Jessica Vermeer
24 September 2020

Picture the last presentation you attended. What was it about? How did it make you feel? Were you inspired? If you’re a high-tech professional, the respective answers are probably – don’t know, bored and not in the least. Mark Robinson, senior software consultant at ASML through TMC, is out to change that.

Mark Robinson isn’t a natural presenter. “I was terrified of standing in front of a group. Hated it.” That was until he took a course called “Verbal mastery,” taught by Remco Claassen. “Remco was able to keep our attention from early in the morning until late in the evening for days in a row.” In that course, Mark learned all of Claassen’s techniques.

It was an eye-opener for Mark. “I spend the next ten years applying all these techniques to keep people’s attention and my presentations kept getting better,” he reminisces. In the meantime, he saw how his technical co-workers really struggled with speaking. “Not that they found it hard, just that the presentations were often so boring.”

Mark Robinson 01
Credit: Mark Robinson

Reading party

So why are most presentations so mind-numbingly boring? Mark hit his boiling point in 2013. He had just attended a talk by a very senior technical manager. The manager had stood in front of a packed room. His slides were full of text and he literally read the text from the slides to the people.

Mark was baffled. “These technical people are super smart. They don’t want people reading to them, they can read themselves. So what’s the added value of the presenter? Nothing.”

ASML special

As Mark walked past the company reception, an idea suddenly hit him. “I thought of a way to communicate the problem,” he says. He decided to take one of the best speeches of the 20th century and deliver it using the technical Powerpoint presentation format. “I could show how ridiculous it was: how you can completely destroy a message by presenting it in a bad way.”

Exactly fifty years to the day after Martin Luther King made his famous “I have a dream” speech, Mark delivered his version through Powerpoint at TMC. The evening was a success and he went on to give several similar talks, at his then customer, ASML, finally culminating in a presentation at TEDX Eindhoven in 2016.

After seeing the TEDX talk, people asked Mark to train them. “So I started giving workshops,” he explains. “First in the evenings and then as a full-day workshop. TMC completely supported this entrepreneurial behavior, even when I later did it under my own name: Mark Robinson Training.”

Mark Robinson 02
Credit: Mark Robinson

Stuck in a box

Those workshops were popular. “The average score went up from a 9/10 at the start to now 9.5/10,” boasts Mark. There was just one frequent criticism – where’s the handout? Can you recommend a book? And Mark couldn’t. “So I decided to write one.” He started writing in September 2019 and in June 2020, his book “Speak inspire empower – how to give persuasive presentations to boost your confidence and career” was published.

Mark: “I’ve already had many glowing reviews of my book. One person said it was like a TED talk in book form. Another said it was like getting a complete workshop, because of all the practical exercises I give the readers.”

It may seem strange, a software engineer publishing a book on presenting. But Mark dislikes such labeling. “People can very easily put a label on you. For example, I’m a software engineer. But that’s not my core. Don’t let yourself be stuck in someone else’s box: be who you’re meant to be. Don’t be limited by other people’s expectations.”

“If you can present well on any topic, you’ll be seen as the expert on that topic. That’s great for your self-confidence, which benefits every area of your life, both personally and professionally. My book will teach you not only to present well but also how to speak persuasively. So everyone should read it,” Mark laughs.

Mark Robinson book cover

Positive feedback

And self-confidence is key, especially in presenting. That’s the magic of his workshops, says Mark. “During my workshops, everyone gives only positive feedback. They find it hard to receive at first, but by the end, the atmosphere is amazing. The participants are floating off the ground.”

But how can we learn with just positive feedback? “It’s a powerful technique,” Mark reveals. “As you’re giving positive feedback, you teach yourself what’s great. Besides, 90 percent of giving a good speech is confidence. 9 percent is the techniques I teach and just 1 percent is the little details. So why focus on the 1 percent?”

Mark is hence convinced that anyone can learn what he learned. “If a shy, nerdy guy like me can go on to give a TEDX talk and write a book on this topic, you can learn how to present as well. And you should.”