Deborah Abrahams

Coaching and consultancy for talks, pitches and presentations

I help speakers shape their ideas into powerful words and deliver them so they make the impact they deserve. Because people who give good presentations know they can be even better.

projects

Read about a range of my assignments over the past couple of years, from company-wide workshops to individual coaching. For more projects, and an impression of how much my work has meant to speakers and organisers, see also the recommendations in testimonials.


Building live skills with a Syrian YouTuber

Mahmoud Bitar is a refugee from Alleppo and a YouTube star. Using comedy to tackle stereotypes about refugees, he built up a massive Arabic following with vlogs charting his voyage from Turkey to Greece, and ultimately to asylum in Sweden. Mahmoud's breakthrough in English came when his video for the BBC on the myths of refugee life in Sweden went viral.

Mahmoud is in his element on YouTube and social media, but what about communicating his message in the offline world? At RNW Media I was commissioned to give him a one-to-one workshop on transferring his comedy and ideas from video to live presentation and performance. We had a great time together, building his skills with work on stagecraft, voice, movement and storytelling. 


Performing in The Square by Nicole Beutler

In 2016 I had a busy schedule coaching speakers and giving workshops, but at the same time I was back on stage with a central role in The Square, a performance by the eminent choreographer Nicole Beutler. It has been more than ten years since I shifted my focus away from the performing arts, but when the invitation came from Nicole, I was thrilled to take up the challenge.

My role encompassed full-on speeches to the audience, intimate storytelling, and quirky solo dance. In a tightly choreographed ensemble piece exploring the concept of the square as a metaphor for restriction, my task was to provide a radical counterpoint as the outsider.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking on such an intensive performing role again, touring the Netherlands’ major 700-seat theatres. What’s more, the value to my speakers’ coaching has been beyond my expectations – not least because it has reminded me what it feels like to look out at a sea of faces, stay true to yourself and give your all.


Pitching for high potentials and influentials

For the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (Rijkstdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland, RVO) I gave a workshop on pitching for participants on the Dutch Visitors’ Programme. On behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the programme bring groups of ‘influentials’, ‘high potentials’ or journalists from focus countries to the Netherlands. The aim is for them to exchange knowledge, build networks and explore opportunities for cooperation with the Dutch. The topic of this visit was food security and agriculture

The purpose of the workshop was to strengthen the participants’ pitches during their meetings in the Netherlands. They were a diverse and fascinating group of experts from government agencies, NGOs and the private sector in eight different countries. To maximise on the available time face-to-face, I held an individual skype session with each participant prior to the workshop. Then on the day I worked with them on their prepared pitches, providing feedback and targeted exercises. 

Pitching for change

RNW Media commissioned me to train its entire staff in pitching. Previously the Dutch international broadcaster Radio Netherlands Worldwide (de Wereldomroep), RNW Media is now a dynamic, young organisation focused on using media for social change in restrictive societies. It's now important for everyone in the organisation to feel confident in pitching their ideas to potential partners or funders.

For each department I gave a tailor-made workshop, followed up by coaching sessions. The programme culminated in a pitching event, during which each department presented a project to the rest of the organisation.

I’ve worked with members of the international and dedicated creative team at RNW Media before, so it was a pleasure to have an opportunity to work with everyone in the organisation. I was impressed by their creativity and flare, and thrilled by the positive responses. 

Read recommendations from RNW Media participants and training coordinators in Testimonials.


Presenting the global fight against TB

KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation is the prime partner for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Together they’re delivering a programme with a five-year budget of more than half a billion dollars, fighting TB across the globe. Not surprisingly, KNCV is keen to make sure its experts have first-rate presentation skills to communicate with worldwide audiences, from funders to specialists. The foundation commissioned me to devise and run workshops for its country directors.

I kicked off the workshops with key practical guidelines and exercises on creating a great presentation for a specific audience. The participants then gave prepared mini-presentations, while I provided on-the-spot coaching, punctuated by customised exercises.


