Dzień dobry!

Dzień dobry means “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” in Polish. (Just in case you don’t speak Polish.)

Polish is not an easy language for Anglophones. The first thought that ran through my head when I saw some Polish text was that the country is suffering from a shortage of vowels! Words like “Przepraszam” (Excuse me) and “Dziękuję” (Thank you) are pretty daunting for a boy from Canada.

Polish Coat of Arms
The Polish Coat of Arms

Nevertheless, even though I do not speak Polish, that did not stop me this past weekend from giving it my best shot. I was invited to Poznań, Poland to give a couple of presentations at a Toastmasters Division Conference attended by 70 people from clubs all over Poland. The conference was in Polish and English with translation available.

My presentations were in English, but I was determined to say a few words in Polish at the outset. So prior to traveling, I prepared a short opening in English and had my friend Emilia translate it into Polish. I then practised my pronunciation, starting with Dzień dobry.

Here is the result:

Dzień dobry. Uważam, że dla rodzimych użytkowników języka angielskiego bardzo ważna jest nauka innych języków, dlatego też chciałbym zacząć moją wypowiedź mówiąc kilka słów po polsku.

Jest to moja pierwsza wizyta w Polsce i jestem zachwycony, że mogę tu być. Jeśli ten kraj jest choć w połowie tak miły jak Polacy, których spotkałem w ostatnich latach, to z pewnością musi być fantastyczny.

Z niecierpliwością czekam żeby poznać Was wszystkich lepiej jako członków klubu Toastmasters i jako kolegów.


And the translation:

Good afternoon.  I think it is very important for English speakers to learn other languages, so I would like to begin by saying a few words in Polish.

This is my first time in Poland and I am delighted to be here.  If the country is even half as nice as the Polish people whom I have met over the years, then it must be fantastic.

I look forward to getting to know you all better – as fellow Toastmasters and as friends.

Thank you!

The response was terrific. I received compliments on my pronunciation but am sure that I mangled many of the words. Nevertheless, the audience understood what I was saying and greatly appreciated the effort.

And therein lies the lesson in today’s post.

We live at a time when English is the lingua franca of the world. I firmly believe that native Anglophones have an obligation when traveling to learn at least a few basic words and phrases in the local language as a sign of common courtesy.

If you are fortunate enough to give a presentation to an audience where the majority of people speak a language other than English (or other than your own mother tongue), say a few words at the outset in the local language. Your efforts will be genuinely appreciated and you will build rapport with your audience from the outset.

Your opening need not be as long as mine was. I have a keen interest in foreign languages and love to try to push myself when it comes to learning them. But your introductory words could be as simple as “Hello,  I am happy to be here” or even just “Hello”. There are plenty of free online language services where you can hear the words spoken, so a simple greeting is something that anyone can (and should) learn.

I cannot conclude this post without saying a few words about the Polish Toastmasters whom I met. They are warm and enthusiastic, and great public speakers. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Poland, I encourage you to attend a Toastmasters meeting. There are some English language clubs in Poland and many people in the Polish language clubs speak excellent English. They would be happy to guide you through a meeting.

For more information about Toastmasters in Poland, check out the links here and here.

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  1. Hi John!
    It was great to have You at Toastmasters Conference in Poznań.
    You are totally right! This few sentence in polish at the beginning was great idea, it shows us, that You care, that this speech is really for us. We all appreciated that.
    Ancient Roman orators invented idea of ‘captatio benevolentiae’, which means to capture attention of listeners and the beginning and you did it very well.
    I enjoy very much your speeches; they really gave me many useful informations. Before your visit in Poland I saw only one your presentation – humorous speech “Pay attention” and I thought that you are a great entertainer.
    After your speeches in Poland and reading this blog now I know that You can do much more than only entertain – You can give us many precious tips and ‘know-how’ of public speaking.
    I really appreciate that, keep on doing that : )
    Best wishes,

  2. Hello John,
    You are very right on this one. It is not about speaking it properly, it’s about showing your effort and that you care about the audience.
    The “capturing one’s audience” part from Andrzej’s reply (capturing one’s audience) is on the spot. I think that it does not apply to an audience of native speakers alone. Starting your speech in Mandarin (for example) or other languages other than English (with a little explanation of course) will certainly gain the attention of your audience. That’s my view anyway.

  3. Alternatively if you are a Pole living in or visiting London, make sure to visit Polish your Polish, a Polish speaking Toastmasters group in London! 🙂

  4. John
    Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve had the time of my life, due to the extreme weather conditions you brought Poland. Other than that, for a Toastmaster with my experience, learning that someone like you will visit us – hell, be in the same town, or even in the town nearby, or flying in the plane over my country – was enough to give me thrills.
    Both Lars and you gave us a lot to think about, couple of reminders, some tools and a terrific two days learning experience.
    I honestly wish that
    – the event took more than two days
    – one day we can make an TM event good enough to make you come visit us because you want to. Darn, when uninvited. Unwanted even ;). Incognito, just to be there.
    And then we can warmly welcome you again and lesson to Your ‘Dzień dobry’ speech 🙂

    1. Jerzy, thanks so much for the kind words. In fact, the thrills were mine as it was very exciting to visit Poland for the first time and to see so many of my Polish Toastmaster friends in one place at the same time. It was a great experience all around and I too learned lots from everyone. I would be delighted to come back any time!
      A sincere thank you for having invited me.
      PS – Sorry about the weather. I’ll try to do better the next time!

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International