Unpredictable Situations in Protocol

by Thomas Sladko* 

Today I remembered a lecture at ISPD I held – exactly one year ago on the 11th of February 2013. I lectured about the topic “Flexibility in Protocol – handling the Unpredictability”. Sometimes life plays tricks on us because I would not have imagined facing a very unpredictable situation exactly one year after my theoretical approach to this topic.

Imagine the following scenery: A wreath ceremony on an early, cold, windy and rainy morning on the Viennese cemetery, which is the second largest in Europe and covers over 2,5 square kilometers. The walking distances are enormous and many famous people like e.g. Ludwig van Beethoven are buried here. The ceremony was to start at 9.00 a.m. and me and my colleagues arrived one hour in advance to prepare and check the setting. We brought – just in case – a box full of transparent rain coats for our guests if the rain would become stronger. My intention was to hide it nearby to avoid the box being in the scenery and to have it handy when needed.

At the moment I put down the box I heard a “KRAAACKKKSSSS” and I felt the cold wind on my legs. My trousers were completely torn apart! Yes, you understood right: It was 45 minutes before a wreath ceremony with all the members of the Federal Government with a huge hole in my trousers somewhere lost in the second largest cemetery of Europe with wind, rain and cold,  and I was still responsible to perform Protocol work.

If you have ever been in a similar situation you could probably imagine how I felt and what my next thoughts were. I felt some kind of a strange humor, which appears in situations that are too surreal to be real. What really saved me from falling into a panic was that I stayed calm and began to check my surrounding with clear thoughts and rational thinking: Where am I and what are my options? I knew that a simple needle would not save me. I would need new trouser at the very moment or I would have to disappear from the scenery as soon as possible. At this moment I saw a working undertaker. I begged for help and the friendly gentleman helped me immediately: He took me in his car – walking was impossible – to the headquarter of the cemetery where a helpful dressmaker worked. Quickly she tailored provisorily my trousers – I waited in my underwear, always looking at my watch. Finally, she said: “No guarantee” and the undertaker we drove back to the location of the ceremony and arrived perfectly on time. Nobody realized anything and the ceremony ran perfectly. After we drove back to the office and when I reached my bureau the trousers fell into pieces.

I really hope not to face a similar situation again and I will choose my tailors better the next time I buy a suit. Anyway without the helping hands, which saved me in a very unpredictable situation I don’t know how I would have made it. I think the quintessence to learn is that success in our profession is very often depending on people who are never seen in the scenery or in the spotlight. We should always treat these people with respect, friendliness and humbleness because they are the ones who could save us, even in very unpredictable situations.

*About the author

Thomas Sladko is the Deputy Chief of  Protocol at the Federal Chancellery of Austria and ISPD lecturer.