Audrey Mann Cronin spoke to students and faculty at Warren Hall on Thursday.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Audrey Mann Cronin spoke to students and faculty at Warren Hall on Thursday.

March 14, 2019

Alumna-Created App Works to Improve Speech Quality of Students and Faculty

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Editor’s note: Audrey Mann Cronin is the mother of Amanda Cronin ’21, a news editor at The Cornell Daily Sun. Amanda Cronin was involved only in the creation of this piece on a fact-checking basis.

It’s your high school English teacher’s dogma: “cut the likes, replace the so’s and the um’s, speak slowly yet clearly — don’t stutter.” This so-called “word vomit” often doesn’t leave people’s vocabulary even past school, and Audrey Mann Cronin ’87 is determined to professionalize speech through her app, LikeSo.

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Image courtesy of Audrey Mann Cronin

The app includes a mode called “TalkAbout” with question prompts to help prepare for presentations, interviews etc.

There are two versions of the app. LikeSo: Your Personal Speech Coach, the consumer app, uses voice recognition to train speech —tracking the amount of filler words and pacing — and grades you on the quality of your speech. LikeSo Pro, the new professional version available via license, additionally integrates artificial intelligence. Mann Cronin said she believes the app is essential for anyone looking to enter a professional field.

Mann Cronin visited campus Thursday to train student leaders and to showcase her app, working with both the Dyson Student Leadership Development Program and the “Women of Warren” program for faculty members in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

Upon graduating from CALS as a communication major, Mann Cronin had her first professional position at Hewlett Packard after working in Broadway theater public relations, where she said she saw firsthand that articulation and enunciation are of critical importance.

“I [got] to hear this big cheese at HP present … and I was just so disappointed because I had studied communications and I thought that when you get into the workplace, you would see the best of the best … [he was] uninspiring, inarticulate and terrible,” she told The Sun.

While working her way up the corporate ladder, Mann Cronin was often the only woman in meetings and offices, and she realized how her speech was held to a different standard.

As Mann Cronin explained in an interview with The Sun, women often “say sorry when they don’t need to say they’re sorry” because “they feel they’re not worthy, or it’s just a way to bridge a conversation.”

She realized the extent of the problem when her son and daughter began to interject “like,” “just” and “I mean” into their speech.

“It hit me that the way my teenagers, and the way my colleagues and clients were speaking, was getting in the way of their success,” Mann Cronin said.

Mann Cronin created and launched the LikeSo app with a friend from Cornell, Phil Lam ’87, asking the question of “now that Siri understands us, why couldn’t there be an app that captures how we speak, the words that we used, and allowed us to practice?”

Her app launched at the number 4 position in the iOS App Store and costs $4.99. Mann Cronin has previously presented about her creation at her alma mater, bringing her new technology to campus last fall for the AEM 3340: Women, Leadership and Entrepreneurship seminar, taught by Prof. Deborah Streeter, applied economics and management.

Users of the app can choose from a selection of common filler words to train against.

Courtesy of Audrey Mann Cronin

Users of the app can choose from a selection of common filler words to train against.

The students assigned to use the app noted the usefulness of this technology and how it made them more aware of their own filler words.

Caitlin Stanton ’20 appreciated Mann Cronin’s insight towards “structuring our words more so we were speaking more [forwardly], which is something that women, on average, do not do as well.”

Vasudha Mathur ’19, who is also a staff photographer at The Sun, took note of Mann Cronin’s explanation of, “how women use like and vocal fry,” and how poor speech is “held against women more in professional settings.”

Vocal fry, according to Mann Cronin, is “a relatively new vocal pattern — that low, creaky sound, like frying an egg, that comes at the end of a sentence.”

Stanton did question why the app does not include software to detect vocal fry and other issues in pitch, as Mann Cronin specifically emphasized those speech elements as critical in part of the bias against women. Cronin said that updates “in the works as voice recognition technology continues to improve and evolve.”

Reception to the app has been positive with an average 4 out of 5 star rating on the Apple app store and a feature on CNBC.

Mann Cronin will return to campus on March 23 to present and workshop LikeSo with students for Cornell’s annual Women in Healthcare Leadership (WIHL) Symposium.

Mann Cronin believes that, “just like dressing for success, you want to speak for success,” and with LikeSo, the ability to personally curate your speech makes this a possibility for anyone –– or at least anyone with a spare five dollars to spend.