Pro Tips

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Heidi Skolnik

Heidi Skolnik is no rookie when it comes to professional speaking. Having worked with quite a few heavy hitters in professional sports, she pirouetted into professional dancing and hit a homer with The Athlete Triad Playbook. Read on as she gives DietitianSpeakers.com a backstage tour of her front-row career.

Dietitian Speaker Heidi Skolnik is ready to present in a red suit jacket. She says, "Find your superpower by being your true self." and demonstrates her own superpower when a heckler drops the F-bomb this week at DietitianSpeakers.com.

AC: You’ve done so much in your time as a dietitian. Give our readers some background about your work and how it’s changed over the course of your career.

HS: My  educational background includes a Master’s degree in Exercise Science followed a few years later by a second Master’s degree in Human Nutrition. I began my career in corporate fitness, yet Sports Nutrition has  always really been my jam. I used to work with the Giants football team (18 years) and the Mets (15 years)  and the Knicks (7 years) , and at the Women Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery for twenty-five years. Now I work with a lot of dancers  and performing artists (Juilliard and School of American Ballet)  and bring the sports performance perspective to them as artistic athletes.

One of the things that differentiated me early on was that my approach has always been somewhat experiential. It was never that I had more knowledge than anyone else – there are a lot of people who are way smarter and more knowledgeable than me. My secret power is my ability to translate the science into usable information and accessible information for the population I’m talking to and make it sort of fun and relatable.

I always loved speaking even as a kid. I know for some people speaking is one of their greatest fears. That was just never a thing for me. I always enjoyed it. Early on, when I would go to conferences, I would choose the session on honing your speaking skills over the session on polyphenols.

But somewhere along the way, I became intimidated by the people with greater scientific knowledge, and I thought maybe I don’t know enough. I started going to everything that was very specific in science. I lost sight of what made me a strong speaker and what my skill set really was. I’ve come back to that now, which is exciting.

I believe there’s an evolution within each person’s career, and right now, my focus is on the athlete triad and educating professionals to bring the information to their athletes.

I work with Broadway, at Juilliard, at the School of American Ballet, and I’ve taken the model of sports nutrition to these performing artists who are athletes. I use performance nutrition to motivate them to view their bodies as the instrument for their performance, helping them see the need to stay well-fueled and nourished, as opposed to thinking of food and diet only through the lens of weight loss and weight management, a la the common diet culture.

AC: How would you say you made the transition from speaking for free to then being paid for speaking, and was it challenging for you in the beginning?

HS: In the beginning, I don’t know that I spoke for free; I just didn’t charge that much. Along the way I did realize that doing it for free was unfair to both myself and my colleagues and the field. We’re all in this together and all elevating the field and pushing it forward, and we’re all helping each other out. Every time someone else gets a success, they open that door more for everyone else.

Early on I would take every opportunity I could to speak. As I got better, I found that every time I spoke, I got more gigs. Putting myself out there was really worth it and taking risks early on really paid off and led to lots of other opportunities. I wouldn’t have moved forward as quickly as a speaker had I not been in front of those groups.

I also started at a time when early on I didn’t have a lot of – I don’t want to say competition because I don’t view my colleagues as competition – but there weren’t as many people out there talking about sports nutrition. So, it was really more about opportunity and ability. At the same time, the opportunities arose where people offered me more money without me even asking.

As I got busier and busier, as I got better and better, as I had more and more demands, it was easier to charge and be more conscientious about what I chose to do and how I wanted to spend my time. Having more options made me have to become more thoughtful, because there’s only so much time and the burnout would be incredible.

AC: How do you decide what to charge? Not necessarily the amount, but the process you go through in your mind?

HS: When someone asks me to speak for an hour, my fee is not for that hour. My fee is for the hours that go into preparing for the hour I’ll speak. There are years in that preparation. When I get up and speak, I’m giving you an engaging, knowledge-filled, experiential, hopefully behavior-change-prompting hour that is worthwhile of your time, and you’re paying for all of that. You’re not really paying me for the hour.

I will also say, and this is very humbling to say out loud, that I charge less now than I did at the peak of my career because demand ebbs and flows and I’m with a different population. I’m okay with that because I understand the market. There was a time in my career where lots of things were flowing to me as opposed to me reaching out to find opportunities. That’s a different place to be.

I’ve learned to understand where I fit in the market. I understand the demand from the market as well as the other demands on my time. For me, speaking is part of my income; it’s a service I offer, not just something that I do on the side. There’s only so much I can give away for free before I’m not earning a living. Sometimes I choose to speak for less money for a charity or in the community for less than I might charge a corporation or in a spokesperson situation. There’s lots of different factors that go into the fee and it has to be individual. For example, I have to keep in mind that performing arts doesn’t have the same kind of budget that professional sports do. But there’s so much that I love about working with dancers that that’s okay with me.

AC: Thank you for sharing that process. How would you suggest a newer dietitian go about the process of determining what fee to charge? Especially if they’ve been speaking for free so far.

HS: Always keep in mind that you’re selling information. It’s your product. If your product was running shoes or blouses or microphones, you wouldn’t just go out and give them out for free. You don’t have to give your knowledge away, either. You’ve worked really hard for that and deserve to be paid for your time.

With that in the background, you have to individualize. What works for me wouldn’t work for someone who lives somewhere else in the country, or speaks to different organizations, or different topics or populations.

