|This week, I'm writing from Bucharest, Romania, in unusual circumstances: newly minted as an international speaker on a topic I know nothing about. You may be wondering why. Buckle in:
The story begins with an invitation to play basketball at a tournament in Cluj-Napoca, Romania's second largest city, where the main attraction is an abandoned underground salt mine that's been turned into a tourism site. My team couldn't attend, but our club sent a women's team. The organisers asked if any of the players would be able to attend a conference on Romanian sport, to be held in Bucharest the weekend preceding the tournament, with all expenses paid. None could, so the call went out to the men's team. In the end, largely because others in the team are in the final stages of their degrees, the offer came to me. Never one to turn down a free trip, I replied to say I'd be happy to attend the conference. I heard nothing for the next four or five weeks.
Ten days ago, I received a formal invitation to be a speaker at the Romanian Sports Forum, a conference on 'Romania's role and place in the context of World Sport, 100 years since the National Great Union' and billed as "A UNIQUE EVENT NOT TO BE OVERLOOKED BY SPORTS LOVERS!". Three days, 16 workshops, more than seventy five speakers, and according to their website, infinity networking. And the location: Romania's Palace of the Parliament. (You may need to allow images on your email client)
I thought, why not? and emailed the organisers to accept and enquire as to what they'd like me to speak about. The programme I received included a workshop on 'Sports and Education' which sounded like a good fit for a student athlete. The reply came back: "We are suggesting you to speak about psycho pedagogy techniques on the Coaching and Psychology workshop", a two-hour slot on day 2.
Readers, please know I have essentially no experience in sports psychology nor coaching. Googling 'psycho pedagogy definition' confirmed I had no experience in that, either. I replied to the organisers to inform them that, as flattered as I was by their generous invitation, I had no relevant expertise on their proposed topic.
The reply came back: "We would like you to talk on the proposed topic." I would have a 20 minute speech, followed by 10 minutes Q+A. My fellow panelists would include a professor of psychology, an Olympic sports psychologist, and an international leadership psychology consultant.
I accepted. If my lack of expertise was good enough for them, who was I to disagree? Yet, I still didn't really believe this would happen and decided not to waste time preparing a presentation until I received my flight tickets. These came through a few days in advance, and I whipped together some speaking points and slides. (If there's one skill consulting gives you, it's bullshitting your way through a presentation.) I decided to keep the moustache I'd grown for an event earlier in the week, in pursuit of all the gravitas I could muster.
My flight was scheduled to arrive at 3:00am on the morning of my speech, and I'd be speaking around 4:00pm. (This was yesterday.) Poor continental weather meant I landed closer to 6:00am. A volunteer recruited from Romanian police training college picked me up at the airport, and I rolled into bed at my hotel around 7:00am. At 9:00am I was woken by the hotel phone, through which a thickly accented man's voice said: "I am here to take you to the Parliament." Suspecting I'd need more than two hours sleep if I were to stay cogent for 20 minutes on a topic I knew nothing about, I told him I was going back to sleep and that I'd find my own way to the Parliament later in the day.
Now is a good time to mention that Romania's Parliament, built in the 1980s by Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, is the world's second largest building. I arrived in a taxi at what I believed to be the entrance (photo below).
This was, in fact, merely the side entrance. (The front entrance looks like this)
After Ceaușescu was deposed and killed in 1989, his son bragged "you’ll never be able to renovate what my father managed to build." He was correct, and not only are Romania's public buildings too large and too many to renovate, there are too many entrances and corridors to possibly staff. After a lot of walking around and questioning confused security guards in broken Romanian ("Forumului Sportului Românesc?") I found my way through a series of long and ornate corridors decorated with statues and art to the Forum hall: a gilded circular room with several hundred seats and multiple levels of box seats. I was told the number of such halls in the Parliament building reaches perhaps double figures. On the stage were several chairs and a Jumbo-tron sized PowerPoint screen about three times taller than I am. I spent a few hours watching various workshops conducted mostly in Romanian, using a headset for live English translation, and soothed the fact that many presenters began by apologising for their lack of expertise in their topic area.
After all of that, the speech went fine. I focused on the relative merits of pedagogical versus andragogical approaches to coaching: put simply, identifying when coaches should be dictators, versus when should partner with their athletes. I was translated into Romanian live for the audience. No one asked questions. My name was misspelled three different ways. One man four rows back was asleep for the entirety of the workshop; another spent the length of my speech vigorously nodding.
Having indulged myself enough, I'll spare you the rest and leave you with this photo. If you have any international speaking needs, consider me open for business.