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Pauline van Antwerpen

Pauline van Antwerpen

1001 Faces
Languages : English, Dutch

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After studying as a classical and jazz singer, Pauline van Antwerpen took the stage as speaker. But not before working with KPN for three years as an operator, trainer and coach. This proved to be crucial, because it gave her first-hand experience of business. You will find Pauline in the category 'fake speeches', but that doesn't tell the whole story. It's better explained in this interview about her approach, which has received plaudits from government departments and multinationals alike for 15 years.

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After studying as a classical and jazz singer, Pauline van Antwerpen took the stage as speaker. But not before working with KPN for three years as an operator, trainer and coach. This proved to be crucial, because it gave her first-hand experience of business. You will find Pauline in the category 'fake speeches', but that doesn't tell the whole story. It's better explained in this interview about her approach, which has received plaudits from government departments and multinationals alike for 15 years.

Pauline, you call yourself a ‘hidden speaker’. Why?

Because it allows me to disguise myself as a biologist, historian, philosopher or other expert, and give the theme of a seminar an extra or unexpected twist, and make a thought-provoking contribution to a change process, a reorganisation or a conference; in fact, to any event that could do with a fresh angle or new perspective.

Wouldn't it be better for the organisation to invite a real expert?

I'm not trying to replace the expert. In fact, I don't usually play the part of an expert on the actual subject of the event, but rather from a different discipline. That way I can approach the theme obliquely so as to try to broaden and deepen the audience's minds.

Can you give an example?

Take my speech to the Innovation Lecture. Innovation is future-looking, but to illustrate it, I delved into the past. Taking on the role of a cultural historian, I discussed five Dutch historical figures, showing how they, too, had had to surmount obstacles on their way towards innovation. It proved to be not only informative for the listeners, but also encouraging and inspiring.

From management speak to colourful speech

What is your contribution as a 'real' expert?

Delft University of Technology hired me for a conference on 'Implementation of integral safety at universities'. The input they gave me was very abstract and formal. But the implementation was also going to affect lower ranks in the organisation, so I kept digging until I had an allround picture. I then morphed into an American security expert, who had supposedly completed the process successfully there, and gave examples that everyone recognised. This gave everyone an insight into how the policy works in practice. The organisation later called my interpretation 'an indispensable contribution to the conference'.

What's the main difference between you and an actual scientist?

Of course, I don't know anywhere near as much about a subject as a real scientist. But people have said about me: 'I loved the way that professor talked about her subject, I wish they all did.' Humour is a great way to make difficult subjects accessible. Powerpoint definitely helps: a good slide guarantees a good laugh, and using pictures improves information retention.

How can you know so much about so many subjects?

As a girl, I already asked my parents more than they could answer. My dad used to say: 'Look it up in the encyclopaedia!' Nowadays, I research topics on the Internet or read books about them. People often ask me: ‘Do you actually work for Canon/Shell/VWS/…?’,because I know so much about their organisation. But I guess I'm just curious by nature. Of course I have my hobby horses. Evolution, the way plants and animals change by working together and adapting to their environment, is something we can learn a lot from. It's a theme I often use in my speeches. For example at the conference 'How to feed our world?' organised by Wageningen University. The speakers, who were all experts in their field, each put forward part of the solution. But I was told that I, as an outsider, had joined up all the pieces of the puzzle with my story. I was thrilled to hear that, because at the end of the day I put all my knowledge in the service of the event. What is important for this target group? How can I make the message stick in people's minds? As far as that's concerned, I can draw on my experience as a performing artist.

Wouldn't you rather have had a career as a singer?

No, I wouldn't. Discovering and learning are more important to me in my life. But the creative impulse is always there, and I wouldn't have it any other way. As a hidden speaker I can be creative, and be a perpetual student.

Willem Beekman, biologist and fellow speaker

'You are some kind of wizard! I'm impressed with your creativity and intelligence.'

Prof. Lokke Moerel, Senior of Counsel with Morriston Foerster

'Pauline is truly original speaker who can address difficult subjects from an unexpected angle with humour and bravado, and helps people to see new perspectives. Great job!'

