An #upfront conversation with Valgerdur Petursdottir

Vala is a designer at Mint Digital and a dear friend of ours. Part of what we do at #upfront is encourage the people around us to speak up and be heard. We spend time recommending people to speak and convincing people who have never spoken before to say yes.

A few months ago, we recommended Vala to speak on a panel at the Service Design Fringe Festival. They were looking for a Service Design and UX voice and having worked with Vala we reckon she is one of the best UX/visual designers out there. This was her first experience of speaking to an audience from a stage. Here’s what she’s got to say about it…

I try to avoid public speaking at all costs. I really don’t like it. Mainly because I blush quite easily and tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve. I used to be pretty bold as a child but when I hit puberty is when things started going south. I went into my shell and didn’t come out until I studied in Stockholm. There I finally gained some confidence but was still terrified of speaking in public. But every time I did it – I would get a really great response and it made me super happy. So I guess I could say that I have a love/hate relationship with public speaking.

Lauren recommended me to speak on a panel and when I read the email my heart skipped a beat. All I could think was “me?!” and then OMG that’s crazy – what is Lauren thinking?!

She recommended me to speak about Service Design and UX design. What do I know? But the more I thought about it I was like, well actually I do have experience in both sectors so it did make sense.

“When I saw the other people on the panel I realised they were all men and decided they had much more experience than me. I became more reluctant to do it and asked a lot of questions of the organiser. I wasn’t convinced I was the right person to be up there.”

BUT I knew I had to do it purely because I was so reluctant. I have a rule; if there is something I really don’t like doing because I’m scared I have to do it!

It took me few days to confirm that I was coming. I hoped if I took long enough they’d tell me it was okay if I didn’t come because they had found someone else. That didn’t happen thankfully and I got the confirmation about 12 hours before the event started. So it gave me little time to start stressing out about how nervous I was.

On the day of the event, I woke up a bit uneasy. I was texting with a friend and she asked me if I was nervous because I only spoke in stress faced emojis – and she gave me the best advice ever. She said, “Vala, you know, life is a comedy.” And I thought… yeah, actually it is. And it was so strange how much these few words of wisdom helped.

I was really lucky with my first panel. The people were all super friendly. The venue was great and not intimidating at all. It also turned out there was another woman and the facilitator of the discussion, Caroline Owen, was wonderful. She was careful to include me and other people in the discussion. Because don’t get me wrong, I love to talk but as soon as I’m in a group where I don’t know people I go back into that teenage shell and tend to just stay there. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the fact that I’m a middle child but it’s a tendency I have when I’m in a meeting or in other scenarios where there are people I don’t know.

“AND I loved it! I loved the discussion and being a part of it. The people that came to listen had some great questions. It was a wonderful experience! ”

There is just one thing I regret. Since I was so focused on talking in front of other people there were so many things I believe in and would have wanted to say and that only occurred to me the day after I had been on the panel. But I guess you live and learn.

You asked me to share my advice to anyone reading this who wants to try it out. I’m a very lucky person. I have people like Lauren in my life that push me to do more. I also have wonderful colleagues and friends that all helped me. And I know it doesn’t sound like a lot but for me, it was a big win. I couldn’t have done it without an initiative like #upfront. It’s exactly this world needs! So BIG thanks to you gals!!

So my advice would always be, just do it. Don’t shy away from it and think you don’t have anything to add. The reason why you were asked to talk is because someone thinks you actually do have something to contribute to the conversation. And guess what you do!! Also, another great advice from a friend, always be yourself. People are there to hear your opinion and your view, don’t give them what you think they want. Give them what you want to say and what you believe in.

And remember, life is a comedy.