Speaking in front of others made Danish Dhamani — who left his native country of Pakistan four years ago to attend Drexel University — especially self-conscious. “I had this Pakistani accent and, sometimes, I would see people mocking me or asking me to repeat myself again,” Dhamani said. “I thought I was a bad speaker.”
Determined to make himself better understood when he spoke, Dhamani started taking online courses on public speaking. “I just started to practice in front of the mirror, in my home. People would listen to me and give me more feedback, and over time, I improved.” He wondered: “What if there was one place, one app, where everyone could get all the theory on public speaking, where they could practice, and using some speech algorithms, get their own feedback in real time, without feeling judged?’”
So, he co-founded Orai — a public-speaking app company based out of Philadelphia — with fellow Drexel student Paritosh Gupta. They launched the app this past May. While iOS users can take advantage of the app in its nascent stage, Android users can download version 2.0, which is slated to launch in the near future.
Practice your 30-second elevator pitch. You need to nail that down.
Orai is already finding its way into the events industry. Dhamani cited at least one user who has been practicing with Orai for his upcoming TED Talk, and said that Orai is ideal for networking practice. “Let’s say you enter this event,” he said, “and you see many groups already started forming of two to three people. It’s really hard to get in and introduce yourself. You know, the first question is going to be, ‘What do you do?’ or ‘Who are you?’ Everyone wants to know who they are, right? So this app is the perfect medium to practice your 30-second elevator pitch. You need to nail that down.”
ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE
For non-native English speakers, Orai has some especially helpful sections, including clarity feedback. For international speakers traveling to U.S. events, this could be a tool to help break down language barriers, Dhamani said. “Sometimes, it is really hard to understand non-native English speakers because of their own accents, right? But, if you practice in Orai, it gives you a transcript of what you said, and it highlights areas in your speech which you could have pronounced better, or enunciated that section of your speech better.”
In addition to pronunciation help, the app targets inflection and cadence. Dhamani said Orai’s “energy feedback” feature is the second thing that international speakers could benefit from. When non-native English speakers start speaking in English, he said, there’s a tendency for them to become monotone — “and that really sucks energy out of the room.”
Including other languages in the app, such as French and Spanish, has been a “very, very” popular user request, Dhamani said. While those languages are in the works for the future, the focus for version 2.0 will be on including more personalized feedback. In addition, a new “lessons” segment planned for the updated app will include curated instructions on topics such as vocal variety, filler words, and hand gestures.
Despite how many other features will become part of the app, Dhamani stressed that it will never address every aspect of public speaking. “There is so much more [to public speaking] outside of what the app can offer,” he said. “The app can only give you feedback on three to four areas. There is so much more, like your body language, your non-verbal features, or, even your content.”
Public speaking, Dhamani said, is like running a marathon. As he learned for himself before he even dreamed up the app, the only way to get better at it, he said, “is by practicing.”
For more tips on better speaking, read “3 Simple Ways to Be a Better Speaker.”