How to Prepare a Talk Like Bill Hybels

Bill Hybels


“Everyone wins when a leader gets better.” –Bill Hybels

The world desperately needs better leaders and better communicators. Your business, your school, your church, your family–all would benefit from better leadership and communication.

So how can you improve your leadership and communication skills at the same time?

One idea: by attending the Global Leadership Summit.

The Summit is hosted annually by the Willow Creek Association, a non-profit that helps develop church leaders. The event is held in South Barrington, Illinois, at Willow Creek Community Church and simulcast at hundreds of churches around the world. World-class speakers share their leadership insights for an audience of ministry professionals, lay leaders, and business people. This year’s faculty, for example, included Condoleezza Rice, Jim Collins, Patrick Lencioni, and William Ury.

And, of course, Bill Hybels. Bill is the founder and senior pastor at Willow Creek, and he is passionate about developing leaders.

Deanne and I decided to attend the Summit this year after a consultant colleague, Jim Connolly, recommended the conference to us. We’re always looking for opportunities to get better and found several at the Summit. Last week we made the short drive to Bloomington/Normal where we caught the simulcast at Eastview Christian Church.

Five things Bill Hybels taught me about preparing a talk

Bill gave the opening talk on Thursday. His talk was really more like three separate talks, though, since he 1) introduced the conference, 2) talked about the need for leaders to develop good work habits, and 3) discussed the need for churches and leaders to prepare for the future (succession planning).

While I appreciated the advice that was shared, I also learned a few things about how Bill presents a message. Here’s what I observed:

  1. It’s OK to use notes – Bill referred to his notes (probably handwritten) on the lectern while he delivered his message. In fact, almost all of the Summit speakers used notes. If you’ve seen any TED Talks, though, you know that those talks are memorized. Either approach is fine as long as it’s done well.
  2. Rehearse – Even though Bill used notes, his delivery style was natural and conversational–he didn’t sound like he was reading from a manuscript. This comes from decades of preaching weekly sermons, no doubt, but also rehearsal. It was evident that Bill was not delivering this talk for the first time; he had practiced so that his delivery–his presence–wouldn’t get in the way of the message.
  3. It’s OK to make fun of yourself – Leadership is serious business, right? After all, there’s a lot at stake: if you screw up, people’s jobs are on the line. Well, yes, but a good sense of humor–especially self-deprecating humor–may often win over the skeptical. As he opened the Summit, Bill shared a story about preparing a Thanksgiving turkey that revealed his “awesome” leadership skills but also reinforced the need for leaders to remain humble and teachable.
  4. You don’t have to use PowerPoint – In many instances, it’s assumed that presentations = PowerPoint. Bill, however, used an easel pad to draw simple diagrams that illustrated a few key points. The visuals were helpful (since you remember more when you see and hear content) even though Bill is no Rembrandt. But that’s fine. I’d rather see a rudimentary drawing than an overused bullet-point-laden PowerPoint slide. And since good leaders and speakers seek ways to connect with their audiences, creating imperfect drawings makes the leader more accessible to common folk like me.
  5. Be passionate about your topic – Bill’s enthusiasm for leadership and his desire to help leaders improve were evident throughout his talk. His content, preparation, and the depth of emotion in his voice all point to one conclusion: this is something about which he cares deeply, and you should too.

If you want to improve your leadership skills, consider attending the Global Leadership Summit next year. And if you pay attention to both what the faculty say as well as how they say it, you’ll pick up some valuable speaking tips as well.

Here’s another way to improve your presentations: get our eBook. It’s free for a limited time and will be available soon.

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