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How VR Can Help Executives Rehearse For Big Moments

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VR mental rehearsal
Co-authored by Alan Shekhtman and Averie Hah


We often feel that competition is all around us and that so many elements are trying to block our success. After we finish important meetings, exams, or public speeches we often walk out and think, "that went so badly; why was I so nervous?" On the other hand, we've also become familiar with how Olympic athletes use visualization to calm their nerves and thrive under pressure. Swimmer Michael Phelps gained a competitive edge by visualizing every aspect of his race.

This tactic, known as mental rehearsal, has even become widespread in executive management training. Coaching books such as Bruce Peltier's The Psychology of Executive Coaching: Theory and Application highlights that "there is ample evidence that a mental rehearsal before a performance can provide much of the benefit of a [real] rehearsal".

A study in Psychology Today measuring performance of olympic high jumpers revealed that "mental rehearsal plus 'dry run' movements increased performance by 45%" and that "dynamic mental imagery recruits complementary neural networks in the brain that marry the psychological and physical aspects of a specific performance. When these two brain systems work together seamlessly people achieve personal bests".

Since so much evidence points at how dynamic mental imagery allows people to perform better, then why aren't there enough studies focusing on using virtual reality as a performance booster for management executives who have to thrive under pressure? To demonstrate VR's effectiveness as a performance enhancer, a surgical study conducted by the NCIB reported that "gallbladder dissection was 29% faster for VR-trained residents.

Non-VR-trained residents were nine times more likely to transiently fail to make progress and five times more likely to injure the gallbladder or burn nontarget tissue. Mean errors were six times less likely to occur in the VR-trained group". With all of this evidence demonstrating VR's potential as a performance enhancer, it could someday be widely used as an office tool to encourage the best performance from managers and employees in demanding situations.

Here's why VR has the potential to enhance mental rehearsal and improve your office performance:

Public Speaking for Google Cardboard

Employees have to be comfortable giving presentations and speeches in front of important clients. Regardless of how confident we may think we are, there is always room for improvement. Luckily, there is already a VR tool that helps us achieve our goals. Public Speaking for Google Cardboard is an app that allows you to present in front of an audience. The user can change the setting to practice speaking in front of different kinds of audiences such as a large crowd or a smaller, more intimate, executive boardroom. According to Google, the app has already been installed between 10,000-50,000 times and averages a 4.4 (out of 5) review from users.

With the technology that is now readily available, speaking in front of a mirror just isn't cutting it. A tool such as a VR public speaking app can be the most practical way to master the skill at any convenient time. It's only a matter of time until new content is created to help improve performance in other likely career situations. co-founder Ricardo Poupada found the value of rehearsing with VR after hearing tons of terrible elevator pitches: "Day in and day out I hear muffled presentations and disappointing results from people. I tell them that practicing with VR will improve their performance. Rehearse in a tough environment to succeed in a real one. I wish this was out ages ago." With this kind of technology available, many executive coaching books may have to be rewritten.

VR as an Emotional Trigger

One of the reasons why mental rehearsal is so effective is because by "strengthening the neural pathways required for [doing] that skill, then the more likely [someone] will be able to reproduce it again in the future," according to mental coach Delice Coffey.

By recognizing certain emotions when visualizing a situation, our brains can recognize how we feel and reproduce that feeling to better our performance. After seeing the situation unfold in our minds, our bodies no longer worry about the unpredictable nature of the event and gain the ability to calm down. While there isn't enough data to conclude that VR evokes more emotion than our own imagination does, there is data to suggest that VR truly acts as an emotional trigger.

A Stanford study found that people who watched a VR film about deforestation later used 20% less paper than those who watched a regular movie about the same topic. The study demonstrates that people have a much greater emotional response to VR than to video alone. If VR can invoke such a strong emotional response, this can make it an extremely effective performance enhancing tool. In addition, VR content could also include sound and music along with the training experience to help people relax more before stressful events.

Cutting Edge

As companies constantly look to get ahead in terms of productivity and operational effectiveness, there is an outstanding need for ingenuity. Using VR as a mental rehearsal tool is not one that is still widely known. Becoming the first to use it could result in great success. Those who don't innovate tend to fall behind. As we obsess about workplace performance, increasing it through this unique tactic could be the step in the right direction. Certain content that replicates well-known stressful situations has the potential to revolutionize the way we approach hard tasks.

Workplace Productivity Leads to Higher Revenue

Research Digest and Business Insider estimate that we lose $37 billion every year due to unproductive meetings, and in 1998, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) found that companies who invest in their employees see a "57% higher sales per employee and a 37% higher gross profit per employee". If we see that improving our employees leads us to gain sales, then why would we not want to explore the option of using virtual reality to improve their performance? For firms who truly value and rely on the strength and talent of their employees, this clever adoption of virtual reality will make a company's value of professionalism resonate well with clients.

Using virtual reality for mental rehearsal has the potential to go beyond just being an exciting idea. Who knows, perhaps someone reading this could use this thought and make the best visualization-training content that helps people to get ahead in their respective fields. It's no secret that VR is being used for improving techniques, biomechanics, and mental health conditions, but applying it to training the mental strength of a workforce is still a potential goldmine that remains untapped. If good ideas are hard to come by, this may be one worth checking out.

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