I've always been extra nervous in front of crowds. By extra, I mean as in more than the average bear. I'm quite good in a crowd, if I have to get up a ask a question at a chaired meeting for example, the opportunity to take the floor and make it my own for a few moments is something I quite relish as I'm comfortable with sniping, knowing that by the time people bother to look around to figure out who is talking, I'm done already. This happened a few years ago when I accompanied a friend and his daughter to an open evening at a Spanish school she was going to attend. Having a little more Spanish than him I jumped to my feet and asked his question in a foreign language without a hint of nerves. Similarly I was asked to give an impromptu speech at a Burn's night to explain to the Spanish what was going on, (not an easy task if you're familiar with the 'murder of the haggis' speech), but again, with the absence of preparation (meaning I was forced to consider the translation on the spot) and the knowledge that my spotlight was short and sweet, I carried it off with aplomb.
Something different altogether takes over if I'm slated to speak. If I'm on the stage, waiting my turn. Throat goes dry, sentences become monosyllabic and I feel like a complete fish out of water.
Funny how things come back to you. I recall when I was in my junior school at about aged eight, our class was organizing the nativity play. When it was mooted who should play the role of father Christmas, being the fattest kid in the class, all eyes of those 40+ kids turned to me! Even the form teacher, a delightful woman called Miss Doward begged me to take the role, with an imploring look that she must later have trained Lady Diana to assume when courting charities. I could not resist. A corduroy Santa's outfit and a beard were commissioned especially for me, which kind of made me feel like the star of the show compared to those with heads adorned with tea-towels. Then the rehearsals began.
It was a pretty sweet gig. Some kid before had a few lines....da da de da da da de da, then I would come out and empty my sack. It was a piece of cake. We did it several times...da da de da da da de da, empty sack! How easy is that?
So come the night it was a different ballgame. Seemingly what ever had been scheduled at Wimbledon Theater that night had been cancelled, and the ticket holders redirected to St Matthews primary school Surbiton. It was standing room only, and the buzz of the audience was clearly audible backstage as the gaggle of parents, teachers and children assembled to perform. My spot was quite a way in, probably about twenty minutes, but nobody was going to disturb my concentration...I was listening out for da da de da da da de da, but time went on and da da de da da da de da never came.
I figured out afterwards that da da de da da da de da never came because the kid before me had fluffed his lines. What happened instead was a bit of a blur. The audience went noticeably quiet, confused about what was happening. Someone must have grabbed me as I was pushed onto the stage, clearly some considerable time after my cue, then everyone roared with laughter at the fat kid in the Santa costume who miss his spot. Quite frankly, I don't recall that being the butt of everyone's joke was a very rewarding experience! I did what ever I had to do with the sack and ran off in tears, vowing never to let miss Doward talk me in to a part in any of her future productions, however engaging her entreaties.
It seems so trivial looking back, but an eight year old's ego is fragile thing. Years later I was psychologically evaluated as part of a management training exercise the upshot was they told me I create comfort rings around myself (that were the only thing) that inhibit my ability to be an effective leader. I wonder to this day if those comfort rings were the inflatable life raft that had it's plug pulled by that eight year old Santa who missed his cue all those years ago.