This exploratory study investigates virtual environments (VEs) as a treatment intervention for the fear of public speaking (FoPS). Prior preliminary studies indicate fear reduction following VE simulations with few investigations examining participants’ perspectives. Participants (N = 17) recruited from a public speaking course participated in a virtual reality 360° digital recording simulation that carbon copied the physical reality of their classroom and audience. Before and after immersion, participants completed open-ended responses about the simulation, pre- and post-public speaking fears, and VE public speaking experience. Using thematic analysis on the open-ended responses, researchers coded the responses to understand the communicative performance experience surrounding their VE public speaking simulation. Negative-valence emotions occurred for both presentations; however, participants expressed value in experiencing and overcoming the negative feelings. Based on the anecdotal (or clinical) findings, participants reported experiencing fears similar to those experienced in physical reality as well as emotional and behavioral interventions when engaged in the VE. Additionally, a one-year follow-up (N = 6) provided a reflective process for participants to recall their VE experience and implications beyond the physical simulation. These open-ended responses offered implications surrounding emotional reaction, real audiences, and the speechmaking process. The findings suggest mitigation of audience-related fears by the presence of the virtual audience with participants reoriented to focus on execution of speech delivery. This exploratory qualitative investigation builds toward a future of optimal strategies for using instructional technologies to improve public speaking competency.

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