Deborah Gardner is a woman of many talents and accolades to her name. A competitive swimmer, a former broadcaster with CBS Sports, a published author, an entrepreneur, a keynote speaker, and a hospitality and trends expert. Deborah also happened to earn the title of Mrs. Arizona 2020 (in her spare time)! She's a beautiful person inside and out. I am honored to share her responses to my curious questions.
Kristi: "Deborah, as an accomplished athlete, at what age did you start swimming, and would you tell us about your experiences as a competitive athlete and how that helped you become the person you are today?"
Deborah: "I started at 7 years old. My parents wanted all 3 of their kids to not get in trouble. So, they kept us busy participating in different sports. They chose swimming. It was something we all could do together. We had to qualify to make the team. We had to swim across the 25 meter pool. I remember jumping in the pool and immediately I thought a shark was chasing me. I was so scared, I swam really fast to the other side and got out feeling exhausted. Then, the coach looked at me and said, 'Yes! We want you!"
"Instead of feeling excited, I just cried. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done at that point of my young life. Refusing to go back, the very next day, I somehow changed my mind and said, 'Let's go swimming!'" I’ve never looked back at that shark but instead continued to swim throughout college at Arizona State University and even today with the Master’s program. I love to swim!"
"Although I could not go to the 1980 Olympics (due to the boycott), the sport of swimming has taught me to be disciplined, accountable, responsible and how to set and achieve goals. I learned to better myself as an individual and a teammate. I am able to adapt easily to changes because I've been able to do both things."
Kristi: "What did you learn from your 5-year career as a broadcaster for CBS Sports?"
Deborah: "I learned not to listen to others when you want to do something you love. As one of the first women sports broadcasters, it was tough because it was a time when it was not acceptable for women to give football score. But, people considered me a trailblazer that has served well for what I do today. Even today, you can't listen to what other people say you cannot do!"
Kristi: "You're a published author of several books including your most recent book called, Life In The Fast Lane: 52 Tips For Women To Get Off The Block and Go. You don't have to be an athlete to love this book because your motivational messages for women help encourage them to reach their dreams, set big goals, and do amazing things with their lives. What’s impressive is that you write in a way that is beneficial to everyone who wants to become better. What else do you want readers to get from this book?"
Deborah: "Confidence! I want women to have the confidence that they can do ANYTHING they set their mind to. They can stand up and say, 'I can do this.' Life is in the fast lane is where we all live. It’s just a matter of what you do in the fast lane."
Kristi: "As an entrepreneur who consults with companies and organizations so they can advance to new levels of success, what is the core of your message?"
Deborah: "My consultation is in the hospitality industry. They call me a 'Triple Threat' because I am a hotel supplier, a meeting professional, and a public speaker. Recently, I've been extremely busy helping leaders during this Covid-19 crisis. Many of the leaders are deciding who to furlough and lay off. It’s heart breaking and exhausting during this difficult time when people in the front lines to to the back of the house are losing their jobs every day.
Kristi: "Deborah, as one of only seven certified meeting professionals in the speaking community, what are the keys to hosting a successful meeting or event?"
Deborah: "It all comes down to what your goals and objectives are. You must know what they are in order to come up with a plan. Applying risk assessments to determine what is needed lie, safety and security procedures. Our industry changes minute by minute and it’s important to serve our number one boss, the audience."
Kristi: "Speaking of audiences, why do you think your keynote presentations do to resonate so well with your audiences?"
Deborah: "Today's audiences are very smart, experienced and skeptical. Speakers need to make sure it's worth their time and effort. It's not about getting their attention by making it all about the speaker. To promote and market a meeting and event, audiences are going to want to know, 'What's in it for me?' It's all about hospitality and the people. To do this, it’s a matter of being in my audiences shoes. They may want to have the best B&B property in the world and it’s up to me to provide interactive exercises that allow them to participate while seeking solutions to their challenges. I want them to think about their own life, business while taking action."
Kristi: "As a hospitality trends expert, what are your predictions?"
Deborah: "Today, I believe that bed and breakfast inns will make a faster comeback than big brand hotels. A lot of things will happen more locally. Individuals will travel first before meetings and events come back. More people are going to be driving, riding buses and trains. The key is to be adaptable. What worked yesterday isn't going to work today."
Kristi: "Deborah do you have any words of wisdom for innkeepers?"
Deborah: "Find opportunity in chaos. Exercise different parts of your brain to find creative ways to manage what will become the new normal. Consider doing a SWOT Analysis [Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats]. Then set new goals. It's not what happens to you, it's what you do."
Kristi: "Thank you for sharing such excellent advice for all hospitality professionals and for being Mrs. Arizona 2020. How did this idea transpire?"
Deborah: "I just turned 60 years of age and thought, what can I do differently in my life. Reflecting back, I remember competing for Miss National Teenager and failed miserably. Wanting to get back up on the horse and try again, I dusted off a gown in the back of my closet and went for it. Surprisingly, I won! It proved to me, age is just a number. You can reach your goals and dreams at any time of your life. Winning Mrs. Arizona 2020, had even opened up other opportunities, including being on national television while being the Fiesta Bowl Parade. Today, I’m presenting to more women groups as well. If you try something new, you will be surprised that doors do open for you."
Kristi: "In closing, you know B&B’s are all about hospitality. What comes to mind where you have experienced firsthand exceptional hospitality service?"
Deborah: "I was asked to speak for a program in Seattle. It just so happened, it was the same day as my 15th wedding anniversary. Knowing I can’t clone myself, I told the Fairmont Hotel in Seattle about it and they recommend I bring my husband, Jerry with me. Well, Jerry never travels without our four legged kid, lover boy dog, Chief. We call him that because he's chief of the house. Anyway, before you know it, Jerry agreed to fly to Seattle with me."
"We were already missing our lover boy, tearing from time to time. But, when we got to the hotel, we had the perfect surprise waiting for us in our room. In addition to a wonderful celebration amenity of flowers and chocolates, there was a framed picture of our dog, Chief. I'll never forget that the name of the employee I spoke to over the phone is Sarah Carter. She must have gotten Chief's picture off Facebook and made the special gift. So, it was like our lover boy was there with us, after all. Now, that was a memory we will never forget and continue to share with many audiences. I would think that is how B&B’s want to be remembered too."