Powerfull Pitches for pioneering technology

Rabobank commissioned me to coach three speakers pitching at the Agri meets Chemicals conference 2015, organised jointly with Deloitte. The conference is about using biobased materials as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels in the chemical industry. Three start-up companies were to present their cutting edge-techniques, and Rabobank saw the value of investing in the strength the pitches. My brief: make sure the speakers sparkle.

Both on Skype and face to face, I worked with the three speakers to maximise the impact of their pitches. Dirk den Ouden of Photanol explained how his company uses bacteria to turn CO2 and sunlight into biofuels or bioplastics. Niels Schenk of BioBTX talked about making the chemicals building blocks of plastics or man-made fibres from non-food biomass like wood. And Toine Janssen explained how his company Isobionics uses a biotechnology process to replace scarce resources used in flavourings and fragrances.

Making this kind of technical content sparkle can be a tall order. But the topics were fascinating, and on the day the pitches all went with a swing. What’s more, it was satisfying to hear how my client could see the benefit of the coaching.

Read a recommendation from Niels Schenk of BioBTX in Testimonials.


Hague Talks aims to be “a meeting place for creative minds, peace inventors and game changers in the field of peace and justice”, and Humanity House makes an ideal venue. Earlier this year I worked on the first two Hague Talks events to be held there, coaching and coordinating the speakers and presenters.

For the first event, on human rights violations and international justice, I coached international lawyer Michael Liu for a second time. It was a pleasure to work with Michael again, and his talk was outstanding.

I then coordinated the speakers for the interactive debate Women, Powerful Agents for Peace and Security. It was inspiring to work with the two speakers, Hasina Safi, Executive Director of the Afghan Women’s Network, and Hibaaq Osman from Somalia, founder and CEO at El Karama.

Nobel prize winners

Women, Peace and Security at the Hague University of Applied Sciences was an uplifting event featuring dynamic speakers with global influence. They included Nobel peace prize laureate Jody Williams, Deputy Director General of the OPCW Grace Asirwatham (whose organisation also won a Nobel peace prize), NATO special representative Mariet Schuurman, and Secretary General of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Madeleine Rees.

It’s great to see Hague Talks going from strength to strength, packing the auditorium with a lively and engaged young audience.


Stories with confidence and passion

  Photo:  rnw.org

Photo: rnw.org

For RNTC, RNW Media’s training centre, I gave a workshop for an international group of LGBTI activists in the run up to the Amsterdam Gay Pride event. They’d been invited by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of its 'Influentials' Programme, organised by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

It was great to work with these vibrant, determined young people who have such a crucial message to communicate. Read more about the workshop and the participants’ responses in an article at rnw.org: Telling LGBTI stories with passion and pride.


Hague Talks – Young Justice: Kids in Conflict

HagueTalks - Frenkie.jpg

I coached seven speakers for this Hague Talks event on children’s rights held at the Peace Palace in The Hague. It was inspiring to work with the imaginative choice of speakers, approaching the topic from such diverse angles.

There were epic personal stories, impassioned pleas to see the people behind the figures, and sound arguments for the power of data.We looked at justice through the lens of art, heard rapping against Balkan radicalisation, and learnt how capoeira heals damaged kids in Syrian refugee camps.

My challenge was to shape this diversity into a coherent whole that fulfilled the creative vision of the organisers – this was not to be a series of stuffy law lectures. Sure enough, you can see from the livestream video just how successfully the event engaged its bright young audience. Although they were evidently stirred more by world affairs than by hip hop! 

And you can tell from the testimonials what a great rapport I built with the speakers.


#standbyme: LGBT rights activists for Gay Pride

http://standbyme.rnw.org/#/post/248521

I coached and directed eight international LGBT rights activists, brought together by RNW for Amsterdam Gay Pride 2014 – see standbyme.rnw.org. They gave talks on their achievements and visions at an event titled the Celebrate Freedom Summit.  

These courageous young people come from some of the hardest parts of the world to be gay, lesbian or bisexual. They included Clare Byarugaba from Uganda, who spearheads a campaign against her country’s infamous Anti-Homosexuality Act; Geng Le, who created China’s biggest gay website; and Ramy Youssef, who launched an online protest against brutal homophobia in Egypt.

