An #upfront conversation with Ana Kyra Bekš

Ana Kyra Beks is a service designer from Slovenia. She was #upfront at the Global Service Design Network Conference in Amsterdam earlier this month. Here’s what she has to say about her experience…

My three main takeaways from being #upfront are:

  1. Facing fear and anxiety is something everyone is capable of tackling
  2. The importance of speaking up and sharing our stories
  3. Supporting each other is key to overcoming inequality

I got an amazing opportunity to represent the Global Service Jam at the Global Service Design Conference in Amsterdam.

A week before the conference, I saw a post from Redjotter on Facebook inviting people to join Paula Bello (one of the keynote speakers at the conference) on the stage as part of #upfront. I already knew about #upfront –  it aims to diversify stages and helps people overcome their fear of talking in front of big audiences. I decided to try it out.

“The fact I didn’t have to talk made it feel safe and doable. ”

Even though I facilitate a lot, talking on stage isn’t something I’m comfortable with. I don’t mind talking to large groups for a few minutes but to stand in front of an audience for more than 10 minutes, with all their attention focused on me – it’s just too much.  One might think that being a facilitator would make this easier, but it doesn’t.My fear and anxiety take over.

So I applied to be #upfront and soon I was introduced to the other women who had applied to share Paula’s stage. We met at the conference, one day before Paula’s presentation and got to know each other a bit. Paula gave us some last minute instructions and it was all set. I remember going to bed that evening thinking about what awaited me and realising that I wasn’t nervous because I knew I didn’t have to do anything on stage (well, except sit there). Normally, I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep for hours if I had a presentation the next day, but this time was different.

That’s why it came as a big shock to me I was so nervous 10 minutes before we were supposed to go on stage.  My heart rate went up and my palms started sweating. Reasoning didn’t help, even though I kept saying to myself: “Come on, you won’t have to do anything!” the nervousness wouldn’t go away. Only realising the other women were as nervous as I was made me feel a bit better. At least I wasn’t alone.

It was on. I kind of had an outer body experience when I walked on stage. It was a weird feeling, walking up on stage, as if I wasn’t control of myself but just the observer. We decided to introduce ourselves on the stage (which I regretted the moment I sat on that sofa). Thank goodness I’ve introduced myself so many times that I couldn’t really mess it up. Ok, so we did it and it felt like a huge relief.

Once I got comfortable sitting there I started to look around. It was an amazing opportunity to observe the whole thing from the “other side”. At first, it felt weird looking at the audience but I soon realised most of them didn’t really pay too much attention. Some of them were listening and others looking at their phones. I started to observe Paula. Since we couldn’t hear her presentation very well (the sound system was facing the audience only) I focused on the way she was talking and how she was moving. I could sense she was a bit nervous too but she dealt with it in a brilliant way! She kept her focus and gave a wonderful presentation. What I realised is that everyone gets nervous it’s just some people have mastered how to overcome it.

After we went down from the stage I felt pretty cool. It almost (not quite yet!) felt I could have said something on the stage after this. It is something we can get used to and the only way to do that is to go on that stage. I’m already thinking how I could bring the #upfront project to my home city of Ljubljana. We’ve been doing something similar with local X-Jams, as spin-offs of the Global Service Jams where we invite “experienced jammers” to co-create a short workshop, putting themselves into shoes of organisers and facilitators. So far it proved to be a great experience for all of us. I’m sure I’ll find a way to expand this and share the #upfront concept with everyone else.

“This has given me the confidence that I can do it! It’s a very powerful experience.”

Now, a few weeks later, I know why it is important to be #upfront. We need to see and hear more diverse stories and people. Not only big, fancy, media stories but also small, humble and simple stories. We need to give a more realistic image of our world by including truly everyone. And help them to do that. Here we come to the last topic I mentioned at the beginning on helping each other.

Being given the chance by Paula and Lauren to have this experience and the support we got before, during and after, is something that made me feel empowered and more confident. Having someone to help me overcome my fears and anxieties is the best gift I could get. And knowing how this helped me, I want to spread and help others.

That’s why I decided to share this experience with you because I want to encourage everyone to reach out and go out and share your story. Not only #upfront people but also presenters – by sharing your stage with others you not only enable and co-create our experience but also show the world that you believe in diversity and that you wish too, to hear more diverse stories and voices. This is an invitation to all to be #upfront.

Thank you to the Service Design Network Conference for being an #upfront event!