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Apps offer a leadership tune-up

Can a new breed of public speaking app boost your management cred?

Business executives wishing to take to the podium with style can now scroll through the mobile app stores for solutions.

While software has long helped execs write their presentations, a new breed of analytic apps aim to take things a step further and polish their performance.

Speak Like a Pro is one of the latest to hit the virtual shelves. It was launched in August for 99¢, and it's the result of a joint-venture between paper company, PaperlinX and business consultant, Phillip Lawrence.

This iPhone app (a tablet version is in the works) analyses your technique and scores you on speed, clarity and tone. The aim is to improve your score over time, says Lawrence.

“Voice training has helped me in business, and I wondered if it was possible to create something to help business people who need to speak to groups of people. The app was born out of that,” Lawrence says.


It's not the only mobile app seeking to tap into the budding voice coach niche. Enabled by the developments in speech recognition and better quality smartphone microphones, others are popping up including King's Speech, A Better Speaker and Voice Coach (which is pitched more at singers).

The idea of corporate voice coaching is not new, but to date it's mainly been offered to senior execs, says corporate speaking expert Gabrielle Rogers, who helped Speak Like a Pro's creators with content.

She says although these sorts of apps don't replace face-to-face training, they can bring the benefits of professional coaching to a wider audience.

“Voice coaching can be pricey and time consuming. The app is an opportunity to have me in your pocket to remind you to follow the rules of great speaking,” Rogers says.

She also says these skills don't only help on the podium. Execs can apply them to “any other communication moments” such as meetings and job interviews.

“As people enter new leadership territory, they often feel scared of the success and the opportunities they are being given. This sort of training helps them to use every communication opportunity to enlist others and be supported,” she says.

Jamie O'Rourke, the director of chartered accounting firm RSM Bird Cameron, who has received training from professional voice coach Gerry Sont, (the male voice in Speak Like a Pro), agrees.

Sont trains senior execs and partners to communicate more clearly and confidently with clients, prospects and colleagues, O'Rourke says.

According to O'Rourke, it's about dispensing information in the right format and that's about confidence, not just in presentations, but also in more informal meetings.

“The aim of the training is to help managers project the right points in that meeting to give them the best opportunity to fulfil their outcomes and objectives,” he says.

O'Rourke says it's proved so worthwhile that the company is considering offering training to more junior staff. He says although they haven't yet dabbled with apps, these sorts of tools may appeal to younger employees.

Nathan Inkpen, associate publisher at AGM Publishing in Auckland, has used the Speak Like a Pro app. He originally downloaded it for his daughter who was making a speech at school, but thought he'd also give it a try.

“I make sales presentations pretty much everyday and to be honest think I am a pretty good,” says Inkpen. However, according to the app, there was room for improvement.

“I'm now working on my own clarity of speech as it seems I have a tendency to run words into each other without gaps between them,” he says.

Meanwhile, people from all walks of life will increasingly be spotted talking to their phones, Star Trek-style, according to Nuance, a software maker that specialises in speech recognition software.

According to its Asia Pacific senior vice president, Jason Stirling, now that speech technology has come of age, most of the major hardware and software companies are moving to voice-enable their applications and devices.

“This will transform the way we interface with devices like smartphones, cars, TVs and even cameras,” he says. “It's a really interesting time.”