Public speaking warm-up
Every speaker coach will insist on the importance of warming up before you go on stage – any kind of stage. And rightly so: you should do your breathing and voice exercises.
When you’re going to give a talk in a language you don’t really master, you’d better get into the right linguistic mood as well.
So I asked my teacher at Culturforum if I could have an extra hour with her before my talk at the Liceo Linguistico di Cefalù. Yet she was busy that morning: “You go and warm up in the real world – plenty of Italians to talk to in the town!”
Right, but who would have the time to chat with me for an hour or so? Shopkeepers would be busy. So would construction workers, baristas, nurses, fishermen…
“By the way, I need a hairdo as well!”
“There you have it – I’ll send you to my favourite hairdresser on the hill. You’ll get all the warming-up you need.”
So up the hill I climbed.
The salon wasn’t easy to find – there were no fancy signs or any other obvious hairdressy features. I heard merry voices and what sounded like a hairdryer, so I followed the trail.
I often use a visit to the hair salon as a break – I can let my thoughts drift, I can close my eyes and daydream, I can rehearse a talk – while a professional is taking care of me. The moment I entered Signora Barranco’s salon, it was clear that none of those mental-break things were going to happen here.
I quickly got drawn into the conversation. As a newcomer, I needed to provide some information about myself.
I answered the ladies’ questions as best I could. This was a bit of a challenge. I was lying with my head tilted back while Signora Barranco’s niece Tecla was washing my hair, partly covering my ears with her hands. They were talking very fast and partially, I like to think, in dialect.
Saying “I don’t understand” more than twice in a row is for wimps, not answering seemed an impossibly rude option. Anyway, I wanted to warm up, right?
Judging from the puzzled look on their faces now and then, I probably gave answers to questions they never asked – or seen from their point of view: peculiar answers to the questions they actually had asked – but they didn’t seem to mind too much.
If I had thought the blow-dry session would stop the conversation because of the noise, I had another thing coming. We chirpily carried on, just a few notches up the decibel ladder.
I was challenged into explaining why I would want my hair straight and simple – why not have a big set-up with curls and the works for the occasion? I knew it was just a matter of time until the conversation would take the usual turn: “What do you eat in Norway?”
“Baccalà,” I said. This is the perfect North-South-connection dish, with a fascinating piece of history attached to it. For the rest of the time, I could just lean back and listen to the ladies’ aunts’ and grandmothers’ recipes and secret ingredients. I learnt about “nipitella”, a wild herb that makes all the difference between a mediocre baccalà and a really good one. “Next time you come, we will give you some, we will pick it in the woods.”
Did I warm up for my talk? You bet. I was ready to speak about anything. And my hair looked nice, too – I was on top of the world.
Vittoria had been right – as she often is. School is important, but should be alternated with the real world. Just jump into it – it’s up for grabs. It may be a bit scary, but it’s very efficient and very rewarding.
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