An alumna of Illinois State University’s School of Communication, Natilie Williams, realized early on in her undergraduate career the power of sharing one’s own personal story to connect with students of all backgrounds.
After earning her master’s degree at ISU, Williams’ first presentation as a professional public speaker began in August 2016.
“I was the keynote speaker in front of an audience of about 300 people and had a line of people waiting to speak with me. So, for me that was an indication that speaking wasn’t something I was good at but something that was part of my purpose. It had the potential to change lives as well as my own,” Williams said.
Since the event, she has traveled the country to speak with students from various colleges and universities, including the National Conference of Student Leadership.
Williams uses pop culture references to gather the attention of her audience, then continues the conversation with a deeper look at leadership and legacy-building leadership “for the culture.”
“When I say ‘for the culture,’ it’s really a play-off of the words that often get thrown around in pop culture, especially in the African American community.
Let’s say there’s a very popular song out there and it’s someone’s favorite song and their favorite artist is Beyoncé, they might say, ‘Oh, I’m doing it for the culture.’ Another example would be if an individual grew up with a family that made sure they understood the importance of education, and that individual goes off to get a college degree, they can say, ‘Oh, I’m doing it for the culture.’ It’s really become a popular catch phrase,” Williams said.
“So, with any of my presentations, I try and include pop culture references people can understand, then I’ll turn it around and apply it towards leadership. We may talk about Beyoncé and sisterhood and mention some of the great things she has done but we’ll take it a step further and look at the group she had, Destiny’s Child, versus the Beehive, which are her loyal fans,” she said.
Williams applies these pop culture references in different ways, seeking to find if people are being one way or another in communication.
For Williams, the meaning of leadership includes many components with the ultimate goal of mentoring future generations.
“It’s about being self-aware, it’s about us having a good team and community around us that can correct us and console us. One that understands that the work that we do isn’t meant to be done forever so we essentially have to mentor other people, so they can continue the work of changing the world as we go into new dimensions in life,” she said.
Williams' presentations and workshops are geared towards all people, but her target audience is college students since they comprise a majority of her events.
“There are times where the events may be geared towards a particular audience but the messages I present essentially apply to any and everyone,” she said.
Williams said people don’t have to necessarily recreate the wheel with anything they are passionate about or want to do.
“If somebody else has done it, we can easily learn from their blueprint, including their highlights as well as their failures and learn from those things. They can help us along our own journey,” she said.
“Intentionality is important, so be intentional if you know you want to go into a particular field, whether it’s business or communication. I’d say it’s very important to surround yourself with the team that you need to get there whether it’s making sure you have the right type of relationships with professors or actively seeking out internships that will assist you,” she added.