Eva Pantelakis Photo by Reyer Boxem

The woman with the teapot

Eva Pantelakis helps you get grants

Eva Pantelakis Photo by Reyer Boxem
Are you applying for a Veni, Vidi, Vici or ERC grant? Eva Pantelakis will help you wow the selection committee. ‘Relinquishing just a bit of control can lead to beautiful things.’
3 April om 16:59 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 3 April 2023
om 16:59 uur.
April 3 at 16:59 PM.
Last modified on April 3, 2023
at 16:59 PM.
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Door Christien Boomsma

3 April om 16:59 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 3 April 2023
om 16:59 uur.
Avatar photo

By Christien Boomsma

April 3 at 16:59 PM.
Last modified on April 3, 2023
at 16:59 PM.
Avatar photo

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur Volledig bio »
Background coordinator and science editor Full bio »

Eva Pantelakis carries a teapot in her purse. 

It’s a gold teapot, with an elegant spout and a round belly. She takes it out and rubs it, not unlike Aladdin would rub his magic lamp. ‘It suits me’, she explains. ‘I like fairy tales. As a kid, I would listen to fairy tales on tape. I would just lose myself completely in them.’

But the teapot – or Aladdin’s magic lamp – also represents goals. Her goals, in particular: she wants to truly reach people, and teach them how they can reach others in turn. By relaxing, for example, and by not just acting like an expert trying to convince people but allowing yourself to be vulnerable.  

All of this will hopefully result in someone getting the grant they’ve always wanted. Maybe a Veni. A Vidi. Or maybe even an ERC Grant.

Ten presentations 

Pantelakis is a presentation trainer for the UG. For eight years, she has been training academics in public speaking. Their audience might be a full lecture hall, or, just as important, the small group of scientists researchers have to convince of the importance of their research proposal now that they’ve made it through the first round.

‘But those people see more than ten presentations a day’, says Pantelakis. ‘So it’s important to grab their attention from the very first sentence.’

It’s important to grab their attention from the very first sentence

That’s easier said than done. Researchers are just that: researchers. They haven’t been trained in public speaking or presentations. But both these things are essential if they want to procure research funds. 

Enter Eva Pantelakis. She’s an actress, singer, honorary chairperson, and trainer. The university has been hiring her for years to help researchers seduce those pesky committees. It works, too. She’s stopped counting, but at a certain point, she and her colleagues were involved in dozens of successful grant applications. 


So what’s her secret? It simply involves learning a few techniques. How to connect to your audience, for example, and the mistakes you can make. Where to put your hands, and where to avoid putting them. How to ensure that you don’t talk too fast. But most of her coaching focuses on encouraging people to be open and vulnerable. ‘Relinquishing just a little bit of control can lead to beautiful things’, she says.

Pantelakis knows all about that. Once upon a time, she was a shy, insecure, and sensitive girl who had trouble making connections. She was bullied in primary school, and things didn’t improve when she went to secondary school. Her only solace were the fairy tales on tape. ‘I wanted to make a connection, but I didn’t know how. I ended up quite withdrawn, but that wasn’t truly what I wanted.’

Her situation changed when she started attending a Belgian boarding school. ‘There were nuns and students in pleated skirts!’ She felt much safer in this environment, and she blossomed. Then, on impulse, she signed up for an ‘eloquence tournament’ organised by the Lion’s Club. 

A friend of hers had written a text that she was going to recite. So far so good. But she also improvised, using a cue card with a few key phrases on it. ‘It was terrifying, but I walked right into the lions’ den’, she recalls. ‘The room was electric. I felt everything in my entire body switch on. Everybody was looking at me, but I couldn’t see them because of the lights in my face. It was so exciting. Magical. When it was all over, there was this great sense of catharsis.’

Eva Pantelakis during a presentation training


She was hooked, especially when it turned out she’d won. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that her performance hadn’t been perfect: ‘I realised it had been good enough.’ 

