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Great Traits with Mark Tewksbury and Debbie Muir

March 4, 2014 by Speakers' Spotlight

Spotlight On: Great Traits with Mark Tewksbury and Debbie Muir

Founded by Olympic champion Mark Tewksbury and Olympic coach Debbie Muir, Great Traits is a program that teaches people to be victors in their own right. Using stories, activities, heart, and humour, Mark and Debbie connect individuals, teams, and organizations to the fundamental principles that drive achievement, leadership, and lasting legacies. We are thrilled to put our spotlight on Mark and Debbie today:

What inspired you to want to be a speaker?

Mark: I stumbled upon speaking by accident. In 1988, coming back from Seoul after Ben Johnson left a devastated and stunned Canadian public in his wake, I started speaking to school children to share some of the good things about the Olympics.  It would lead to a 25-year keynote career.  Now I am inspired to speak because I still get to share my stories, but also get to be part game-show host and talk-show host while working with my best friend.  Does it get any better than that?

Any advice for aspiring speakers?

Mark:  I think speaking is a skill, and it takes time to master. I also think of it as a craft.  Structure is important in terms of content, but the real magic of speaking happens in the connection between speaker and audience.  If you can get good content and be real so that people connect, you have it made.

Debbie: Speaking was never something I aspired to (remember, speaking is many people’s greatest fear-and that was me!). However, coaching and teaching have always been two things I loved.  When Mark and I brought together our experience in high performance sport, and created a business that takes those lessons to people via interactive keynotes and workshops, I had no choice!  I have to admit, it has been a great adventure working on speaking and presentation skills with one of the best in the business.

What do you like to leave audiences with?

Debbie: We want audiences to leave a Great Traits event feeling inspired and energized from the presentation, but most importantly we leave each person with practical tools they can use – the very next day.

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

Mark:  I used to pace and pace when I was younger and just starting out.  I didn’t know what to do with all of that nervous energy.  Over time I learned to channel that and could even eat dinner before getting up to the podium.  With Great Traits presentations it is always Debbie and I sharing the stage, we are much more focused on the practical before we start. Debbie is back with the  AV team checking videos, sound etc., and I am checking out the room.  Are the red and green cards on the tables?  Are there two chairs on stage?  Am I wearing my stopwatch?  That kind of thing.

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

Debbie:  For us, it’s really important that people leave our session remembering some of the exercises and games we did.  These are the tangible tools they can use in their own work environment. One of the games we do is called “Red Ball/Yellow Ball.” It comes from the world of improv, and participants throw imaginary balls around a circle as part of the game. The day following a workshop, as we were walking through the airport, we heard someone in the distance yell, “Red Ball.” Then the person she was with yelled, “Yellow Ball” and we realized it was two participants from our session. They were playing our own game with us.  It was a really fantastic way to see they had a learned a lot and were taking the messages home.

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

Debbie: I recently got to an event nice and early to set-up and be completely organized.  I was working with the AV guy at the back of the room to load our presentation.  I didn’t like how they had set-up the stage, so I had the hotel send some guys to reorganize it.  With 15 minutes to go before the presentation started, the stage was half-moved, the PPP was loading, and then Mark came rushing in.  Where had I been?  We’re presenting in the room next door.  I was in the wrong room! It was a classic!

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

Mark:  I sit on the board of Special Olympics Canada.  Debbie sits on the board of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.  Both of us are inspired to continue to make a difference in sport.  Debbie mentors some of Canada’s great Olympic coaches, and I remain involved with the Canadian Olympic Team behind the scenes.

If you had to choose a new career, what would it be?

Debbie:  Actually, I chose this new career after a long career as a high performance coach, and Mark chose it after a long keynote speaking career.  We made the choice to create Great Traits in 2008. We love what we do–growing a professional development business that focuses on the fundamentals of achievement, leadership and legacy.

Best subject in school?

Mark: English in high school.  Political Science in university.

Debbie: At University, it was “Curriculum Design” which has served us well!

Last book you read?

Mark:  Through Black Spruce, by Joseph Boyden.

Debbie: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand…..I read it often–best book of all time!

Last film you saw?

Debbie: Philomena–trying to catch all the films that were up for Academy Award nominations.

Mark:  Wolf of Wall Street (in the cinema).