Unprecedented: a new spin-off launched at HEC Lausanne makes it possible to improve interpersonal skills using virtual reality
Recently launched at HEC Lausanne, University of Lausanne, VRIST (Virtual Reality Interpersonal Skills Training) is a spin-off that offers avant-guard services making use of immersive virtual reality. Thanks to this cutting-edge technology, participants may improve their interpersonal skills in situations that can be experienced as stressful, such as job interviews and public speaking. These unprecedented VRIST services are already being used by a recruitment agency and in-house at the Career Center of HEC Lausanne. A portrait of an innovative spin-off with a promising future.
In the workplace, we are often confronted with stressful situations such as public speaking or job interviews. Making a good impression through both the content of our speech and our non-verbal communication (body posture, body language and tone of voice) is essential for success. That is why training is the key to becoming more charismatic and persuasive and to feeling more at ease in this type of situation. VRIST meets these needs with tools that make it possible to practice and improve interpersonal skills.
The spin-off is the result of various developments made in the virtual reality field by Professor Marianne Schmid Mast in over 15 years. Recently listed among the Top 50 most influential psychologists in the world, the Professor is the CEO of VRIST, and she works with a team composed of her former doctoral student, the researcher Dr. Manuel Bachmann, and the computer engineer Stéphane Billeter.
We met with the Professor, who offered us a detailed explanation of how virtual reality is concretely used in the spin-off’s activities.
- How is virtual reality (technically) used in the simulation of job interviews and other interpersonal skills training?
Virtual reality makes it possible to speak with a virtual recruiter who asks job interview questions. The person being interviewed may choose between a male or female interviewer, between a friendly or unfriendly recruiter, and among various levels of difficulty. The virtual recruiter maintains eye contact with the user and speaks with a human voice. The user chooses which questions will be asked, and any question may be asked as many times as the participant wishes in order to perfect his or her skills. The users’ answers are recorded and may be reviewed by the user or the coach. Another product that we launched was a public speaking training in virtual reality. The user is faced with a virtual audience and we can increase the stress levels during training in order to help the user master the stress associated with presenting in front of an audience and train verbal and nonverbal aspects of a presentation.
- How does VRIST work as part of the Career Center’s services to help students in their efforts to find employment, and what are the concrete results?
The job interview training software is a complement to the services that the Career Center offers to students and young graduates, with the precise objective of helping them prepare for interviews. Typically, role-playing offers this possibility, and the software makes it possible to delegate part of the simulation process to the computer, making it possible to work more efficiently with students on their “problem” areas.
- Tell us about the creation and launch of VRIST
Since I arrived at HEC Lausanne, we have been working on virtual reality training software, based on my thorough experience in the use of this technology for research of social interactions. I noticed that the use of virtual reality was not at all established in the fields of human resources or continued professional education. I saw that the products that we had developed could potentially be useful in a concrete way in the professional sphere. It was easy to form the team, since the two people who accompanied me in the virtual reality research are just as fascinated as I am by the possibilities of this technology, and they have become my associates. The company was founded with the support of the PACTT at the University of Lausanne, which guided us through the process. The fact that the technology transfer office became involved in the VRIST activities from the start is very encouraging for us*.
- To you, is the launch of this spin-off a result in itself, or rather the
beginning of a larger research project, since the experiments will certainly lead to other avenues of consideration?
Indeed, sources of inspiration run both ways between research and practice. I have ideas for using virtual reality in soft skills training, which we will test in the laboratory (the research aspect) and that we could potentially imagine integrating into the VRIST services (the practical application). We also developed and implemented training elements in VRIST which have given rise to research questions that we will be investigating in the future. So this is neither a result in itself, nor a simple beginning: it is a continuous exchange between practical application and research.
* The University of Lausanne developed the "Virtual Reality Job Interview Training" and "Virtual Reality Public Speaking Training" software, and is the bearer of all author’s rights and all other rights pertaining to the intellectual property concerning the softwares and its related documentation and knowhow.
par Myriam Bango-Lepage (Faculté des HEC)