Heavy Industry Brno Conference – the full report

IMG_20160423_054611134It’s Saturday morning, April 23, 2016. 5:45. The sun will rise in ten minutes, the streets are deserted and the only other person awake at this inhuman time seems to be the tram driver.

But I know that in a little bit I’ll meet two more people who decided to get up early today, two people who will join me on my trip to the 2016 Toastmasters Division L International Speech Contest in Brno. Unlike me, who is going to compete and hopes to gain immortal fame, they have much more noble motivation. They’re coming to be there with me. And for me. Thank you, Milan and Vendula.

An hour later we are on the highway to Brno and Milan proves to be not only a good driver but also a great DJ. With songs from Czech fairy-tale movies and the soundtrack of Dirty Dancing, he keeps our spirits high. Much needed, much appreciated.

And then we arrive. I understand right away why the organizers chose #HeavyIndustryBrno for this event.

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I didn’t pay much attention when I read that we were going to have the conference at a freezing plant. Now I can tell the organizers stick to the theme dutifully and even sport hard hats. I’m spared this particular fashion accessory but the freezing temperature outside AND inside feels more than pleasantly authentic.

But there’s hot tea and as more and more people arrive, everything starts to warm up. After just a few final adjustments, we are ready to start.

worker TMConf

And what a start it is! Joanna Chmiel delivers a keynote address that touches everybody’s heart. Because we all, just as herself, know about the ink and the needle and the joy and the pain one feels when we get “Toastmasters” tattooed on our hearts.


But I’m here not to listen, but to speak, and my Czech/Slovak contest starts the whole marathon. No time to waste, I gear up, dress up, warm up and am ready to deliver my speech. Seven minutes later, it’s over. The audience laughed and applauded, which is good, and now I can get my coffee, which is great. I mean, it’s great that I can finally get my coffee. And the coffee is great!

The sofa is comfy and the fireplace is near, my favourite place. I hear the audience applauding fellow Toastmasters for their German speeches and English evaluations, but the early wake-up takes its toll. I even almost miss the lunch! When I arrive, half of the sandwiches are gone, but according to the reports, they were a bit on the spicy side anyway – nothing for a speaker to relish. I’m more than happy with the fabulous lentil soup of which I get two extra servings.

IMG_20160423_090227162 As the day rolls over into the afternoon, the program continues with workshops and Czech and German evaluation contest. I hang around, drop in here and there, chat with friends and feel content and relaxed. Then I realize this feeling is a double-edged sword.

Many people think that I’m one lucky person not suffering from stage fright. That’s not the whole truth though. The truth is that I like stage fright. When I feel nervous before speaking, I know I have energy that I can channel towards the audience – so that’s a good thing. However, now, one hour before my English contest, I feel accomplished and a bit lazy. Come on, bring back the stress, the tension, the excitement! Pump yourself up!IMG_20160423_150510766

For a while I practice my flamenco routine and do vocal warm-up and finally feel energized and much more ready to deliver my speech. Just in time, because I’m the first of six contestants. Then I hear the Contest Chair announcing my name and for the next seven minutes, the stage is mine. Here I come!

This moment is magical. I’m on the stage, facing the audience, ready as I can be. I had people laugh, and even cry, during my speeches, such is the power of words. Yet now, before I start, I can only hope. It may, or may not work this time.

Then I open my mouth, and my heart, and my audience smiles, and laughs, and thinks, and finds their own interpretation of what I’m saying. Good. That’s how it should be.

When my speech is over, I listen to the other contestants. There are six of us, and while I want the best to win, of course, I cross my fingers a bit tighter for my three fellow women warriors. Amidst the competition, we support each other, cheer each other, hug each other, we feel like competing for one team, not against each other. Stephanie, Petra, Irina – thank you, you are the best! (Martin and Hristo – you are great too, of course 😉 )


The contests are over, and Tony Achmat is probably the only one who can keep the attention of the audience before the awards ceremony. With his speech You get what you give, he provokes us and motivates us to dig even deeper into our Toastmaster-selves.

Then is the waiting finally over – Ewan Scattergood, our Division Director, calls back the Contest Chairs and hands over THE envelopes.

Starting with the evaluation contest, we cheer for the winners.

German Evaluations: 1. Linda Skrobucha, 2. Daniel Samol

Czech Evaluations: 1. Jaroslav Kováč, 2. Veronika Danevová

English Evaluations: 1. Věra Oráč, 2. Róbert Srnka, 3. Jaroslav Kováč


And then the International Speeches:

German: 1. Petra Pálfyová, 2. Jakub Kratochvíl

Czech: 1. Dagmar Vilémová, 2. Daniel Samol, 3. Petrana Martineková

English: 1. Stephanie Brush, 2. Lenka Dvořáková, 3. Petra Pálfyová


WOW! I don’t think it has ever happened in our Division, three women in the first three places! Girls, we rock!!!

The journey back to Prague is smooth and happy, but Gee, am I tired. Věra Oráč, my fellow passenger on the back seat and my Toastmasters role model and icon, suggests we do a tabletopics session. Obviously I am not a Toastmaster enough yet, as I politely decline. But that may change. We’ll see next year.


Thank you, Heavy Industry Brno team!

organizers TMConf


Photo credit: Pictures 5, 10, 11 Pavlína Maršálová