Saturday, May 14th 2016. 23:45
Timisoara, Romania. Galadinner of Toastmasters District 95 Conference.
I’m tired. I know I have about 2 hours of work ahead before I go to sleep. I’m delivering a workshop for the incoming Division and Area Directors on Sunday morning. It’s still far from perfect. Without the usual goodnights and seeyoutomorrows, I’m walking out from the main gala ballroom, leaving almost two hundred Toastmasters from all across Europe chatting, dancing and having decent fun in general. I walk through the corridor, passing the “photo spot” and approaching the exit of the building. I walk through the main door. Fresh air of a chilly May night. 10 minutes to my room.
I spot three guys from our Division engaged in a discussion. Tomas, Martin and Radovan. They spot me too.
“Lukas!”, Martin says. “Need some fresh air, huh?”. I respond: “In fact, I’m just finishing the partying for tonight. Good night and enjoy it, gentlemen!”
They all appear to be surprised. So shocking someone would leave the party this early!
“Come on, have a drink with us!” I notice Martin is holding a small metal bottle in his hand and is extending it in my direction. I’m not tempted. “Guys, thanks for the offer, but I really need to go. I need to prepare for tomorrow’s workshop.” “All right all right”, Martin says. Then he asks: “So tell me Lukas, what is the training going to be about? Is it really important to go to those trainings anyway?” I realize that refusing to answer the question now would be plainly rude. And – discussing the content of my workshop is almost as if I were working on the workshop. However, my plan to be in bed in 10 minutes seems to be getting some cracks.
10 minutes later I’m standing still in the same place. At least, now I have a feeling I have satisfied Martin’s curiosity. Just as I’m about to say the goodnights again, I get a question from Radovan: “And what do you think about the future of Corporate Clubs in Brno?” I wonder why a few minutes before midnight is just the right time to discuss this topic. On top of that, Radovan is from Brno, is more experienced than I am and probably knows better. Something is fishy here. Still, I try my best to answer.
Five minutes into the discussion, Mary, the new Area Director from Brno, emerges from the main door and shouts at me: “Here you are Lukas, we were looking for you!” I’m becoming even more suspicious. These guys are really nice, but I have no clue why just tonight they decided to annoy the hell out of me. “Yeah, I’m sorry Mary, I’ve got to go. I need to prepare for my workshop.” “Nooo!”, Mary shouts back as if I told her we’re planning to close all Toastmasters clubs in Moravia. “You’ve got to have a drink with us at the bar!”
I really intend to stand my ground now. “No thanks.” But apparently, Mary is not the type of girl who takes a “No, thanks.” for an answer. She grabs my hand and starts pulling me inside the building towards the bar. I can resist a woman’s smile, but I have trouble resisting woman’s brute force. I give up and comply.
Once back inside the main gala ballroom, another friend bumps into us and starts talking to me. Mary lets go of my hand and disappears. “Great”, I think. “She almost breaks my wrist pulling me here and then she walks away without a word.”
I gave up on my plan to get to bed early. Bit more relaxed, I’m going to get a beer on my own. Just before I’m able to make my order – the music stops and lights go dark. I turn to the stage.
Have you ever felt that everyone in the room is looking at you when you’re not looking at them? Then you realized how ridiculous that idea was and tried to chase it away? That’s how I felt in that moment.
I look at the DJ. There is someone with a microphone right next to him. It’s Petra Palfy from Bratislava. “Ladies and gentlemen, hope you’re having fun tonight. We’ve just passed the midnight and now we have the 15th of May. What a coincidence, there is one person in this room that has birthday on this very date! His name is Lukas Liebich!” I freeze, not quite believing this is really happening. Petra points in my direction. Everyone turns in my direction. And on Petra’s lead, everyone starts singing “Happy birthday”.
I’m looking back at them. Then I spot Mary, Martin, Tomas and Radovan in the crowd, smiling cheekily. Zuzana, also known as the “mafia boss” or the “puppet master of Brno”, has her smile ear-to-ear and sends me a wink. I bet it was her plan all along.
The crowd of 100 plus Toastmastes finishes the song with “tooo yoooooou”. Then something that I still did not expect happens. Petra points the microphone in my direction, asking me to say a few words.
After 4 years of training speaking in Toastmasters, this moment leaves me speechless. I take the mic, pause for a moment. I say “Thank you!”. I pause for one more bit. I hand the mic back.
My shortest speech ever.
Looking back at the moment today, on November 20th, it feels I did not do that opportunity to speak justice. If I got back into that moment, I would have said this:
“Thanks to everyone from the Czech&Slovak Team who arranged this and who kept me here at the gala despite all my almost violent protests. And thanks to everyone else that you joined to sing “Happy Birthday” to a random guy who just happened to have a birthday. You Toastmasters people are the best!”
And I hope to see all you Toastmasters people soon in Warsaw.