She wanted to hold on to that feeling and pass it on. 

‘I want to encourage people’, she says. ‘I want them to be able to speak up about things that are important to them. Whether it’s at home with their families, with their friends, or at work.’

If they feel something doesn’t work, I tell them to change it

How people feel about public speaking has everything to do with how much they feel like they’re being heard on a daily basis. ‘If people at home are always talking over you, if no one ever listens, or if people question everything you say, that can really have an impact’, says Pantelakis. ‘It makes people feel things, like they’re not smart enough, not thin enough, not pretty enough.’

She helps people speak in public ‘with gusto and joy’, helps them discover a playful side to themselves, and this often affects their home life, too. ‘For a lot of people, that’s how they learn to change’, she says. ‘It certainly was for me.’


What’s essential is a relaxed, safe environment. Nobody has to do anything they don’t want to. She never pushes; that only causes more tension. ‘If they feel something doesn’t work, I tell them to change it!’

Researchers can have a difficult time advertising themselves as the only person that can do their particular type of research. Pantelakis teaches them how to do this without banging on their chest like a gorilla. 

Bringing an object to a presentation creates a bit of tension, some mystery

‘I’ll tell them they can turn the phrasing around: this particular research needs someone who… And then they’ll name a few qualities or characteristics, and what do you know, it turns out they’re talking about themselves. Although the whole thing is a bit more nuanced than that, of course.’

When someone tends to talk too fast, which is a surefire way of losing your audience’s attention, she’ll sometimes ask them to wiggle their toes and breathe deeply. ‘Then I’ll ask them to tell me why their research is so cool. Because they’re now in touch with their body, they’ll speak much more calmly.’

She never asks people to talk more slowly, because while they do, they also lose all passion and enthusiasm in their speech. ‘But that’s exactly what makes them so interesting.’


She occasionally tells people to bring an object to their presentation. Something like a gold teapot maybe, just to get the conversation going.

One researcher won a presentation competition with her research on kidney damage caused by salt. On Pantelakis’ advice, she took a kilogram of salt and put it on the jury’s table at the start of her presentation, without saying anything. But the dangers of salt became evident during her presentation. ‘That creates a bit of tension, some mystery. People want to know what’s up with the salt.’

But the most important part is that people are comfortable with the presentation they’re giving. Sometimes, someone is dead set on starting their presentation with: ‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain my proposal. My name is…’ Pantelakis doesn’t think this is the best start. Selection committees see so many people. After they’ve heard the same opening speech fifteen times, they stop paying attention. It might be better to start with something more attention grabbing, like an anecdote. Something that will make them sit up in their chairs. ‘But if they don’t want that, if they feel safer starting like that, they should go for it.’

She has quite a few repeat customers. And who knows, perhaps after two presentations, they’ll feel more comfortable trying a different format. ‘Then we’ll come up with a nice anecdote.’

Eva’s Tips

  1. What should I do with my hands?

Don’t just let them hang in front of your body. Especially with women, this makes it look like you’re grateful you get to speak at all. Keep them in the ‘professional’ area, approximately the height of your stomach. Rub your hands before you start your presentation, as this activates them and creates a positive mindset.

  1. How do I best connect to people?

Pick a person in the middle of the audience that makes you feel at ease. A friendly face. Smile. Say your entire first sentence to that person, all the way to the period at the end. This makes for a strong opener and makes you connect with the audience.

  1. How can I conquer my nerves?

Phase 1: Close your mouth. Slowly breathe in through your nose. Hold your breath for a little bit and then slowly breathe out through your mouth. Feel when you want to breathe in again and take your time preparing for the next cycle. Allow yourself to be ‘lazy’ in this exercise. Trust the power of repetition. 

Phase 2: when you breathe out, slightly wiggle your toes so no one can see it. This makes you feel more connected to your body, quiets your mind, and increases your focus.