podium: web app



a speech prep tool to help you become a confident speaker


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 @ 10k' (Artefact)


How might we enhance the efficacy of speech preparation through an interactive and personalized approach?


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 examining existing literature on public speaking, we discovered:

  • Public speaking is a valuable communication skill, but it is not prioritized in formal education (it is part of the teaching curriculum in schools).
  • 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 learning environments and can play an important role in learning public speaking as a skill.

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.


learning from 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.

“Instruction, imitation, and practice - these are the mechanisms by which people learn public speaking.”
— Matt McGarrity, Professor

what we learned from interviewing 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 sought to answer these research 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. 

a framework for public speaking

We also created a visualization of a "public speaking framework," in order to better understand the different steps someone takes to effectively prepare and deliver a speech or presentation. This framework was formed after reviewing our research with experts and students, and also helped us define the scope of our product.


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


Which aspects of public speaking to address

We decided to focus on 3 specific parts of the public speaking framework, which maps directly to 3 core features of our web app product: 1) Outline mode, 2) Practice mode, and 3) Feedback tool. Our decision to address these areas were informed by our research findings that 1) students struggle with structuring engaging speeches, 2) many students neglect to practice which usually causes unpreparedness, and 3) students often lack ways to get meaningful feedback from friends or peers they practice in front of. 


Competitive Analysis

To understand what kind of public speaking tools and resources exist today, we also conducted a broad assessment of a large range of existing public speaking resources, which include digital tools, courses, and clubs. Below is just a listed example of the different resources we examined. 

We generally found that existing resources were one of three different things: 1) inaccessible (e.g., classes or coaching can be very expensive), 2) too narrow in focus (e.g., paid apps that are just fancy timers), and 3) too general (e.g., courses that cover all the basics but don't help you identify your unique strengths and weaknesses.) In response to this, we wanted to create a product that is approachable, comprehensive, and personalized.

ideation: generating initial concepts


ideation workshop

One of our first ideation activities was facilitating a workshop with some classmates. Using the two "how might we" opportunity statements above, we asked them to do 3 activities in an hour.

Activity 1: Bad Ideas
We asked our classmates to come up with as many bad ideas for our topic within 2 minutes. We later collected these and reviewed them internally as a team. 

Activity 2: Crazy 8s
The next activity focused on rapid ideation by having our classmates sketch 8 ideas within 5 minutes. After sketching, we asked each participant to quickly explain their concepts to everyone in the workshop. 

Activity 3: Braiding
We asked our participants to pick their favorite idea from the different ideas in the previous crazy 8s activity and refine it further by writing a short description and identifying which problem of public speaking it would tackle. 


top 4 concepts

Below are the top concepts we developed following the ideation workshop, which takes into account all the ideas we gathered from the workshop, as well as our own group brainstorm. 

A tool that allows users to upload their video to an online community and get inline feedback from peers or experts on their speaking skills.

Voice UI Coach
A voice UI that will listen to users' speech when they practice and provide feedback on vocal qualities such as pacing, pitch, volume, and filler words.

Speech Avatar
By replacing the user's face with an avatar during video recording practice, it makes it easier for users to record themselves and assess their speaking.

Speech Builder
A tool that will help users build an engaging speech by helping them identify key points and build a story.


2 directions to refine

After we presented our 4 concepts in a design critique, we gathered feedback and decided to remove and combine some ideas. Below are the 2 directions we moved forward with.

Feedback Tool

Feedback Tool facilitates gathering actionable feedback on your speech during practice in front of others. It helps your audience to easily provide meaningful feedback.

Problem it solves:
People practice speeches in front of friends and family because coaches or classes may not be an option. However, these audiences are not ideal because of emotional ties to the speaker or lack of experience.

Peer communities, group presentations, individuals practicing speeches in front of friends or family

Speech Builder

Speech Builder helps you construct an engaging speech with expert prompts. Record and assemble voice clips to refine your story and prepare effectively.

Problem it solves:
Structuring a speech involves both technique and creativity. It can be difficult to do effectively and existing solutions are designed primarily for writing, not speaking. 

Sales or product pitches, conference talks, job interviews, research presentations, potentially more


refining our product

We decided to go with Speech Builder as our final design concept to refine. We ultimately decided to include feedback aspects into our speech building tool (drawing from our Feedback Tool concept) since feedback is a very important part of the public speaking process that we did not want to neglect. 

early wireframes

Saved Recordings.jpg

usability findings

  1. Using text input (writing) instead of using audio clips for creating the outline for a speech was much more natural for to the workflow of our users.
  2. Our users indicated that they valued the ability to video record their speeches as a way to practice. This feature was missing from our early wireframes and later incorporated as a one of the main features of our product. 
  3. The feedback feature of our early wireframe and prototype was very unclear to users; they didn't understand the feedback form was designed to help them get feedback from other people on their speeches. We designed this experience to be more straight-forward for both the user and their reviewers in the the final product.

core features of podium

The final product was scoped to include 3 main features: an Outline mode, a Practice mode, and a Feedback tool.



The outline is both a learning tool for structure and a canvas. It can help beginners understand effective structure techniques by generating a customized outline based on the type of speech you’re giving, and providing personalized tips as you write.

We designed the outline to be as flexible and customizable as possible, to accommodate different levels of use. Our design brings back the familiarity of using notecards and you can easily rearrange different parts of your speech with ease.

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 12.32.01 PM.png
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One of the most effective ways to practice speaking is to watch yourself on video. With podium's practice mode, you can not only watch yourself speak, you can also make precise refinements to your delivery style by analyzing and reflecting on pitch, pacing, clarity and filler words. 

This feature is ideal for experienced speakers who record themselves already, but can  also train beginners to get into the habit of recording. 



No matter the experience level, public speaking is a social activity and it’s beneficial to practice in front of real people. With podium, you can get substantial feedback from others easily: 

First, Podium suggests questions you can ask based on the type of speech you’re giving. 

Second, reviewers can also leave in-line reactions with emojis in addition to giving you qualitative feedback, making this experience fun and easy for both sides. 

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 1.26.11 PM.png

core interactions of podium

Drag and Drop Outline: users can easily add new sections to their outline, as well as move them around with dragging and dropping. This interaction brings back the familiar feel of using notecards when preparing for a speech.

Interactive Transcript: to help users effectively practice, podium provides qualitative data on vocal qualities that will sync to both the recorded video and the generated speech-to-text transcript.

Inline Feedback: in addition to viewing qualitative feedback from friends and family, users can see their reviewer's real-time reaction to any moment in their video inline.  


the future of podium

We scoped and designed the MVP experience of podium, but we know there's many more ways to refine and expand the scope of our product down the road. One next step my team would like to pursue is to seek guidance on the creation of content for podium. Some other avenues we would like to pursue include the following:

  • Integration with software for making presentation slides 
  • Quick challenges for learning when there isn’t a speech to give
  • Include ability to prepare for group presentations
  • Companion mobile app for practice on-the-go


Measuring success

There are a few ways to measure the success of podium, if it were developed and released. We would also want to continue doing more evaluations and usability tests in order to continually improve the product.

  • Adoption & Retention: if users come back after making one speech, they see value in using the product. We will monitor repeated use of the product.
  • Optimization: we will monitor which part of the product users come back to the most (for example, practice mode), which will help us understand which features to optimize.
  • Qualitative measures: since the product is designed to be a fun and playful experience, we will ask users about their experience using the product.