Sophie Thompson: “WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WEREN’T AFRAID?”

Women in Tech

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Sophie Thompson is the co-founder of VirtualSpeech and has recently been awarded as The Most Inspirational Woman in Tech by Venus Awards 2019 for successfully creating an immersive platform for developing communication techniques and public speaking skills, both of which are crucial elements in personal as well as professional growth of an individual today. She has also been celebrated as a finalist at several other renowned honors namely Rising Star of the Year, EdTech Founder of the Year, Innovation Entrepreneur of the Year, Rising Star Award and Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

"The biggest attributes an entrepreneur needs are determination and belief - both of which should be strong enough to endure the inevitable tough times."

In the Beginning

Sophie started London based VirtualSpeech with her co-founder Dominic Barnard in 2015 while she was still pursuing her M.Sc of business studies at Warwick Business School, England. Dominic and Sophie created it for fun and didn’t really plan for it to become a business product until they quickly realized its commercial potential and demand. It was in fact originally developed as a VR application to help Sophie conquer her fear of public speaking. 

What is VirtualSpeech? Using VR, VirtualSpeech provides a realistic way to practice soft skills and build one’s confidence in their technique, including the assistance of real-time speech analysis using AI. Combining VR and AI provides a unique, objective and systematic method for data capturing and measuring ROI. 

How does it work? VirtualSpeech helps its users to practice traditional learning methods of public speaking in virtual reality. It provides various pragmatic virtual scenarios such as conference halls, board rooms, press conferences, job interviews, sales pitch, classroom, BBC studio, networking events, etc. to help one polish their declamatory techniques and oratorical skills. It makes one’s communication skills more effective in a way that sharpens the critical thinking by helping them address all the elements of public speaking – essentially the kind of audience, their powerpoint uploaded directly into the app, the way content is being delivered and how it’s affecting the listeners and their engagement. It also provides an analysis of one’s vocal pace, volume, audience engagement through eye contact, number of filler words used among the total number of words, and time taken to deliver at the end of each practice session, which further encourages users to improve their quality and delivery of content.

The outcome? Within 18 months of creating VirtualSpeech, Sophie went from hesitating to order her own food at a restaurant to being interviewed live on BBC World News.  Her Silicon Valley dream finally came true when VirtualSpeech app won a spot on Silicon Valley start-up accelerator, Boost VC, in 2017 that led to the incoming of funds and various new ventures for the duo. They had over 130,000 downloads of their VR app within a year and were featured in New York Times, Forbes and others.

Sophie Thompson, Co-founder, VirtualSpeech

Determination and Belief

However, as a young advancing female entrepreneur, Sophie recalls having encountered several challenges such as non-inclusive workplaces or being put in double binds as a leader. But she never let it prick her skin and affect her strong work ethics.

“As a female entrepreneur in her 20s, you do need to develop a thick skin and realize it’s not personal. The best way to tackle this is to show them that you know your business, industry, and technology – show up with confidence and don’t let anyone dim that or take that away from you. It’s always fun proving people wrong,” says Sophie.

As a leader, she believes that “The biggest attributes an entrepreneur needs are determination and belief – both of which should be strong enough to endure the inevitable tough times. Entrepreneurs need to be visionary with their ideas but at the same time, realistic about how they’re going to get there, and have bucket-loads of motivation to match. That energy is infectious across a team and helps everyone working together to reach a common goal.”

Along with unputdownable confidence in self, Sophie believes it is really important to have a strong support network. She feels overwhelmed to be born under a lucky star to have such a supportive family and friends who inspired and encouraged her through all the challenges that she faced and never stopped believing in her vision.

Say, Yes!

Today as more and more women are starting their own company, she thinks the greatest thing about being a female entrepreneur in 2019 is the fact that women now are much more aware of what they want and are not afraid to get it. “We are at a cusp of a shift in gender imbalances in leadership and it’s exciting and inspiring to be a part of that,” says Sophie. “And also to encourage other women in their leadership journeys. This is just the start of a much bigger community of females in leadership positions.”

According to her the best career advice for anyone, both in personal and professional life is – ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’  She concludes by saying, “So many people don’t get what they want or where they want to be because they are scared of something – scared to speak up, to take a risk, scared of the unknown. I believe fear and a lack of confidence in yourself are the biggest roadblocks and they’re put up by you and so can be taken down by you too. Imagine yourself living your dream life and have the courage to say yes to any opportunities that can help get you there.” 

During these times of change, Sophie Thompson has not only inspired the whole generation of women behind her aspiring to be in leadership positions but has also through the means of VirtualSpeech created an opportunity for every individual to outgrow their fear of public speaking, improve their communication more generally, and build themselves into successful business professionals.

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