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Marnie McBean

November 7, 2013 by Speakers' Spotlight

Spotlight On: Marnie McBean, Three-Time Olympic Gold Medalist and Athlete Mentor for the Canadian Olympic Team

Marnie McBean is one of Canada’s most decorated Olympians, and an expert in turning potential into performance. Drawing on years of experience as a top competitor, she leaves audiences with a recipe for success—one that transcends sport and that can be applied to any endeavour. As a Specialist in Olympic Athlete Preparation and Mentoring for the Canadian Olympic Committee, McBean prepares athletes emotionally and psychologically to ensure that they perform at the highest level in everything they do. Marnie displayed her willingness to be a team player when she took the Speakers’ Spotlight “Spotlight On” quiz:

What inspired you to want to be a speaker?

It’s fun! Since I have no “internal voice,” speaking gives me a chance to chat with a larger audience and share how similar an Olympic Champion’s thought process is to that of everyone else, with respect to ambition, fears, doubt and confidence. Speaking also allows me to interact with people who hold different careers and come from distinct workplace cultures. In the process of being a mentor and teacher, I always find myself learning and absorbing from others.

Any advice for aspiring speakers?

Assume your audience are friends, and don’t talk at them, talk with them.

What do you like to leave audiences with?

A fire in their belly (!) and the inspiration to do, try, and learn more.

How do you prepare before a talk? Any special rituals? A good luck talisman?

I listen to the client and find the similarities in our goal-achieving paths. This helps me figure out what stories and analogies I should use to paint the clearest picture to achieve the goal(s) of the presentation.

While it’s not a ritual or a talisman, I like to take up my note book with me. It’s like my security blanket. I know what I want to say, but when I get excited or nervous I can glance at it and it keeps me calm and on track.

Do you have an especially memorable event you can tell us about?

My favourite moments with respect to speaking have all come well after the presentation. I am always so blown away when someone tells me that they heard me speak a few years ago, and that one story or another continues to resonate with them. This was particularly true after the 2010 Winter Olympics, when so many of the Canadian medalists told me that I’d been part of their preparation–ultimately their kind words led me to write my thoughts down, leading to my first book, The Power of More.

Any funny or embarrassing situations you have found yourself in as a speaker?

Just this week I was emcee at an event. The Amabile Choirs and Liona Boyd were performing at a benefit concert for Because I Am a Girl. As always, I asked the client how to pronounce a couple of names, including the choirs’ name–Amabile. It’s not what you might think, it’s an Italian word, so it is pronounced Ah-MOB-Bee-Lay (or Ah-MAUB-Bee-Lay). During the performance flubbed it. I said “Ah-mobe-ELL -Lay,” then “A-mobil- lay,” and then many other wrong adaptations.  I knew I was missing it–and I made fun of myself. Every now and then I’d get it right but it just wouldn’t stick! I had the audience helping me out–and they loved it…it was hilarious. At the end of the night, the client told me they were quite sure that everyone was going to go home saying Ah-MOB-Bee-Lay with a smile on their face. I was also able to turn it into a mentor moment with the young choristers…even when you make mistakes you can have a great show!

Is there a charitable cause that you feel passionate about? Why?

I am an ambassador for Because I am a Girl, Right to Play, and Fast and Female. All of these amazing initiatives focus on youth, particularly young girls, ensuring that they have the opportunity to safely get an education and live healthy, active lives. So many reports tell us that if we can help 12 year olds remain in school, healthy and safe until they are 18, their ability to become strong and independent contributors to their family and community multiplies exponentially. This is win-win for everyone!

Desert island album?

It would be a book. Either Far From the Madding Crowd,  by Thomas Hardy,  or The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay.

Best subject in school?

Math.

Last book you read?

I’m currently reading The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism, by Kristine Barnett, and The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls.

Last film you saw?

I was on a plane. I barely saw it.

First Trophy?  

A chess trophy. I played in tournaments and was ranked top 25 in Canada when I was under 12 years old.