Kraków 2014. Last District Conference of Europe as a whole –the Gala Dinner. My friend and the best German friend of all Polish Toastmasters comes to me and says:
– Piotr, I want to do something crazy.
– Yeees? Like what?
– I want to give a speech in Polish.
I can clearly see he already had some booze, so I say:
– Great! Write the speech, I will translate it and record it for you, so that you can learn how to pronounce it all, you will learn it by heart and there you go!
He looks back at me, I see a little hesitation. Everyone knows that you will rather break your tongue than say a few words in Polish.
– Let me think about it. I will decide tomorrow.
– Klaus, if you give a speech in Polish, I will give a speech in German…
Here, you need to know one thing about me: I don’t speak German. At all. Nada. Null. Zero. Nothing.
Next day Klaus comes up and says:
Two months later, Klaus is standing in the center of a big stage at the TLI in Poznań. Four hundred people in the room. Huge welcoming applause. Klaus waits for the cheer to fade until it’s totally silent.
– Hello, my name is Klaus Roth and I will speak to you in Polish.
Applause and awe from the audience. And then he actually delivers a speech in Polish. He ends with the words:
– Do you want to know why I decided to do this? It’s a matter of respect.
Standing ovation. Standing, never ending ovation. Even World Champions in public speaking don’t get anything close to this. Klaus is floating ten centimeters over the stage. When he finally gets off, he immediately spots me in the crowd and approaches me.
– Now, your turn!
– Challenge accepted!
But you know how it is, when all the time you have something more important to do. Months pass and my speech does not exist. Especially, that I’m busy with my Division Director role. It’s my second year in the district leadership team and I enjoy it a lot. And I actually plan to take the next step and apply for the role of Club Growth Director. But it turns out that to apply for it, the candidate must have completed a term as a Club President. And I haven’t done it. But if life throws me lemons, I make lemonade. I take a break in the District service and when Klaus calls me and asks me for my German speech I say:
– Will you be in Prague?
A long moment of silence, but it finally dawns on him.
– You want to compete in German?
– You are crazy!
– No more than you are, my friend!
So I write my speech, Klaus translates it and records the audio so that I can learn the pronunciation. The contest period starts. My club sends me on to the next level without even asking. At the Area and Division level, I actually have to deliver the speech. So I get on the contest stage and… I read the speech from paper. And surprise, surprise, I win! I’m pretty sure the fact that I was the only contestant helped a little bit. But for the District, I spend over one hundred hours mastering the speech. Ultimately, you can wake me up in the middle of the night, say a word from my speech and I will tell you the rest of the speech without any hesitation. Believe it or not, after two and a half years, I still remember the whole speech.
And then the day comes. I go on the stage in Prague. Contestant number three. Out of eight. The speech is about why I don’t speak German. The crowd laughs, cheers and applauds. I’m floating 10 centimeters over the stage. During the break, everyone starts speaking German with me. And I keep answering politely:
– Ich spreche überhaupt kein Deutsch!
And at the Gala Dinner they say:
– Third place in German humorous speech contest goes to… Piotr Chimko.
I get on the stage, get my prize, the 15-kilogram vase made of Czech glass. And I totally can’t believe it.
This journey took me from what this deal was supposed to be – pure fun – to my biggest speaking success in Toastmasters. And I learned three things from this story.
First: I learned what excellence means. When you do not have any room for improvisation, it has to be perfect. And perfect things, cost a lot. In this case it cost me a lot, and I mean it – a lot of time and effort.
Second: it’s not true that when you learn your speech by heart, you look unnatural. It’s actually quite opposite. When you don’t have to think what you have to say, you can totally focus on how to say it, on the delivery: stage control, contact with the audience, gestures, your voice, pauses etc.
And third: crazy ideas can bring you to places which you would never dream of, not only in Toastmasters. Once in a while it’s great to do something totally out of this World to discover new horizons.
Speech available here
Piotr Chimko, District Director 2018-2019