Capstone Project: Public Speaking Education


Speak Easy

design solution for structuring and practicing speeches


MHCI Capstone Project
Secondary & Primary Research: March - May 2017
Generative Research & Ideation: June 2017
Prototyping & Refinement: July - August 2017


Wei-Hung Hsieh
Marina Lazarevic
Shelley Xia (me)
Sponsor: Olen Ronning @ 10,000ft



How might we enhance the learning of speech skills through the use of technology?



design process: a timeline

understanding the problem space

Only 28% of employers thought that graduates were well-prepared in oral communication upon entering the workforce.
— Association of American Colleges and Universities

Why public speaking?

Through secondary research and examining existing literature on public speaking, we discovered:

  • Public speaking is a valuable communication skill, but it is not prioritized in formal education.
  • Students who take public speaking classes struggle to improve their skills without adequate social interaction and feedback to help them.
  • Oral communication in general is considered a critical skill in career development and professional success, by students and employers. 
  • Technology is becoming extremely integrated in the classroom and other learning environments, and can play an important role in learning public speaking.

With this context in mind, we want to explore design opportunities for creating a technology-based solution to improve students’ experience with learning public speaking.


speaking with experts

We spoke to three subject matter experts in the field of public speaking. From these interviews, we gained a better understanding of how students learn public speaking, effective ways of learning and practicing speaking skills, unique challenges students face, and ultimately helped us discover how students from different backgrounds and levels can benefit from our design solution.

“You need to have the courage to push yourself in that situation, in front of the spotlight. You need to believe in yourself [that] you could be able to deliver.”
— Wei Zuo

what we learned from students



Participant Interviews
[storytelling activity, semi-structured interview]
Field Observations
[Toastmasters, Public Speaking Center]


10 students at University of Washington
[2 student tutors @ UW Public Speaking Center]
[8 students from different majors and grad levels]

Interview with student tutors at the Public Speaking Center, University of Washington.

Interview with student tutors at the Public Speaking Center, University of Washington.

research questions

In order to better understand students’ attitudes and challenges regarding public speaking experiences at school, we asked the following questions:

  • What problems do students face with public speaking assignments? How do they deal with challenges that arise before, during and after an assignment?
  • How do students prepare for their public speaking assignments?
  • What kind of help, if any, do students currently seek out to help them improve their public speaking skills? What is effective about current approaches and what is lacking?


a student's journey in public speaking

To better understand how students tackle public speaking, this user journey diagram was created after speaking to our participants. It uncovers the common activities and pain points that students encounter during different phases of undergoing a public speaking assignment. 

understanding our research

Sense-making our data

After all our interviews, we affinity diagrammed to understand the similarities, differences, and common patterns between the information we obtained from our 10 participants and 3 subject matter experts. From this exercise, we developed several themes, which were distilled into 5 insights and 6 guiding design principles.

13 interviews

5 insights

6 design principles

Memorable quotes from participants

“It’s painful to watch, because you never sound like you think you do...[his voice] was damn near pancake flat. I was so disappointed in myself. That said, it’s good self realization.”
— Participant 9
“Figuring out what story you’re gonna tell with the slides is most difficult. That affects everything up and down stream. It’s a chicken and egg thing.”
— Participant 2

Insight 1

The personal nature of public speaking can be a barrier to improvement.

Many people feel apprehension when it comes to public speaking. Most of our participants attach significant meaning to their speeches and see speeches as representations of themselves. There is a worry about "looking stupid" or childish in front of the audience. 


Insight 2

Access to clear, objective feedback is expensive and scarce.

Expert feedback in public speaking is not widely available - one must be enrolled in a university class, public speaking club, or have access to a personal coach, which can be very expensive. Students usually seek feedback from friends, families, and peers instead, but the feedback from these groups are often more fluffy and not critical enough. Without critical feedback, it is hard for learners to improve their speaking skills.


Insight 3

Self-assessment aids improvement but students lack the knowledge to do this properly.

Many students lack the knowledge to engage in productive self-assessment when learning public speaking. For example, watching video recordings of speeches is a powerful method for helping students assess their skills but they are either unaware of the option or they choose not to do it. “It’s painful,” someone said about watching himself on video.


Insight 4

Watching video recordings of one’s speeches is effective for practice and assessment.

Related to insight 3, there are several ways students can effectively use video recordings to practice and assess their skills. They can solo practice and then review their speech, or record speeches they give in front of others. Video recordings can also enhance the tactic of learning by watching others speak (e.g., TED talks.)


Insight 5

Students struggle with structuring their content in an engaging way.

Public speaking involves three core aspects: gathering content, structuring the content in an engaging way, and delivering the speech with style. Many students often focus disproportionately on either content or style, ignoring structure. However, the arrangement of a speech is often critical for crafting a memorable and engaging presentation. Participants also spoke about wanting to tell better stories with their speech, but struggle to do so.  

Principle 1

Balance encouragement with instruction

Speeches are emotional and experiential. Recognize that confidence is personal and changes over time.


Principle 3

Respect the speaker’s existing workflow

Respect people's financial and time constraints. Integrate easily into their lives.


Principle 5

Foster a friendly and entertaining atmosphere

Fun is the key to long-term growth and participation.

Principle 2

Help speakers find their unique voice

Respect idiosyncrasies and empower people to express their point of view.


Principle 4

Ensure that feedback is meaningful and personalized

Explain data clearly and supply actionable suggestions whenever possible.


Principle 6

Encourage continual improvement

Engage people regardless of skill. Facilitatelogical and sensible progression.

defining opportunities


Competitive Analysis

To understand what kind of public speaking tools and resources exist today, we conducted a broad assessment.


assessing opportunity areas


Design tools that are affordable and has comprehensive content.

Resources that offers users help with different aspects of public speaking are typically expensive. Current resources that are affordable and comprehensive in material are only educational tools or courses that teach public speaking, but don’t offer users a social community to learn from and practice with.


Design a group tool that is cost effective.

Most tools and resources focus on individual use, and don’t allow users to practice their skills with others. There are few tools that allow users to practice public speaking with other people, and even less that are affordable. Most digital tools are focused on individual use.


opportunities to develop

How might we design a solution to help students assemble an engaging speech or presentation?

How might we design a solution that can support students in their practice and self-assessment efforts?

So, what's next?

We will be developing concepts and prototyping moving forward.

Stay tuned!