Stepping outside my comfort zone: Leanne Pilkington

Leanne Pilkington is known for being a polished presenter and confident public speaker. But when she challenged herself with an improvisation course during lockdown, that all changed.

Leanne explains how she felt being outside her comfort zone and what she learnt from the experience.

Recently I enrolled in improvisation classes.

It’s called ‘improv’ for those in the know.

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision; a rush of blood to the head.

And no, I do not harbour a secret ambition to be an actor or a comedian.

It happened in the middle of lockdown when I was unable to get out much.

Like most people, I was under a fair amount of stress.

I felt like I needed to do something that was completely out of my comfort zone.

It didn’t need to be work-related, but I did require relief from the relentlessness of what was required of me at the time, in my Laing+Simmons and Real Estate Institute of NSW roles.

Previously, I had done an online public speaking course with the incredible Vinh Giang, and he suggested improv as a great tool to improve our ability as speakers.

Despite the trepidation, I signed up to the six-week online course.

While I’m somewhat comfortable speaking in front of people, I recognised that I wasn’t at ease when I wasn’t in control.

I think this is typical of many people in real estate. 

I soon came to understand that I’m definitely not comfortable when asked to do things that appear completely ridiculous, for fear of making an idiot out of myself.

But, after a couple of weeks of improv activities and a variety of communication exercises, things got downright crazy!

For example, one week I was a life coach for dolphins.

Another week I was a flight attendant, tasked with explaining to passengers that the plane was going to crash unless they ate all the food on board immediately and let nature take its course.  

These scenarios were extremely random, and I was far outside my comfort zone.

Speaking ‘dolphin’ is an easy way to seem foolish.

It was also highly amusing for my husband, who was sitting within earshot. 

For the first few weeks, before every class, I had to convince myself to attend and not run away.

I just felt like I needed to push myself to do something that scared me.

Surely, immersing myself in a highly uncomfortable situation, and forcing myself to endure a strange and different experience would have its rewards.

Here is what the experience taught me:

1. A safe place to explore, rehearse and test limits is invaluable.  

2. When those around you genuinely want you to do well, it is incredibly empowering. 

3. Irrespective of the situation, through perseverance, you will eventually get over your anxiety, insecurities and fear of looking stupid.  

4. Practice at responding to things spontaneously really does prepare you for reacting that way in real life.

5. Contrary to what I previously believed, I don’t always have to have a set plan or presentation. I can be off-the-cuff and still add value to situations and interactions.

6. Doing things outside of your comfort zone is worth the anxiety.

7. You don’t always have to take yourself so seriously.

8. You don’t always have to be the “best in the class”.

9. Sometimes, it is just good to have a laugh!

Public speaking, presenting to others in small or large groups, and representing the interests of people in the industry will continue to be a major part of my role.

The entire improv experience has already had a significant impact on my capacity to be spontaneous, responsive and confident. 

Coming out the other side of my discomfort zone has actually made me more comfortable.

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Leanne Pilkington

Leanne Pilkington is Chief Executive Officer and Director of Laing+Simmons.