Get It Together North West Sutherland: Fem Bot

Today’s challenge to overcome has been my muteness, resulting from cartoon laryngitis which has left me completely unable to speak, and communicating only with bells, hand-clapping and wild gestures. To add to the everyday challenge of being rendered mute, was the issue of how the heck I was going to deliver a pitch for the North Alliance conference – for the Dragon’s Den element where we have to ‘sell’ a training day to the masses with the possibility of winning not only peer kudos, but actual cold, hard cash. I initially thought I’d be able to work out a way of getting text to speech software to work alongside Powerpoint but that was driving me roodelally and taking up far too much of my time, in a trapped in the third circle of tech hell kind of way. So I switched to an ipad solution, and BAM.

Within two seconds I found an option. The app of choice was a freebie called Natural Reader.1 I downloaded it, and found it pretty intuitive, so was able to put my whole speech together in an hour or so. I chose a female, English accent- which doesn’t sound in the least like me, with my weird Scottish, can’t quite place you accent. She was buffering at the end of every sentence, my new fembot persona, but I thought that was just how she rolled.

The app allows you to change speeds, but the pregnant pauses at the end of each sentence meant I didn’t really feel the need. I went to bed, nervous, voiceless, but a wee bit excited that I had learned something new. Anyway, the next day was the conference, and I was more nervous than I usually am at these things: relying entirely on tech can be daunting, especially when you’ve barely had time to trial it. The tech support at the venue were intrigued, but also a wee bit worried, especially as it was a kind of all or nothing scenario, as I was still mute.

Shona, my wonderful NW Sutherland colleague, suggested both mime and expressive dance as a fallback, but neither appealed. The time came for me to take to the stage. The audience looked bemused. Shona looked worried.

And then fembot kicked in. It turned out that the buffering in the B & B the night before was a result of poor broadband speed and so she fair cracked on at some speed. I could have slowed her down a peg or two, but was a wee bit worried that she would lose connection altogether, and I was operating a PowerPoint at the same time.

The audience didn’t boo, though looked stunned throughout. The long and short of it is that I didn’t win the pitch- I lost to the most wonderful youth project in Shetland- and so I didn’t feel bad a bit. Called the Open Project-2 check them out! The whole situation forced me to think, yet again, about the life changing impact technology can have- I’m only temporarily without a voice, but have realised the total disempowerment resulting from this condition. Folk in the garage looked at me strangely as I paid for fuel, the kids ignored me completely unless I rang a massive bell…

The Internet helped me to have a voice, and communicate with an audience.

It’s made me realise again how vital our charity is- how digital skills can empower folk facing personal hurdles, if only they have the knowledge to access the online tools.

References

  1. ^ Natural Reader. (www.google.co.uk)
  2. ^ Open Project- (www.facebook.com)

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