As told to Zoe Donaldson
Is the social spotlight fraying your nerves? Our fearless panel is here to help.
...I walk into a room full of strangers
"At a house party, I make a beeline for the kitchen and offer to help; it gives me a sense of purpose, and people talk more comfortably there. Or I gravitate toward the cheese and mention how a fan once sent me a cow-shaped block from Wisconsin. Even small connections produce the happy chemical."
— Paula Poundstone, comedian and writer, I Heart Jokes
...I have to speak in public
"I used to throw up before speeches. Now, after lots of practice, I can give a TED Talk. Right before, I relax my voice by opening my mouth wide (like I'm yawning) and saying "Ahhh" in a low tone. I also ground myself -- no pacing! -- by shifting my weight to the balls of my feet. Looking at the audience, I avert my gaze from anyone who looks bored or doubtful so I won't read into those expressions. I focus on people who look engaged. There's always someone."
— Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
...I feel over my head in conversation
"If everyone is discussing a topic you're not following, ask questions. Listeners charm those who like to do the talking, and you'll probably gauge the context quickly. If desperate, run to the bathroom. With an smartphone, you can brush up on the toilet."
— Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam, hosts of The Dinner Party Download
...I try a new exercise class
"It might look like everybody is moving seamlessly together in a studio, but in my classes, I'd say about 70 percent of people think they have crummy coordination. It's not about being perfect—it's about having fun. Everyone is too focused on hitting the right steps to bother looking at you."
— Geri-Nikole Love, Zumba Fitness instructor
...I realize I've had food stuck in my teeth
"Screwing up is human. I once subjected myself to what we call a shame attack: I walked a banana, attached to a string, down Madison Avenue. Tourists laughed, but it helped me see that if people look at me like I'm crazy, so what? I accept myself unconditionally."
—Kristene Doyle, PhD, director of the Albert Ellis Institute of psychotherapy training