This was a challenging assignment for me. Most of the speakers had never spoken for an audience before, let alone in English. Over a three month period, I coached them via Skype, shaping the content and advising on the visuals. The preparations culminated in an intensive three days of live rehearsals.

It was a joy to work with such dedicated and passionate people. And I was thrilled with the result: probably the most powerful speakers’ event I’ve worked on. All of the talks were spellbinding. For a flavour of the event, watch Daniel Arzola on the power of ‘artivism’,  or Melissa Muthoni on refusing to be categorised.


TEDxHagueAcademy on Secure Societies

I coached the four speakers for this TEDx event in The Hague in the run-up to the Nuclear Security Summit 2014. They were a high-powered foursome.

Kenneth Luongo is chairman of the International Fissile Materials Working Group and former senior adviser to the US Energy Secretary. Vera Winthagen heads the Designing Out Crime programme at Eindhoven University of Technology. Andro Vos is a programme director at the Netherlands Forensic Institute. And Kianoush Ramezani is an exiled Iranian political cartoonist, winner of the First International Editorial Cartoon Prize awarded by Kofi Annan and the city of Geneva in 2012.

We were wrestling with heavyweight issues ranging from design thinking in crime prevention to the challenges of nuclear security in the 21st century. Nevertheless, as I think you can tell from this behind-the-scenes video, we built up a great rapport and had a lot of fun!


Michelle Chakkalackal at TEDxAUCollege

For this TEDx event in Amsterdam I coached Michelle for her talk ‘Putting pleasure on the sex ed agenda’. She’s a co-founder of the Love Matters web platform at RNW, and she's passionate about the need to provide positive information on love and sex in regions where access is restricted for legal or cultural reasons. 

Michelle is great to work with because she’s so driven, and prepared to go the extra mile to get things just right. We worked hard together on the content and dynamics – I really wanted her personality to shine. She also put in the hours of practice you need to give a great talk, and it paid off in the final result. Despite her nerves, Michelle stayed relaxed and focused, and she has a great message. I also love the visuals by Li Chiao.


TEDxHagueAcademy on Peace and Justice

I coached the nine speakers for TEDxHagueAcademy, held at the Peace Palace in The Hague on 9 September 2013. The event was organised by Radio Netherlands Worldwide, with partners including the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Hague Academic Coalition.

I love working with speakers who have something important to say. It was a privilege to work with this intriguing and eminent group of people

In my element

Not only did the speakers come from completely different cultural backgrounds but they also had widely varying needs. This was a challenge, but one I thoroughly relished. Organising the tight rehearsal schedule, juggling time zones and logistics, was a feat in itself, but again one that had me in my element.

With some of the speakers I worked closely through draft after draft to develop the content and structure. Some needed help framing their ideas in English. Others just needed a sounding board in the run up to the event and some fine-tuning in rehearsal.

On the day TEDxHagueAcademy was a thorough success and the speakers made me proud. You can read their side of the experience on my testimonials page.


Ikenna Azuike and What's Up Africa

What’s Up Africa is a satirical YouTube show dealing with African issues in the news, produced by Radio Netherlands Worldwide. The show’s creator Ikenna Azuike has developed a zany onscreen persona and a range of comic characters that are a hit with the show’s target audience of young English-speaking Africans. 

I worked with Ikenna to help him lift the show to new heights – not least in successfully pitching pilots to BBC World. What’s Up Africa is already a well-established brand, so the challenge for me was to help Ikenna sharpen his performance while working within the format.

Back on more familiar territory, I also coached Ikenna for two excellent TED talks: at TEDxYouth@Delft for TEDx Youth Day, and at TEDxEuston on inspiring ideas about Africa – Ikenna brought the house down.


ArtEZ 

ArtEZ Institute of the Arts.jpg

This is the second performance workshop I’ve given to Fine Art undergraduates at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts. They were working on performative art, and my brief was to get them to jump in, leave their canvas and digital world behind and explore physical expression. It’s always great to work with these young, inspired and open people, encouraging them to dare to leave their creative comfort zone.  

photo © Annaleen Louwes │website Michael Blass / Squarespace