I was a better person than what was in front of my peers: Author Rebecca Rifai
REBECCA RIFAI : Speaker, artiste, author: She has been chiseling her path in the arts for most of her life. Working as a celebrity speaker, actor and recently becoming an author. More importantly, as a humble woman, Rebecca Rifai speaks about the boundaries and opportunities of her industry and world at large. These are her thoughts on public speaking, the arts and everything else.
Rebecca Rifai is not only a very good, humble, honest and refined human being with a lot of sincere good feelings for one and all, she is also a person who has a great understanding and insight as well as respect for freedom, democracy and human rights, for every individual in the globe.
The versatile Rebecca Rifai is also a delightful and charming woman with keen wisdom emanating from her being and added to this is her gracious personality which radiates like a beam of enlightenment for each and everyone who meets and talks to her.
Madam Rebecca Rifai: “The Oslo Times” feels honoured and privileged to be interviewing you. We are sure that your views will be a boon for our worldwide readers.
TOT: Well madam, today, you are an authority in the realm of speech making and presentation. But this hasn’t always been the case for there was a time when you were terrified of public speaking. Could you share with us the details of a certain blunder or a crippling moment emanating from a sense of stage or crowd fright that occurred early in your life or career?
Rebecca: I always knew that on the inside I was a very confident woman, but having to let this expression surface was difficult for me. Giving a speech at an assembly, conducting class orals, school camps, at Rotary and workshops, these were all opportunities that presented a major challenge. Time and time again I felt embarrassed after speaking to an audience. I knew I was a better person than what was in front of my peers; I just lacked the knowledge to conquer my crippling fear and knew it would take a lot of perseverance to get through this.
“I knew I was a better person than what was in front of my peers; I just lacked the knowledge to conquer my crippling fear and knew it would take a lot of perseverance to get through this.” As a child, and even now as an adult, surprisingly I am quite shy. It is however the opportunities that I have been blessed with that have allowed my personality to shine. I have been given a voice to inform, inspire and excite. And so as I embrace my career I find myself opening up many opportunities for those that want to build their confidence, to find their voice, to communicate effectively and to become champion speaker.
As the author of Presenting 101, I can relate to those that get nervous. And so what I aim to do with this book is to demonstrate how these nerves can be turned into a positive experience on screen, the microphone, and on the stage. Public speaking is a fearful experience for many, but I will show readers how to run with this and to turn their energy into an empowering experience.
My passion for effective communication transcends through the words on the pages. I want nothing more than to see people succeed at public speaking.
TOT: In the face of true or imagined fear, people resort to their ‘flight or fight’ mechanism. What made you choose to fight this specific fear instead of simply avoiding it altogether?
Rebecca: I was a bright student and did extremely well in my areas of interest, which were drama, art, sport and English. The acknowledgement from my teachers helped to feed my desire to do well at what I would commit myself to. Along with this I developed an interest in motivational books. As I read I found other authors who had similar struggles in life and had turned their challenges into something great.
“I learnt at a very young age that I was capable of achieving a lot more that I ever would have thought.”
The authors, my mentors, taught me that it was okay to stand out, that life would reward me with dividends if I took opportunities when they presented themselves to me. They told me to embrace fear; that we never achieve anything great when we live within our comfort zone. And so, I knew that some day, somehow, I would be able to speak up to those that I couldn’t before and create a fruitful life.
TOT: Well madam, in your opinion, what made you succeed in this domain? What are the defining qualities that helped you evolve as a presenter?
Rebecca: I believe what it comes down to is the willingness to get the most out of life. Walking with a fear that we believe we cannot overcome is detrimental. Pushing through these fears is empowering. Life is to be embraced. We all have an interesting story to share and we all have the ability to achieve amazing things. A positive mind, trust in yourself and taking the leap of faith is what will build the strength in one’s character and makes one stand out as a leader.Procrastination is one of human’s biggest flaws. Complimentary to that is a lack of belief in one’s own self. Sometimes the best part of life is about trusting our instincts and challenging others when they say that we can’t do something. If you believe you can’t then at least give it a shot and surprise yourself instead of giving in. If I listened to all of the gremlins in my life that told me to quit I wouldn’t be where I am now.“Life is a journey. We live and we learn but we must make the most out of it.I trusted in myself that through all of my flaws and mistakes I would succeed in public speaking and I am proud of myself for doing so.
TOT: Well that is nice to hear. Now madam, what was the tipping point in your career?
Rebecca: I had learnt very early on that a career in the entertainment industry meant not worrying about being embarrassed. And so I always took a chance at putting myself forward for interesting roles. Did I feel embarrassed at the time? Sometimes, yes. But I kept taking chances in the hopes that something exciting would eventuate. I had heard that the Commonwealth Games were approaching and that this could possibly be the opportunity that I was searching for, to speak at the event.
At the time I was working for a radio station as a field correspondent. I was young and ambitious and had been recording myself on camera while I would go to the stations events. What I recorded were little pieces to camera about random exciting topics out on the road.