It’s different for a local school versus on a national scale. But ultimately, I would say you need to charge for your time or recognize if it is an opportunity in which you get to hand out business cards or handouts with your name on it in a place that you could get referrals from. You might then consider a lower fee or free as  a cost of doing business; essentially the cost of that talk is your marketing budget. There’s a reason you’re doing it for free.

And it may not be about money. If you really want that gig, you can take it, regardless of the pay. But you shouldn’t ever forget that you can also always say, “No, thank you.” They can find someone who’s more of a beginner, someone who’s starting out, who may give the talk for less if the group can’t pay what you need. It’s not your responsibility to give all the talks.

With that said, I think they’re probably going to get a different product for a different budget. Somebody starting out might do a fine job, but not the same job that you would do at this stage in your career. If a client wants you, this is your fee. You need to know how much wiggle room you have before you need to say no.

However, you decide your fee, and whatever you agree to, you have to feel comfortable and confident, and not resentful. If you feel like, “Why am I doing this?”, something has gone wrong in the process. You should be speaking because you feel valued or you feel it gives you value.

AC: I love the idea that feeling valued and appreciated is a benefit. Overall make sure there’s value, whatever form that takes. And I like the comparison that speaking is your product. That’s a really good way to put it.
What about the actual presentation delivery? What do you recommend to give a really excellent presentation?

HS: That’s a tough one because there are so many different styles. I think it’s having a style and knowing your message. Engaging is really important, but there are a lot of ways to be engaging. Feeling comfortable with what you’re presenting. Showing some personality.

Something I still struggle with is finding the right amount of material for the time allotted.  I often put in too much and it actually takes away from the strength of my presentation. You need to know what material is appropriate for the population you’re speaking to.

What’s great is when you give a really great presentation and you get that immediate feedback, where you just feel like you got it right and you can feel the energy in the audience, and they’re with you and they respond to what you’re putting forth… and the feedback is good, and you’re just in your groove and you get other gigs from it, because that’s one way you do know that it went well. So that feels great.

AC: I can feel your enthusiasm through the phone! What about the glitches? Does anything stand out that you just can’t believe it happened, but you just had to keep going?

HS: Oh, gosh, yes. Talk about being vulnerable. I have had a couple of mortifying experiences that come to mind.

When I was in my 20’s I worked with the Mets minor league baseball teams. For background, like many women, my weight changes over time, but I was confident with it, it didn’t mean a lot to me. So, I walk into this minor league site, prepared to give my talk and first thing one player yells out, “Wow, you gained weight since spring training!” Oh, my goodness.

And then another one of the players said, “Hey, leave her alone.” And I’m sitting there, mortified that my body is now the center of attention thinking THIS IS NOT WHY I’M HERE. Somehow, I was able to just say, “Let’s get going,” and was professional and moved through and did my thing.

Another time, more recently, I was talking to a group of coaches, male coaches at a university, and once again I was the only woman in the room. There was somebody in the room who had been invited who wasn’t a coach. I don’t know how I knew – I guess it’s just experience – I just knew. After I gave this whole talk, I’m taking questions from the audience.

And you know how it is – usually you get these very genuine, sincere, questions, and they listen and appreciate your answers. And then sometimes there’s somebody in the audience who isn’t really asking a question. They just want to tell you that they disagree, or they think they know better, but the way they do it, they’re not really asking a question. Which is this person.

This person raises their hand and I call on him, and he gives me one of those non-question questions, telling me what I should have said. And so, I say to him, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I really heard a question in there. Is there a question that you have?” He sort of repeats himself in a really rude way. It wasn’t like a healthy discussion of, “Here’s my view, here’s your view. Let’s discuss the science,” because that’s totally legit. This is more of a challenging, demeaning situation. So, I repeated myself, and said, “Excuse me, if you have a question, I’m happy to hear it, but if you’re just telling me what I should know, I’d like to move on.”

And he says, right in front of everyone, loud enough for everyone to hear, he says, “F*** me.” And the whole room was staring, all these men looking at me and how I was going to handle this situation. Can I handle this? Was I going to shy away? And I just came back full force, and I hope you’re not sorry you asked, because somehow, I stayed totally calm and said, “Well, usually I require dinner first, but I’m happy to meet you after the session.” And all these coaches started laughing and the guy was kind of put in his place.

Looking back as I tell you these stories, I realize they had nothing to do with the content, which is more traditionally what I’d be worried about. Knowing all the science wouldn’t help someone get through it, right? It was really about confidence and being able to get through these adverse situations and keep my professionalism going.

AC: Both of those experiences could easily get anyone flustered! The fact that you were able to get through them, knowing who you are as a speaker, without letting them get the best of you is amazing.

HS: You can’t see me blushing, but I am.

AC: Any advice for our readers to be prepared for those uncomfortable situations? Well maybe not THOSE exact situations, but intimidating situations in general?

HS: Yes. One of the best pieces of advice I got along the way when I was learning different skills around speaking is that you can simply own your own experience. I think Jessica is fabulous at this, saying “This is my opinion…” or “In my experience…” without saying that everyone has to do it her way. In other words, it frees people to disagree with you without making it into a battle. Because once it becomes my experience or my opinion as a practitioner or as a speaker, you can’t really argue with that, right? So now I say things like, “This is what I have found when I work with clients,” or “This is what works for me.” That doesn’t mean it’s the right way, or the only way, or that you shouldn’t do it differently.

Learning when to give the facts versus when to put forth my experience has been helpful in being able to stand in front of an audience of other professionals, which I still find intimidating. They know as much or more than I do, but I still come to the stage with twenty-five years of experience and that does mean something.

Added to that, it’s key to remember that you’ve been asked to speak. People are asking for your experience, your vantage point, your insight into the knowledge. That gives me a little more confidence when I’m standing up there because, again, that’s not something that can be argued, right? If you want to have a discussion on the post-exercise window for muscle protein synthesis, all we can do is cite (interpret) the science. And either someone’s going to be right and someone’s going to be wrong, or we may just have to agree to disagree. On the other hand, you can’t really debate me on my experience.

AC: Wow, all great points. Any other words of wisdom for aspiring dietitian speakers?

HC: I suggest taking any and all opportunities to do any trainings or conference sessions about speaking and make it a point to hear speakers you admire if you ever can hear them speak live. It’s okay to give up going to one of the scientific sessions, because honestly, you could read a paper on the stuff you’re missing.

Being prepared can never be underrated or overrated. You have to be prepared. Practice your intro. Practice your closing. Practice, practice, practice. Because if you do, then those situations where you’re asked to speak at the last minute and there’s no time to prepare, you can take those opportunities, because of all the preparation you’ve been doing all along. You have to put yourself out there and take risks, but the preparation is what lets you do it.

And then I guess in summary, you’re going to get better at speaking by speaking. Practice makes progress and the only way you’re going to become the speaker you want to be is by speaking. Be true to yourself to find your personal style. Watch what you like about other speakers, but don’t try to be them, try to be you. You’ll find your superpower by being your true self.

AC: Amazing. Thank you, Heidi, for all the ideas.

To hire Heidi for your next speaking engagement visit her website nutritionconditioning.net

Follow Heidi on social media: Facebook @HeidiSkolnik, Twitter @heidiskolnik, Instagram @heidiskolnik , and LinkedIn @HeidiSkolnik.

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Sally Kuzemchak

Sally Kuzemchak shares the joy of getting paid to speak at DietitianSpeakers.com.

Wouldn’t you like to be such an AMAZING speaker that people just hand over their money??? Sally Kuzemchak tells DietitianSpeakers how it’s done.

DS: Tell us how you got your start as a Dietitian Speaker and what’s changed since then.

SK: My evolution as a presenter has been very steady. My first speaking invitations were informal – local moms’ groups asking about feeding kids and how to handle picky eating.

Then I worked with a brand to speak about the same topics but in front of larger groups. It was scary at first but definitely boosted my confidence.

Then I was invited by a blogging conference to present about writing, and was invited back two more times. I found that I enjoyed speaking about the business of blogging, writing, and social media so much that I wanted to focus more on it.

In the past few years I’ve mostly been speaking to other dietitians and bloggers about content creation and social media: how to create more compelling content, how to connect with your audience online, and how to handle ethical situations that come up in social media.

I recently joined a speakers’ bureau and will be presenting with them around content creation for a state Academy meeting.

DS: Amazing! At what point in that process did you cross the bridge into getting paid to speak? Was it an easy transition? And do you have any advice for someone feeling awkward about making the switch?

SK: I was invited to speak at my son’s preschool about feeding kids, and I was fully intending to do it for free as a promotion for a new book I had. And then they just handed me a check! I was surprised and flattered, but then I thought, “Well of course!” – I earned it, and my time and expertise are valuable.

Dietitian Speaker and Author Sally Kuzemchak smiles from the cover of Cooking Light's Dinnertime Survival Guide

After that it became more natural to ask for a fee. I definitely understand feeling insecure about it, but it’s key to remember your worth. Realize that it may feel awkward the first time you say “Here is my rate for speaking,” but it will feel more natural over time. And you can always do occasional pro bono speaking for organizations and causes you care about.

 DS: What are the aspects that make an excellent speaker when you’re in the audience?

SK: Telling stories instead of lecturing, being natural instead of scripted, and creating slides with very little text on them so your audience is listening to you instead of reading your slide.

DS: It’s such a common mistake to put too many words on slides. We need to hear that message over and over and over. Have you ever made a rookie mistake?

SK: I was asked to speak about healthy eating by the local Heart Association, and we must’ve gotten our signals crossed because I assumed it would be in front of a few dozen people. When I arrived, I realized the program was being held on stage in an enormous hotel ballroom with hundreds of people. I was so terrified, I excused myself to the bathroom and promptly got sick! Then I pulled myself together and made it through (with shaking knees!).

DS: A great reminder to ask a LOT of questions in advance! Any other lessons learned the hard way that you’re willing to share with newer dietitian speakers?

SK: One lesson I learned is to find a way to collect email addresses from attendees so you can connect with them later. I once spoke to a group of young moms who lined up at the end of my program to ask questions. They all wanted to hear and learn more. It was only later that I regretted not having a way to collect their information in some way so I could invite them into my subscriber community and stay in touch. Another lesson: Have someone take photos of you while speaking. I realized while looking for photos for this, that I never thought to do that!

DS: Thanks Sally!

For more info about Sally, check out her books: The 101 Healthiest Foods for Kids & Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide and follow her here: Twitter @RMNutrition, LinkedIn @SallyKuzemchak, Facebook @realmomnutrition, and Instagram @realmomnutrition.

To hire Sally for your next speaking event, visit her website at realmomnutrition.com.

Have you heard Sally present? Share your comments below!

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Keri Gans

In the 1980’s, “Keri is so very…” was the slogan for hand lotion. Now it’s a statement of fact about dietitian speaker Keri Gans. She’s so very knowledgeable, personable and capable, we were thrilled to have the chance to chat about her speaking career. Read on for her take on our favorite topics.

DS: You’re not just a speaker, you’re a spokesperson. Tell us about how you got your start and how things changed over time.

KG: I originally started speaking while I was a clinical dietitian. Our hospital wanted a dietitian to give general wellness talks at a community senior center so I volunteered. From there it kept expanding. I started speaking to our outpatients with COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease], then to larger audiences and in more formal settings.

Being a public speaker is just part of my overall media communications business. As a communicator I share messages through several platforms, including social media, print/on-line media, webinars, and most recently virtual on-line conferences. My topics vary based on the client and the audience. Recent presentations have been on postbiotics and immune health for a client, debunking nutrition myths (“Read Between the Headlines”) at Today’s Dietitian, and brand marketing (“Seizing Opportunities: How to Use Evolving Science and Technology to Transform Your Career and Brand”).

One of the biggest changes for me as a speaker is that I’m actually more prepared now than I was at the beginning. As a new speaker I never prepared a script. Even though I may have done more research, I spoke more off the cuff. The longer I’ve been doing this I actually have found having a script and rehearsing comes across way more professional. Nothing is worse than being under-prepared.

DS: Speaking of the worst, our readers love to hear about glitches and how to get through them. Anything you do now that you learned the hard way?

KG: Early on a patient approached me after a hospital talk and said I repeated a certain word over and over in-between sentences. He had counted and told me the exact number of times! I don’t remember the actual word, but I do try and be aware of ANY word I might be using unnecessarily as a bridge from one thought to the next.

A different time I had a fashion disaster. Bought a new dress for a lecture at FNCE [the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference and Exhibition] and it wasn’t until I got dressed in the morning that I realized the security sensor tag was still on the garment! Had to keep my leather jacket on the entire talk even though that wasn’t my plan. Thank goodness the room was cold! Lesson learned here – check any new clothes days before packing!

DS: All I can think is thank goodness the tag was on the sleeve and not on the hem! These are both great reminders for our newer and aspiring speakers. What impresses you about a speaker when you’re in the audience?

KG: I always enjoy a speaker who tells a story and weaves something personal about their life into their talk. They don’t put too much information on slides, but rather share their messages in a more conversational way. I like a speaker who looks into the audience and tries to make eye contact rather than just focusing on their notes.

DS: Fabulous. We keep hearing this from our expert speakers. Don’t put too many words on your slides, be conversational and authentic, connect with the audience. It’s great to hear you reiterate these key points. One last question: What are your thoughts on evolving from speaking for free to asking to be paid?

KG: It’s natural to speak for free when you start, but hopefully it won’t take long to realize your worth. As I spoke more, I gradually charged more, based on my level of experience and knowledge. Now my fee is my fee. If someone wants to pay less, they should expect less and look for someone else. If they pay my fee, they get an expert who will deliver.  

Mic drop right there. Thank you, Keri!

If you’d like to learn more about Keri or invite her to your event, visit kerigansny.com.

Follow her on Facebook @KeriGansNY, Instagram @kerigans, LinkedIn @KeriGans, Pinterest @KeriGans, and Twitter @kerigans

Have you heard Keri present? Share your comments below.

 

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Deanna Segrave-Daly

Talking with Deanna Seagrave-Daly about her speaking career is like drinking from a fire hose – her ideas and strategies bubble up and out in a fountain of enthusiasm. Read on as she shares her best tips with DietitianSpeakingGuide.
DSG: You have so many talents! How did you whittle it down to a Unique Speaking Platform?

DS: My theme is that healthy food should always be delicious. I approach it by talking about food and cooking, weaving in good health through flavorful and delicious food. It’s sort of a stealthy approach to nutrition. We eat for flavor and with our eyes, and then P.S. there’s the benefit of it being nutritious. If it’s healthy but not delicious, that’s going to be a conflict. So whatever I recommend, whether it’s Healthy Kitchen Hacks to speed cooking or nutritious ingredient substitutions, everything I recommend either maintains or boosts the flavor.

I wrote two cookbooks on the Mediterranean Diet, so when I speak to dietetic associations I talk about the diet and the research behind it, and I really dive into actionability. How can people implement this in the kitchen? Not just the messages – eat more fish – but how do you physically do that? What are specific ways you can buy fish and store fish and cook fish so it tastes delicious, even if you think you don’t like fish.

DSG: How has your speaking career evolved?

DS: It hasn’t been a straight line at all. In the past I’ve done the more traditional sort of speaking to audiences in person, through television, radio and print. And then as nutrition communications moved online, I had to get good at blogging, SEO, food photography, every new social media platform. Whatever I learned, whether it was my formal education or on-the-job training, I figured someone else needs that information, too, so these new skills then became speaking topics.

It’s good to keep adding new topics because with tech, things become obsolete. I used to teach food photography to dietitians. Now smartphones can take really pretty pictures without even trying. Once I built my skill set, I put together presentations on how health professionals can use live streaming to promote themselves and their business and reach consumers, how restaurants and caterers can utilize Facebook live for marketing. Now I do a lot of live streaming, speaking to people through social media.

I have a Facebook page where my business partner and I speak directly to consumers from our kitchen. Whether it’s certain recipes or a health topic or promoting a new healthy cookbook or a seasonal vegetable, the focus is always how to prepare the food so it tastes great and is nutritious.

DSG: You seem very business-savvy. Did you ever have an issue charging for your services?

DS: I was lucky – I started speaking in a salaried position working in PR for the dairy industry, so I didn’t charge separately. I know lots of dietitians don’t have that option, so starting out locally and via webinars is great because you don’t have the travel expense even if you’re not getting paid much. Ask for an honorarium, because groups tend to have a little something to offer, and in addition to volunteering and giving back, you get your face out there to more people. If you speak in person, staying afterward for a meet and greet can be really beneficial for future opportunities.

My other suggestion is to think about the equity. Maybe at the beginning you’re not getting actual cold, hard cash for speaking, but are you getting your foot in the door? As in being exposed to people you might be able to work with down the line, or for pay? Or to promote your private practice or something else on your end? Speaking is a way to promote yourself and your brand, and that’s equity.

My cookbook is a great example of that. I may not get paid my standard rate, but they’re buying fifty of my books that will circulate among these people and potentially sell more books. With that said, also take in mind how much time it would take to create a presentation because your time is money in the long run as well. And when you get to the point where you’re pretty seasoned but the honorarium is still small, ask if you can bring a sponsor in in exchange for a little plug at the beginning. Is there a business out there that might want to be in front of the audience you’re speaking to? Pitch it to the sponsor as a win-win, to get their information into a new territory, or in front of their target audience.

It might not be a product. It could be another organization that has money put aside to reach either consumers or other health professionals. The better the match between your sponsor and the audience, the more you can name your price. The biggest thing with all this is full disclosure. My sponsors are usually food commodities or producers that I know from working together, and always a food I believe in. I’ll explain why I really I love their products, why I recommend them or use them.

DSG: That’s such a cool way to maximize your opportunities – speak on something you’re passionate about and help a product you believe in get more publicity.

DS: Exactly. And that’s why you should never go after sponsorship from a product you wouldn’t work with. Think of a product you love, that you use all the time, and approach them: “I love your product so much! Do you have money in your budget for a speaker? You could be exposed to this many people…”

Keep in mind that if the group you’re speaking with is also advertising your speaking, that’s even more exposure for your sponsor than who attends the event. It comes naturally to me because that’s what I do all day long, but you may not realize how much credibility you bring to a sponsor. As a dietitian, you have a leg up over a lot of other speakers because you have those credentials. It gives a product or organization credibility.

DSG: You’re amazing at putting out these ideas! Any suggestions for someone who’s struggling with this?

DS: It can be tempting to say a price and then try to justify it, and you don’t need to do that. You just say, hey, this is what I charge. Worst case scenario, they say they can’t afford it, and then you come back with what can you afford? It’s smart to ask for more so that you can negotiate downward if needed. But nine times out of ten they just say sure, and I think, What if I had not asked?

My advice is to say your price and shut up. Stop. Imagine you’re a lawyer. You’d say this is my fee. You don’t say here’s why, because I have to do all this extra work, and then I have this other work… just say your price and worst case scenario, they say no or no way. Then you can decide, do I want to do it for less or is there something else they can give me that’s not monetary to do so.

DSG: That’s a great way to think about it. Ok shifting gears, what makes an excellent speaker when you’re in the audience?

DS: It’s so much easier to talk about what makes a speaker terrible! Like not knowing the skill level of the audience. The worst thing a speaker can do is start talking without knowing who they’re talking to. I’m sure I’d cringe at my first speeches – I probably had my whole presentation on the slides. Now I’m definitely a believer in less is more.

It’s always fun to have visuals, a cartoon, infographics, or just the bullet points. You put a couple of words up and then you enhance them personally. I can’t stand when the speaker reads from their slides because it’s such a waste of time! You have to make sure whatever you’re saying is something they couldn’t get from just reading a PowerPoint alone. The less on a slide, the better.

You can always email very specific things after the fact, but you want to use slides more to engage and kind of give a map on where you’re going with the presentation. If the person is up there reading the slides word for word, why are they even there? I always appreciate having expectations set up front, so I know where we’re going. I like when speakers repeat the main points to drive them home; when they say a couple of times during your talk, “If there’s anything you take away from this talk, I want you to walk away with this nugget…”

If you’re an audience member and you can be engaged somehow, that’s huge. So interactions as much as you can, even if you’re virtual. Having a moderator, show of hands, opinion polls. Then to be accessible. I always appreciate the speaker’s email or contact info. I think if you’re speaking, you should be open for audience members. You should want them to give you feedback, whether it’s constructive or positive. That’s the whole point.

