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Rafiat Atanda: Don’t let fear of failing stop you from trying

By Esther Ijewere
06 November 2021   |   4:08 am
Growing up was a blend of fun, fear, faith and hope. Like many kids in semi-urban areas, I grew up playing table tennis with boys, seasonally going to Mr. Biggs; defending other girls from male oppression, living with caution, because my parents were principled and entrenched in spirituality.

Atanda

Rafiat Atanda is the Communications Officer at a leading financial institution, and with a heart in the social impact space. She is a 2021 Carrington Youth Fellow, 2021 Margaret Ekpo Youth Fellow, 2020 ONE Champion, Advocate, quintessential Public Speaker, Host, and Freelance Presenter with over five years of experience. In her capacity as a 2020 ONE Champion in Nigeria, she was privileged to join the high-level Tortoise G7bn Summit and shared her thoughts on the kind of leadership the world should be aiming for. She has also hosted a number of top-level events, judged several debate competitions, moderated a number of panel sessions and trained individuals in the art of excellent public speaking. A one-time presenter on LASU Radio 95.7FM and Insight on Politics on LTV, she continues to trail blaze and inspire action whenever she talks. She is the host of TalkWithRaffy on Instagram, a platform where she teaches people how to speak and communicate effectively. Atanda, who is passionate about women, girls, and youth, shares her story in this interview.

Growing Up
Growing up was a blend of fun, fear, faith and hope. Like many kids in semi-urban areas, I grew up playing table tennis with boys, seasonally going to Mr. Biggs; defending other girls from male oppression, living with caution, because my parents were principled and entrenched in spirituality. It was a tough environment characterised by juvenile delinquency, little or no regard for education and other social vices.

But thankfully, I had parents who checkmated my steps and served as great anchors; instilled a profound moral compass in me; taught me the way of the Lord; charged me to believe in myself and not be defined by my immediate environment; and taught me that being female, even in a male-dominated world is a rare blessing. I didn’t have access to luxury, but I had access to parental guidance, and the understanding of what genuine love for humanity is.

Passion For Public Speaking
I have always had an undiluted love for public speaking. As a student of Sari Iganmu Secondary School and undergraduate at Lagos State University, I represented my school in different debate competitions and won trophies. This interest spurred from childhood; I loved talking. I remember how I used to rush to put on the generator, whenever it was time for The Debaters (a debate competition for adults organised by Mo Abudu), and there was no power supply. After English tutorial classes taken by my teacher Ganiu Bamgbose who is now Dr Ganiu Bamgbose, I would consciously practice speaking right with my good friend, Grace Uzoh.

Communicating with poise and the right diction became a crucial component of my being. People always told me (they still do) that they like the way I speak and at some point, my course mates at the university labeled me “Diction mistress.” It’s been quite a ride, so they’re not surprised I’m interested in public speaking and communication.

How Organisations Can Improve Communications Sector
Lots of organisations are upping their communications game. It’s interesting seeing how they strategically jump on trends, engage influencers, put some marketing budget on traditional and new media advertising, and try not to hard-sell their products or services. However, I believe that many organisations still need to learn how to humanise their stories, especially by standing with the people on issues affecting their collective existence. No sitting on the fence, they should join them or back out! No more robotic responses to customers, too. In addition, organisations need to ensure they’re domesticating their communication assets.

Challenges Of Being A Public Speaker
The challenges I encountered as an early stage public speaker include overcoming stage fright; speaking with confidence; clarity and the right diction; getting the right response/emotions from the audience.

What has worked for me: Every time I get to talk about public speaking, I particularly share the power of the “3Rs:” Research, Rehearsals and Reflection.
I have come to realise that the challenges I stated above stem from a lack of mastery of the 3Rs. Before you speak to an audience, endeavour to have researched about them and the topic of discussion. This will influence your 5Ws and H. Remember people have come, so you can educate, entertain and inform them.

In addition, you must rehearse your presentation. That is, practice! Do this with friends, family members or even the mirror (the mirror is my best part). Treat it like the serious business that it is. You cannot master what doesn’t matter to you. When you reflect on your speech beforehand, it gives you an idea of what the tone of your voice should be, including your choice of words, your looks, etc. You’re ultimately doing this to elicit some kind of emotions/feedback from the audience.

The Misconception About Feminism 
There are lots of misconceptions about what feminism is in this part of the world, and I believe they largely stem from a place of patriarchal privilege, power domination and unhealthy social constructs. At the heart of feminism is the advancement of women’s issues; ones that everyone should be deeply concerned about. But no, when a woman takes the bull by the horns and decides to deconstruct unprogressive practices, she is labelled “proud, rude, etc.”

For far too long, the trajectories of women have been laced with underrepresentation and dehumanisation across human endeavours. Women make the numbers, but sadly, these numbers are mere statistics that do not translate to shared-opportunities. I have met many ladies who have shrunk to fit, because the audacity in their voices is a threat that could cost them marriage to a man in the nearest future. They continue to wallow in the pit of social constructs and living wholly as humans does not seem like an option to them.

Regardless of the labels, I understand that a person’s experience can be learned from, but not be universalised. Equal opportunity is not a luxury and should not be gender specific. I believe in the social, economic and cultural inclusion of everyone. I believe in the freedom of women and girls to be simply humans who nurture their individualities. This is what feminism means to me.

What I Have Learnt From Advocacy
Advocacy isn’t cheap; you need resources (money, time, manpower, etc.) and an undying passion to do great advocacy. Emotions alone don’t push advocacy; you need facts, a strong network, diplomacy, and good lobbying skills. When you do advocacy, tell your story in a compelling way. It will not only advance your cause and improve the lives of the people, but also aid your personal development. You can pursue a career in a different sector and still do great advocacy.

I am a Corporate Communications Practitioner who has leveraged my learning and skills over the years in driving sustainable development. For instance, I ran an online campaign during the rise of the 2nd wave of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria; the hashtag, #MoreThanAMask, garnered about 2.5million organic impressions. As much as possible, advocate without being provocative. A smart advocate doesn’t shut the door, he/she leave it ajar.

Three women who inspire you and why
Mo Abudu: What else to say about her cross-sectorial experience, grit, poise, intelligence, persistence and determination. One of my inspirations for being a public speaker, especially a hijab public speaker, was watching The Debater, an initiative of Mo Abudu. She is an amazon who is constantly changing the African narratives. She wears so many hats, and does so excellently.

The Squad (Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Cori Bush of Missouri): I like that these audacious women represent different “Firsts” and together, they have built a resilient and forward-thinking sisterhood. They will rather be honest and feel the heat, than be neutral. For them, the interest of the populace supersedes the party’s interest. They are smart, knowledgeable, graceful and radical. What a breath of fresh air they are!

Christiane Amanpour: She’s a stellar outlier and outstanding storyteller. Despite being so long in the game, Amanpour continues to grace our screens with incredible stories of people, places and possibilities. She has shown that hard work and passion are major ingredients to attaining success and significance.

Where I See Myself In Five Years
I like the intersection of media and communication, politics, policy, and development. In the next five years, I see myself occupying an international role that brings everything together and allows me to do great, impactful work.

Advice To Girls Five Years Younger Than Me
You’re bigger than your current environment; don’t let it define you. Own your truths; take up spaces and do not be enveloped by social constructs. Live wholly as humans; breathe! Do not let the fear of failing stop you from trying. Tell your story, because no one understands what it feels like to be you like you. Seek guidance; you do not have to thread the rocky path of life cluelessly. Embrace humanity and spirituality, it will help you live a more fulfilled life.