I was never asked to do this; it was just something I liked to do for fun. I never knew, at the time, that this video I recorded would come in use for submitting me for the Commonwealth Games. So I edited this video together and sent it off. Little did I know that soon I would get a call back to say that I would speak in front of millions of people for the gymnastics at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.
I would be running the show, interviewing the athletes, completing voice over’s and speaking on behalf of the network stations. That was a moment in my life that I will never forget and a moment that is one of the greatest memories I have to be grateful for.
TOT: Your new book, “Presenting 101”, has been launched recently. In it, you describe the means to develop and hone one’s presenting skills – be it for TV, radio or at events and functions.
However, the book could also help in many ways all those who aren’t necessarily pursuing a career as presenters. Could you explain in which ways your book might help non-professionals?
Rebecca: This book is about harnessing readers’ confidence to speak to an audience and giving them the tools to ‘think outside the box’. Public speaking is part and parcel of everyday life, be it at a seminar, a wedding or in an office meeting and so why not make it fun? Right? I want readers to develop a passion and excitement for their next public speaking engagement.
It’s an incredibly rewarding experience to be able to get up in front of an audience and to feed off their energy. Readers will develop an enthusiasm for improving their public speaking skills and walk away from the experience with a new open mind.
Periodically I conduct “Presenting 101” workshops. In these, there have been a whole array of people attend. Health care professionals, construction managers, CEOs, teachers, dentists and the likes have celebrated these workshops as being something that has changed their life in a positive way.
I am so proud to say that I have enriched their lives with an experience that they will never forget. I am rewarded by their successes and that is the greatest gift I could ever hope to receive.
TOT: Well madam, some people are naturally eloquent and quick on their feet while others are not. Do you believe that such qualities could be developed? If yes, how much could one improve such skills?
Rebecca: Absolutely. As an eternal student of the arts, improvisational skills are an asset. To be able to think quickly on our feet can be developed by tapping into our imagination, developing good listening skills and overcoming the notion of being embarrassed.
The improvisational skills taught in “Presenting 101” will help one muster their inner confidence so as to avoid and overcome being caught out. Readers will learn how to not get stuck on a script, work in synergy with an audience and harness the unexpected.
One of the greatest gifts I can offer in the book is how to overcome mistakes. People often ask me what to do if they fall over on stage, if they forget their lines, or make fools of themselves. What I teach is largely improvisational based, meaning that now people can embrace these moments and turn them into something truly magical, while speaking to a public gathering.
And so it is with learning improvisational skills that someone can overcome being nervous, because all of their greatest fears are addressed and solutions are provided, for each of these. But not only this; it’s also about making speaking memorable words. Some people also fear being boring but now they’ll be anything but this.
TOT: How long does it take one to start noticing results or improvements – assuming that he/she avidly practices your methods and exercises?
Rebecca: For every person, it is different. But I know that changes can be immediate. Through teaching people in the book and in the workshops I have seen instantaneous improvements.
It’s important to have a mentor who knows the craft you want to learn and so as that mentor I am able to give students the confidence to practice the techniques I teach through example. Sometimes we know the answer to a challenge but lack the guidance to implement these skills.
I give readers lots of options to choose from and with this array of delicious choices come the excitement to surprise themselves. Reading is one thing, if they apply these skills miraculous things will happen. I know … I’ve seen it. I pride myself as a positive mentor who only wants my students to excel in the art of public speaking. If readers of the book keep an open mind, which I know they can, step by step, they will become brilliant at public speaking.
TOT: Alright madam. Now please tell us what are you currently working on? And what is the next step for you?
Rebecca: The book and speaking are my main priority. However my other love is acting; this is something I took up at the age of six. The first half of this year has been very exciting. I’ve recently signed a contract with a leading talent agency and management company in North America and have found a great acting coach named Daniel Bacon.
They’ve been keeping me very busy sending me out on all sorts of wonderful auditions, booking several TVCs and so forth.
My latest role was on a feature for Tides Canada and a shoot for “Jugo Juice”. Canada feels like the right place to be at the moment and so I am taking each day as it comes.So fingers crossed, I hope the momentum keeps rolling. Other than that I look forward to learning how “Presenting 101” has positively impacted people’s lives. I am truly excited to hear of the results and something tells me that there’s going to be many moments to celebrate.
TOT: Since being attached to the theatre from a long time, do you have any future plans for the promotion of this side of entertainment in your country and the world at large?
Rebecca: The more I think about my craft, the more I keep reflecting on my childhood studying theatre. That part of my life was there for a reason and propelled me into the career I have now.
So, despite my focus for the film and TV industry, I feel that at some stage the theatre will call me back. The stage is a unique platform that captures moments in time that can never be replicated. And because each performance is unique, stepping inside a theatre has always been a magical playground for me.
It’s the experimentation of emotions, serendipity, and subtle changes that an actor is encouraged to bring to the stage that breathes life into each performance. I do have a strong bond with the theatre and while nothing is planned at this stage, I feel that it won’t be long before these changes.
