What my silent retreat taught me about presenting

Being uncomfortable

This month I did something that was so far out of my comfort zone that I just wanted to run away from it as far as possible. It scared me to my core. And that was exactly the reason I had to do it.

As a trainer in presenting, I constantly challenge my customers to step out of their comfort zone. To stretch themselves towards a new comfortable zone. For one person this is a minor step and for others this might feel like a marathon. Not everyone is naturally comfortable on stage. or better said, most people aren’t.

Intellectually I have always understood this fear. The fear of putting yourself out there. But I have never felt it myself. I have always loved presenting and teaching. A stage is where I blossom. And off course I have done things in my life that challenged me to step out of my comfort zone. Like *arrow breaking, *fire walking or even mountain climbing (with a massive fear of hights).

But these were mearly moments. Moments that I helped myself through with a dose of adrenaline and a don’t-think-just-do-mentality. But during this retreat, this home made survivalkit would not help me. This was not about one moment of courage. this was about challenging myself for 10 full days! I had no choice but to accept that this was going to be difficult for me. I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Meditating 10 hours a day

For ten days, I was ‘locked’ up in a meditation center for a vipassana course. During these 10 days I was not allowed to make any form of contact with others. Not even eyecontact. I was not allowed to read, write or listen to music. The only thing I was allowed to do was meditate. 10 hours a day. Say WHAT? Ten hours a day?? How? I asked myself that same question. And it was all the more reason to do it.

July 10 on a Tuesday it started. This was day 0. I arrived at the centre in Belgium around 16:00. After checking in I had to turn in my phone and other valuables. I sent one quick message to my parents, boyfriend and off course Iris: “I’m going offline! see you in 12 days.”

The first ours went by quite fast because we were still alowed to speak. I quickly made a friend. Lisa from Germany. We are both entrepeneurs who had left our businesspartners with all the work for 10 days so we bonded quickly. I started to feel a little more relaxed because I no longer felt alone. But this changed soon because after the first meditation at 8pm there was nothing but… silence. This felt so strange. Making contact, connecting to people that is what I do and what gives me energy. And now, that was taken away from me.

The next day, the official day 1, we were waken up by the gong at 04:00 am. 30 minutes later we were all in the meditation hall. This day felt like it lasted forever! Time goes so slow when you have nothing else than yourself and your thoughts. The only thing on my mind was that I wanted to leave this situation. As soon as possible. But I didn’t. I did not come all this way to quit. And all this time I had to think also gave me the insight that most people that I train and coach feel exactly like this when I ask them to leave their comfort zones. They want nothing more then to leave this uncomfortable space that is called a stage.

Continue to stretch

Up untill day 9 I had a tough time. My whole body was aching from sitting still during the meditations and I really had some tough conversations with myself. But my mission, to fulfill this challenge kept me going. I was NOT going to quit. There was no other option than to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. On day 10 I heard myself think: “Maybe I’ll do this again in a few years” I realised that my comfort zone had grown. I stretched and streched just like I ask my trainees to do. And now, I don’t just know, but I truly understand that when you continue to challenge yourself, your comfort zone really expands.

And now?

Margreet_blog_mediteren presenteren_je beste indrukMeditating has not become a hobbie yet, but I commit to doing it every day. Because I experience how it makes me a better person, a better trainer, daughter, friend, girlfriend and business partner. And sometimes, every now and then, there is a tiny moment where I feel: “this meditating feels quite nice”. Those small moments will turn into bigger moments and it is only a matter of time before this becomes a routine I no longer want to miss.

Smaller moments will turn into bigger ones

And it is the same when it comes to presenting. There will be a moment that you think during or after a presentation: “this is actually not so bad”. Or that you watch yourself on video and think: “I’m actually getting better”. Those small moments will turn into bigger moments and before you know it, you are looking forward to doing a presentation. And you will know that you have not only enriched yourself with a skill but you have become a richer person.

I would like to end with a quote from S.N. Goenka, our vipassana teacher: