Lake Norman Magazine

A Way With Words

Justin Smith

“Debbie: you will never get picked out of a crowd because of your looks so you need to develop your personality.” These so-called words of wisdom, however unpleasant, stuck to one little girl like a brand on a calf; their practicality and permanence clung to her and carried her through a slew of hardships that most never experience in a lifetime.“I’ll never forget that my mother told me that,” says Debra Engelhardt-Nash, 62, who is a successful consultant and speaker. In 2013, Nash had the opportunity to participate as a speaker at TED Talks, a global initiative to spread intellectual ideas that began as a singular event in 1984 and grew to include annual conferences. “I titled it ‘Mama didn’t lie.’ My personality has carried me through a lot of extraordinary experiences. Situations I had to learn to endure that looks wouldn’t have contributed to one iota.”For Nash, “a lot of extraordinary experiences” runs the gamut from childhood, when she and her mother were homeless and living out of a car, to adulthood, when she recovered fully from brain tumor surgery and regained the ability to walk without a cane, contrary to what doctors had believed. Mama’s truths instilled her with the resiliency to bounce back from whatever challenges life threw her way. “When we were homeless, living in the car—plugging the toaster oven into electrical outlets in gas station restrooms so we could make dinner—I was trained to take risks and learned to be resourceful,” says Nash. “My personality was my survival. I was all I had.”But she did more than merely survive. In 2014, Nash was named one of the “The Top 25 Women in Dentistry,” amongst other extraordinary dentists, lab technicians, and researchers and educators recognized by Dental Products Report. In addition, she is the recipient of the 2015 Gordon Christensen Award, which acknowledges top lecturers in the dental industry.For Nash, it wasn’t an easy road to success. As a teenager, she declared herself a runaway and entered a foster program. She eventually became emancipated and put herself through college, earning a degree in education with a vision of becoming a drama teacher. But life had something else in store for her.Ironically enough, the little girl who would “never be picked out of a crowd” was in fact selected from an audience, a pivotal turning point that would change her life’s course for the better. “I was recruited out of an audience by a consulting firm to become one of their consultants,” she says. “I first worked out of their office in California and then started my own consulting company in 1985.”Though her mother’s words of wisdom turned out to be technically untrue, Nash looks back with gratitude on the advice she was given and the hardships she faced, crediting it for serving “as a great survival guide for being a consultant.” Such survival tactics have shaped her into the successful consultant she is today, giving her the ability to teach communication and customer service skills in a way that ignites a new perspective and greatly influences any audience.Though she has years of experience consulting for an array of industries from medical to retail, she currently focuses predominantly on the dental industry. Today, she runs her consulting business from Huntersville, where she also happens to manage her husband’s cosmetic dentistry practice; and— throughout it all—she still finds the time to travel around the world for speaking engagements. Whether she’s teaching a course on the art of customer service or giving a speech at a convention for the American Dental Association, her passion lies in empowering businesses and individuals to reignite their desire to thrive professionally.Looking back on her life, Nash says she feels incredibly fortunate. “When you have significant emotional occurrences that happen in your life, they do shape you, they absolutely shape you and it can either devastate you or you can make decisions about what you’re going to do with your emotions,” says Nash. “I’ve always had to learn that I’m in control of my emotions and what I’m going to do with what is dealt to me. I can’t control what happens to me, but I can control how I react to it.”Nash’s hardships molded her into an effective speaker—one that actively engages an audience in a way that is relatable and inspiring. Like the mark that was left on her as a little girl, she leaves an audience with a lasting impression that inspires and warrants change in an unforgettable way.