Prime Performers Talks To Sailing Legend Adam Tuffnell

Adam Tuffnell is one of the world’s most renowned sailors.  Throughout his 20-year career has taken on some of the most hostile environments on the planet; surviving hurricanes, flooding, collisions and emergency medical evacuations.  We interviewed Adam to hear how his sailing experiences have helped him survive in the choppy waters of the after dinner speakers circuit.  

Adam Tuffnell

1. Throughout your sailing career you have faced many life-threatening situations, including hurricanes, flooding and collisions. What was your most challenging event whilst on the open seas?

There is one event that stands out above all others. A violent Atlantic storm with near hurricane conditions, an ocean about 2 miles deep, an inexperienced crew and some 1,500 miles between us and safety. The boat was flooding faster than we could bale the water out. To make matters worse, the pump then broke. Our back-up, fail-safe systems, basically failed! The barometric pressure was dropping rapidly, a critical indicator of a worsening storm. Injury, hunger and fatigue were all playing their part, along with an underlying fear amongst the crew. The need to focus on the challenge of survival does take your mind off the gravitas of the situation whilst in other respects piles on further pressure. We managed to plug the hole and get the water out. Fortunately, I lived to learn the lessons and tell the tale!

2.  Following a highly successful sailing career, you opened a sailing school and helped to train round-the-world sailing crews. What was your motivation behind going into coaching?

I have always been keen to personally develop and improve, so coaching was a natural progression. It enables my continual growth whilst sharing experiences in a way that benefits others. I find that you learn as much from the ‘student’ as they from you; if only you choose to listen. It is incredibly rewarding. Working with young people from challenging backgrounds or with learning difficulties taught me a lot about myself. Sometimes leading a team through near disaster situations can be an easier option than training a group of teenagers who have other ideas about how they would like to spend their time! And the more I give of my own experiences, the more I receive back. This continues to be the case with my speaking and my work within the executive education field; the level of enjoyment as I coach, continues to rise, be it working on the water or terra firma.

3.  Did your time as a sailor or your role as a coach better prepare you for making appearances as a speaker?

I have sailed in extremely perilous conditions with both amateur and professional sailors. From this I have learnt that survival is as much about digging deep, stepping up and doing whatever it takes to come through the other side as it is about expertise in a situation. The same is true of speaker appearances. The sailing and coaching roles are not mutually exclusive, each drawing on the other to achieve the best outcome to the situation, be it hazardous or more routine. Not too dissimilar to appearing as a speaker, in that as and when the unexpected happens, a fluid approach is essential. It feels like a privileged position, to be able to love what I do both on and off the water. Not least as in some respects I feel that my speaker appearances help to progress my abilities as both sailor and coach.

4.  What preparations do you make prior to delivering a speech? Both personally and in terms of material.

It goes without saying that the ‘6Ps’ (Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance) is the key, be it on the water or on the stage! I like to have a good understanding of the audience — what they do and how they do it. No two engagements are ever the same. More than anything else, I focus on what I am actually seeking to achieve… what would I like people to think and feel. One of the key challenges to leadership is having the strength to release the potential of others, in both directions, up and down stream in relation to the chain of command. As a speaker I adapt to the audience and the environment to deliver this message. On a personal level, I like to be well rested and to create a little quiet time prior to going on stage, maybe a couple of minutes or a few hours. I use this time to reflect on any specific client needs, how I can improve and evolve with each delivery.

5.  How does what you have learnt through your sailing career translate to the world of business?

The four tenets: teamwork, leadership, communication and fun! Be it on the water, the battlefield or in the boardroom, finding a balance between these four tenets is a key to success, however it is measured. People and the way we interact, the way we lead and the way in which we follow. My time on the water teaches me valuable lessons about managing extreme conditions that translate into the world of business. The answers we seek are often found from within and success comes through encouraging thought and reflecting on our own situations and circumstances. How do we get the best from ourselves and those around use? Start by looking within and understanding our own strengths, weaknesses and fears. At sea it is my job to create the space for people to realise their potential irrespective of their own beliefs and barriers. As a speaker, I am able to help leaders and followers alike to do the same in their own environments. If you would like to learn more about Adam Tuffnell then you can view his full profile here.  To check his availability for your event simply complete our enquiry form or call us on 020 7251 8222.

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