Close-up of a microphone on stage

A Scottish company is using Microsoft AI technology to put an end to stage fright

A Scottish company is using Microsoft’s artificial intelligence technology to help everyone deliver the perfect speech.

Estendio has been handed an AI for Accessibility grant by the technology firm to add more features to their app, Present Pal, which aims to improve how people give presentations.

Created by a student with dyslexia, the app guides users through their presentation with interactive flashcards, pop-up bubbles and colour overlays on their smartphone or tablet. It is also fully compatible with PowerPoint, so presenters can access their notes and control their slides at the same time.

The company has now been awarded free credits for the cloud computing platform, Azure, as part of Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility programme. Present Pal will use these to develop the app further, such as using Speech APIs to compare practice recordings with real-time speech to allow the program to recognise when a speaker is struggling to recall information. AI-powered audio prompts and visual pop-ups would then allow the presenter to get back on track.

Founder and chief executive Chris Hughes also hopes the new developments could help people with learning difficulties and visual impairments.

“Technology has such an important role to play in ensuring that people with disabilities are empowered to communicate effortlessly,” he said. “The usage of AI/machine learning within Present Pal will allow us to really understand the needs and behaviour of presenters, providing the data to assist and enhance communication skills in the terrifying moments of presenting to your peers.”

According to research by Estendio, “delivering oral presentations” was the fourth biggest challenge for university students in the UK, with 82% of students experience feelings of anxiety, panic or stress when presenting.

“We are already supporting students with learning differences in universities across the UK through our existing version of the app, but funded access to Microsoft’s AI tools will really boost the software’s intelligence and sophistication,” Hughes added. “We are delighted to receive this grant and begin working with Microsoft and are looking forward to sharing our journey of enhancing the lives of people with disabilities.”

AI for Accessibility is Microsoft’s $25 million, five-year programme aimed at using the power of AI to help the more than one billion people around the world with disabilities. Grants are available to developers, non-governmental organisations, academics, researchers and inventors who are focused on helping people in three areas: Employment, Daily Life and Communication and Connection.