If you were there talking about something you’re passionate about, I would hope you want people to reach out to you afterwards. Then lastly – and it’s something I’ve learned over the years and I haven’t always done it -is getting that feedback. I would love your feedback, whether the good, bad or the ugly. You’ll never improve if you just do a talk and you have no one tell you anything. I’ve had to cringe over the years about a few things people said, but it’s always been in a way that has helped my next presentation. That’s my long list compiled over the years, learning, both speaking and sitting in many, many, many talks over the years.

DSG: Those points will be super helpful for our readers. Now let’s get even more personal. Will you share one of your most memorable experiences as a speaker?

DS: I was doing this fun TV spot about cheese on Valentine’s Day instead of chocolate. It was on CNN and I thought it was going really well, and then towards the end, the anchor said, “I got to tell you, Deanna, I hate cheese, I can’t stand it. I think it smells gross. I’m not lactose intolerant, I just don’t like cheese.” I’m thinking, are you kidding? I just talked to you about how it was sponsored by the Dairy Association. You’re sitting here saying how much you don’t like it, oh my God.

I said, “I think you’re in the minority because I reported that 1.5 million people voted that they would rather get cheese than chocolate on Valentine’s Day,” and I moved on from there. But it still shocks me to this day when I think about it.

DSG: How did you learn not to let unexpected things like that throw you off?

DS: I think it’s my media training. It helps me remember I may have one person in the audience who disagrees with me, but they’re only one person. I realize I’ll never please everyone. I’m speaking to many, many, many people and the one person who disagrees is not my target audience.

DSG: Well said. What other advice do you give to new and aspiring speakers?

DS: There are so many more opportunities than ever before to get into the world of speaking! I’m from the dinosaur age when you could do a talk in front of people and that was it. Now you can podcast, live stream on social media – you can create your own platform instead of waiting for someone to invite you. It’s amazing what you can do on your own! And if you don’t think it was great, just delete it.

DSG: This has been absolutely fabulous. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Interested in booking Deanna for your next event? Visit her website Teaspoon of Spice!

Follow her on Facebook @TeaspoonOfSpice, Twitter @tspbasil, Instagram @tsp_basil, LinkedIn @DeannaSegraveDaly, Youtube @DeannaSegraveDaly, and Pinterest @TeaspoonOfSpice.

 

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Robin Plotkin

As a teen scooping ice cream, Board Mama founder Robin Plotkin was already setting the stage for a decades-long career in food marketing, business coaching and culinary nutrition. Read on as she dishes about her family legacy of entrepreneurialism and serves up the ingredients for successful professional speaking:

DSG: How did you develop your Unique Speaking Platform?

RP: This is one of the biggest challenges for dietitians – figuring out how to separate yourself from the pack of everybody else. My uniqueness is in the fact that I come from a family of entrepreneurs and a family of risk takers, and everyone in my family has started their own business. So talking about how to start your own business, how to handle what feel like failures along the way, and what to do, what not to do is a natural fit for me.

It took me a while to look outside the culinary sphere where I was working and recognize that dietitians need to learn these skills, because they came so naturally to me. So over the years, my platform and topics have changed. These days my speaking platform is oriented toward business-focused skills for dietitians – marketing, branding, finding the job you want, the career you want, those types of things. It evolved from the kind of coaching I had been doing at lot of over the last several years – coaching newer dietitians, or those who are looking to change their focus mid-career, looking for something new. I was doing a lot of coaching on those topics so it was a natural progression to build those into speaking topics.

DSG: This seems to be a common thread among dietitians – it’s easy to gloss over your special talents without realizing that the same skills don’t come as easily to everyone. As your platform evolved, has your speaking style evolved as well?

RP: Yes, definitely. My idea of a great presentation has changed over the years. Just by the nature of being a dietitian, we’re so used to throwing information at people as fast and furiously as we can. So initially when I started out, that’s what it was – very, very heavily word-based slides, lots of information, lots of words. I might have had a hundred and twenty slides and I would struggle to get it down to eighty. It’s morphed into something much more visual with much more storytelling. The slides are just my triggers, to get me to the next concept I want to talk about. I think because of the way I’ve changed, today I’m a more effective speaker.

DSG: What advice can you give to a dietitian who’s not comfortable without those data-packed slides?

RP: I certainly think statistics and hardcore book facts are important and there’s a place for them, but the storytelling aspect really helps get your points across. Use real life examples, lots of optics and visuals and photos, or maybe don’t even use slides. Of course that depends on how comfortable you are speaking. As a coach, I feel obligated to say that speaking is not for everyone, and that’s OK. If speaking isn’t in your wheelhouse, or it’s just too uncomfortable, or you’ve tried to improve and it’s not working, it’s okay to not be a speaker. You can find other outlets to share your knowledge and your information and your passion. Because the world needs writers and podcasters and bloggers and teachers, too.

DSG: That’s such a good point. What else have you learned the hard way?

RP: Well, I’ll tell you, one of the first talks that I did was to a group of dietitians and dietary managers, and it was the largest audience I’d had at the time – probably 150 people. There was a dietitian sitting in the front row who would shake her head “no” at me every time I brought up a new concept, like I was saying something wrong. She had her arms crossed and was really giving off a lot of negative feedback, and it really started to rattle me,  I was able to get through the presentation but for more than half of my talk, I had built up in my mind that this person was going to come after me and attack and disagree with everything I had said. So to nip that in the bud, I went up to her afterward and asked her what she thought about the talk. I told her I had noticed she was shaking your head in earnest when I was talking and I was wondering if she disagreed with me.