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Workplace Pride Foundation

David Pollard

“I unequivocally recommend Pauline van Antwerpen as a unique and talented artist and performer for any number of occasions. Pauline has the uncanny ability to put herself ‘in the shoes’ of her audience and bring out a poignant message that touches everyone who hears it.

As an example, Pauline recently performed for the Workplace Pride Foundation which is dedicated to increasing the visibility and emancipation of LGBT at work, during our 2012 Conference Closing Dinner and Awards Ceremony. At this event, Pauline expertly articulated the message that we as a foundation are trying to give by reversing the roles of straight people and homosexuals in society. Through her humor, uncanny talent for observing human behaviour and ability to make everyone feel comfortable, she very clearly helped all participants understand some of the challenges that LGBT people face in the workplace and in life.

I have seen Pauline perform for different audiences for a number of years now, in Flamish, Dutch and English and am confident that her own inner awareness and self confidence can be a unifying and motivating factor for any group that she would perform for. “

Albert Schweitzer Hospital

Rob Oostenbroek

"Pauline is highly focused on the kind of audience she will be addressing. In our preliminary interview, she immediately picked out the topics that are important for listeners. She very cleverly prepared and matched her speech to the specific audience.

During a conference on "Hygiene; hearing, seeing... and speaking up", she introduced the topic with a mixture of fun and scientific background facts that even specialists often aren't familiar with. She was critically contemplative about existing accepted situations and had some very funny thoughts about an ideal future. Her performance and dazzling Powerpoint presentation have had a very positive effect on our hospital, and are still being talked about. Remarkably, after her speech some audience members were still unsure if she was actually a professor from Portland or a (fake) guest speaker. I guess there's no higher praise for a guest speaker."

Leadership Studio

Mientje Fluyt

"Pauline’s show "Changes are Chances" was very successful; the audience was fascinated and really engaged. It was an inspiring story, and it definitely changed people's views about what change means, and that you can turn change into an opportunity. Pauline is a professional, and great to work with. She is invested in the subject and very competently incorporated the education in her speech. So I was confident it would be fine. And it was: Pauline's speech opened the group up and got it ready to get going."


Jan Kuperus

"Pauline took the audience on a journey with her story. She held an enchanting mirror up to us from the animal kingdom, full of astounding turns and facts, and neatly connected it back to our work and our world. She had us in stitches, but we also realised the serious point in her story: that we still have a lot to learn about sustainability and collaboration - and that the ball is in our court."

Delft University of Technology

Ron Massink

"We approached Pauline because there was a need to get the guests at our Integral Safety in Higher Education seminar thinking about Integral Safety. We wanted our pretty complex subject to be introduced in a light-hearted and ideally amusing way - I guess we wanted the impossible. We have got to know Pauline as a professional artist who isn't satisfied until all aspects of her performance are seamlessly tuned to the needs of the subject. She meticulously researches the subject and comes up with different creative perspectives which she then moulds into what in our case was a razor-sharp parody that the audience loved, but also contained lots of surprising leaps that got them thinking about the subject Integral Safety. Pauline strikes a perfect balance between content and entertainment. We consider her performance to our conference as invaluable; she played a major part in making the day a success."

Royal Haskoning

Beverley Walker

"Pauline was very convincing as a French evolutionary biologist - her slightly "hippy" outfit and long hair, and serious professional dark glasses, were perfectly suited to the style of those academics in this field and went a long way to convince me of her authenticity. Her accent was realistic, and her "relationship" to her famous relative Albert Schweitzer gave her instant credibility. She appeared to speak with authority on her subject, and it was perfectly pitched for a general/intelligent audience as a post-conference presentation. The way in which it was aligned to the themes of the conference indicate that there was a lot of research and that it was very well prepared. The presentation was very well done and I was admiring of the sense of humour and its relevance... even without realising it was a fake!! The final revelation was an immensely enjoyable surprise and in fact many of my colleagues were aghast that it was a staged performance!"