TOT: In the world, as you know, there are lots of struggles & campaigns going on, so as an artist what is your message to the world audience?
Rebecca: While I am very focused on acting, one of my passions is supporting projects that contribute to the greater good of humanity. Although the film industry can be quite fickle, it is a very powerful medium for providing influential messages. And because of this, I am motivated to establish my own production company and create work that has strong content and humanitarian value. I’m not there yet; it’s only the beginning of my film and TV career.
I know it will be a long and tough road ahead but I am very passionate about the industry, as passionate as I am about public speaking. In the future I see the two of these merging to form a solid alliance of projects that have a positive impact on the world. But to answer your question, my message to the world is an old one but a good one; treat others how you’d like to be treated. If we all lived by this, the world would be a much happier and peaceful place.
TOT: What are the qualities, which are necessary for being a good artist?
Rebecca: Show business is tough. A lot of people enter the business seeking fame and fortune and are greatly disappointed. After all, it is easy to watch an actor in a movie and fantasize about replacing them on the screen, doing what they do but better. Show business is just that, a business.
We are all born a star in our own right, but to make a career out of it takes a lot of courage, discipline and skill. As artists we put ourselves in situations that truly test us. We have to face fears, endure and share pain, overcome continual rejection, sacrifice financial stability and through all of that, we need to keep believing in ourselves when it feels like no one else will.I believe there are three groups of people in the industry. Those that quit, those that persevere and succeed, and those that are just born lucky. The vast majority of us sit in either of the first two. Those that quit are not without talent, however it is likely that the pressures put upon them pushed them toward quitting.Those that succeed are not necessarily the most talented; however have the discipline and business acumen to navigate their way through the industry. And those born lucky, well they were born lucky!
Above all, being an artist requires an awareness and understanding of two fundamental things; our social environment (human relationships), and our physical environment. It’s through understanding these complex human elements that we are able to interpret our medium, whether it is a story, music or painting, and present it to our audience.
TOT: Who is your inspiration in the world of art and drama?
Rebecca: As an artist I feel that it necessary to stay true to my journey. While actors like Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis inspire me, it is important to carve my own future rather than becoming an idealized reflection of those who are admired.
Instead, it’s the people on the streets, the lady at the grocery store, the fighting neighbors, and the person running for the bus, the homeless man sleeping in the alley, the lost child, the sadness behind a smile, the romantic couple and the unspoken words that intrigue me.
I derive my inspiration from human interaction and from observing what goes on in the world around me. I want to know what’s on the minds of others, why people do what they do, how did they get to where they are, why do they hold themselves in a certain way, what are their obstacles and motivations.There is a lot to be learned from observing and asking these questions and because of this, I see a strong correlation between being a journalist and an actor. Both fields satisfy my desire to learn about people and how we as humans fit into the broader spectrum of life.
TOT: What other traits do you think are essential tobecome a successful artist? I mean the standards, conduct and ethics?
Rebecca: I think the three most essential traits for a successful long-term career as an artist are honesty, quality and trust. Do you like how I specifically threw in long term there? We’ve all seem what some people have done to get their fifteen minutes of fame. I think that an honest approach, a focus on quality work and an ability to gain peoples trust will get you very far in this business, as well as any other business.
By way of example, people buying my book [Presenting 101] are putting their trust in me to ensure that the book is top quality and that I have their best interest at heart. The same applies to everything I do, whether it’s filming, speaking or presenting. Without honesty and quality, it’s hard to build trust. And without trust, it’s hard to do anything.
TOT: What are your goals, which you want to accomplish in the near future?
Rebecca: This is a tough question to answer! I have so many things that I’d like to achieve. Ok, here goes.Firstly, I’d like knowing that my book, Presenting 101, is out there helping people overcome their fear of public speaking or making them an even better speaker than they are today.Secondly, I’d like to firmly establish myself as an actress in film and TV within the North American market.
Finally, I have been writing two feature film screenplays. One is a comedy set in world of unusual circumstance and the other is a conspiracy thriller. So, I’d really love to see these films made within the next couple of years.
Finally, finally, I’d also like to focus on film and TV projects that empower women. It is far too often that we see women portrayed in demeaning or submissive roles. I think we need to see some more kick-ass girls in film and TV.
Rebecca Rifai – Some of her projects include: The Concours d’Elegance, The Commonwealth Games, CNBC, The World Travel Awards, Virgin Radio, Property TV, B105 and Triple M and has launched various media events for such groups as: Maserati, Ferrari, Bvlgari, Asprey, Crate & Barrel, Bloomingdales and Panasonic.
To find out more about the book Presenting 101: for Television, Radio & Events please head to the website – http://www.presenting101.com
TOT: Thank you madam. We are delighted to have been provided this opportunity. We very much appreciate the fact that despite being involved in several fields you have an independent and open mind with candid and unbiased perception of freedom, democracy and human rights, on the vast vista of the global scenario. We are very much sure that our worldwide readers will benefit a lot from this exclusive interview. Thanks yet again!
Interviewed by Hatef Mokhtar, Editor-in-Chief, The Oslo Times
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