She said, “Oh, no, I was in total agreement with you.” I was floored. She literally said, “Absolutely everything you said, I completely agreed with you. I couldn’t believe all these people were doing all these different kinds of diets that got so out of control.” So she was shaking her head about the things I was talking about, but not at me in the way I had assumed. Can you imagine thinking someone is hating every word you say, and in reality she was in 100% agreement. That is something I will never, ever forget. It was early in my speaking career and I didn’t have the confidence that everyone doesn’t have to agree with me. But I learned that you can never know what your audience members are thinking unless you have the conversation with them. It’s tough to read them. So I would encourage other speakers, if you think that somebody is in disagreement, go up and ask them, because in my case, it would have eaten me alive had I not done that.

DSG: You’re full of good advice. What about getting paid? What’s your philosophy of charging to speak?

RP: If you want to get paid, you’ve got to be a good speaker. It’s not enough that I’m a business owner and entrepreneur and that I’ve done all the things that I’m talking about, it’s the delivery as well. Not everybody is a good speaker starting out, including me. I knew the information, but to be a credible speaker I needed the experience and the feedback to improve and so on. It took some time to become a good speaker, and only after that did I feel comfortable charging. Initially, I put a lot of sweat equity into my talks. I was interested in building my speaking career and building up my speaking resume, so I took any opportunity to speak. I didn’t feel comfortable charging for my talks until I became a proficient and confident speaker, and then I had no problem charging at all. The best advice I was given is to give your price and shut up. Don’t say anything else. If a client can afford you, then great. If they can’t, then that’s an opportunity for you to either negotiate or walk away. And there’s nothing wrong with either one of those things.

DSG: I think we may have interviewed the very speaker who gave you that advice! Do you have a tried and true approach to evaluations, too?

RP: Early in my career, I used to look at evaluations to make sure that people liked me, and liked what I was doing and what I would say. As the years went on, what I looked for more was when someone would say, “Here are the things I’m going to do after Robin’s talk,” or “She taught me these three things and this is how I can apply the information she gave me today, tomorrow.” Anytime someone says, “I can apply this immediately to my life, my career, my goals,” that is really memorable to me because that is MY goal – to be able to give somebody tactical, practical information that they can use tomorrow to make an impact.

DSG: Any other advice for readers who want to develop their speaking skills?

RP: I would say buy A Dietitian’s Guide to Professional Speaking, obviously. It’s great. And I would also encourage people to go to as many presentations as they can so that they can see all of the different styles of presenters that are out there. Don’t just watch TED talks online, go to actual live presentations, see what you can expect at a free talk versus a paid talk, and spend some time honing your own presentation style by seeing what else is out there.

DSG: Thank you for sharing your best tips with our readers.

Interested in bringing Robin to your event? Learn more at her website, RobinPlotkin.com.

For info on Board Mama charcuterie and barkcuterie, including virtual groups and classes for kids, visit BoardMama.com.

You can also find Robin on Facebook @robinplotkinrdld , Instagram @robinsbite, Twitter @robinsbite, and Pinterest @robinsbite.

Have you heard Robin present? Share your comments below.

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Alexandra Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Dietitian Speaker who knows how to pivot. From growing her speaking niche to adapting to covid life, read on for her take on professional speaking and why it’s good to feel uncomfortable.
DSG: Tell us about your Unique Speaking Platform and how it developed.

AC: I love speaking! I know some people say public speaking makes them nervous, but being in front of an audience has never been difficult for me. I’ve always enjoyed performing and feel like speaking is an extension of that. I did a lot of small group presentations when I was a Sports Dietitian for a D1 [NCAA Division 1 College] program and evolved from there. I moved into webinar presentations for various companies and national magazines and then eventually to conferences.

I’ve also diversified my message over the years; I started out speaking on sports nutrition and eating disorders in athletes and have moved to pediatrics and plant-based nutrition as my interests evolve.

DSG: How did COVID-19 affect your speaking career?

AC: In 2020, my speaking focus completely changed to podcasts instead of live events and conferences. I’m really loving the podcast landscape and getting to tailor my message to various audiences without a lot of prep work like I would if I was presenting for a webinar or conference. Podcasts are much more conversational and being able to do them without travel has allowed me to speak much more often than I had in the past.

DSG: It sounds like you’ve really found a silver lining. Fabulous. What about the financial side of speaking? How did you make the transition from speaking as part of your job to paid speaking?

AC: I’m thankful to have had great mentors early in my career that allowed me to understand my value and my worth. That’s not to say that I didn’t cut my teeth doing plenty of low-pay and free gigs; there’s a certain freedom that comes from not being paid and continuing to evolve and become better. Once I realized that my message was unique and my experience had value, I became more comfortable in addressing payment. I know money can be tricky, and that’s usually a larger gendered issue. My husband also speaks at national conferences and the conversations he’s able to have around payment are much different than mine. You’ll get more comfortable as you go. As one of my mentors told me early on, if you’re a little uncomfortable with what you’re asking for, that’s a good sign.

DSG: That’s an amazing statement. It fits in with Jessica’s idea that discomfort isn’t the same as incompetence – even excellent speakers need to grow our comfort zones. What about speaking skills? What do you admire in a speaker when you’re in the audience?

AC: Someone who can read the room as they speak, making adjustments as needed. Canned speeches that are too rehearsed are boring and don’t take the unique audience into view.

DSG: That’s really a sign of excellence, isn’t it? The ability to shift in response to the audience or the environment. Have you ever had an unexpected situation while speaking that you had to adjust to?

AC: I’ve had too many technical failures to count! The most memorable was when I was speaking at a popular dietitian conference and my presentation couldn’t load on their computer. Nothing like winging it when the props and media you were relying on were gone! It wasn’t the best speech, but wasn’t the worst either– the more comfortable you are with the material, the easier it is to go unscripted.

DSG: That’s great that you were able to press on without your tech – and it really hits home your point about being able to adapt on the fly. Any other words of wisdom for newer dietitian speakers?

AC: Do things that make you nervous. I’ve done a lot in the past decade and I attribute that to not being afraid to put myself out there. I apply for a lot of speaking opportunities that I don’t get, but I keep going. With the current media landscape, you don’t have to wait to be invited to become a speaker. Start practicing with IGTV, IG live, IG stories, etc. Host a FB live on a topic! Gone are the days where someone else decides that you get to speak on something you’re passionate about. Audiences are everywhere; find yours and speak to them.

DSG: That’s a great message to end on. Thank you!

Interested in hiring Alexandra for your next speaking event? Contact her through her website Delish Knowledge !

Follow her on social media: Facebook @DelishKnowledge, Instagram @delishknowledge, and Twitter @delishknowledge .

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Leslie Bonci

Leslie Bonci has a signature style that’s easy to spot: she hits home-runs with her puns and rhymes at the right times. Read on as she shares her favorite speaking topics and tips with DietitianSpeakingGuide.com.
DSG: Your way with words is one of a kind. When did you realize you were going to be a speaker?

LB: In graduate school we had to present as part of the course requirements. I found that I just loved being in front of an audience. I am all about performing and providing the edutainment. My goal is to get people engaged and be entertained while informed.

Communication is an art. Not just what we say, but how we say it. I spend a lot of time with athletes and it’s all about communication with demonstration for optimal application. I find speaking to be a natural extension of that one-on-one work: identifying a problem, brainstorming solutions and resonating with relevance.

DSG:  You’re excellent at blending engagement with your info. I bet that makes you a tough critic. What gets your attention when you’re in the audience?

LB: The things I find engaging are humor and authenticity, and a speaker who creatively uses props, soundbites and their voice to tell a compelling story.

DSG: What have you been speaking about recently?

LB: Some of my recent favorite sports nutrition talks have been Feed the Need, Fuels of Engagement, Sideline Guidelines (fueling during the pandemic), Fake News/Real Views, and then for RDs, Bites of Insight.

DSG: You never disappoint with your titles! How did COVID-19 change things for you?

 LB: I love to present in person, but 2020 was different. Luckily speaking can be done virtually – the key is to inform no matter the platform! But as a speaker, I thrive on eye contact and heads nodding. It’s impossible to gauge interest – or disinterest – virtually, so I have to find the way to keep myself engaged, inspired and excited when presenting on a virtual platform.

DSG: What are your thoughts on speaking for money versus as a volunteer? Any advice for someone who’s trying to make the transition?

LB: I think we all have done and need to continue to do pro bono work, but we also need to be remunerated for the services we provide. Doing presentations for free is a great way to practice, get some experience and also exposure, but typically it is a one and done for an organization. I won’t do free more than once to the same organization. Ask if the organization is willing to pay before you accept. Do ask other RDs what they would charge for similar types of presentations. It is also ok to say no.

DSG: You seem like such a positive person. Does anything about speaking get you down?

LB: It’s important to realize that not everyone is going to love you all the time. I did a talk for the sports medicine staff of the Ironman in Kona. Even though it was engaging and informative about nutrition for recovery, there were several members of the audience who called me a shill because it was sponsored by MilkPep for chocolate milk. Not cool. I focus on the victories – getting a standing ovation, the time someone came up after a presentation to invite me to speak in South Africa.

DSG: You’ve spoken around the world and had amazing experiences. Will you share some advice with aspiring speakers who want to emulate your career?

LB: When I was in grad school, one of my advisors told me don’t be funny – people will never take you seriously. Happy to say that I ignored that advice, because I do think humor has served me well in procuring and securing speaking engagements. Perseverance and patience are admirable traits. If you’re rejected the first time, ask why and try again. Constantly evaluate and make it better. Don’t give the same talk over and over again. It will show in your presentation style. If it’s not fun for you, it won’t be for the audience either. It’s all about the sell in your speak and tell!

DSG: Said in classic Leslie Bonci style! Thank you for these great ideas.

For more about Leslie and where and when she’ll be speaking next, visit…

Website ActiveEatingAdvice , Instagram @bncilj , Twitter @lesliebonci, and Facebook @LeslieBonci.

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Christine Palumbo

Christine Palumbo went from cheering for her high school and college to cheering on dietitians who want to work in communications. She’s also an energetic supporter of consumers in improving their nutrition habits. Plus she’s the only dietitian speaker we know who’s been a guest on Oprah. Read on as Christine shares her inspirations with DietitianSpeakingGuide.com.
DSG: You’re known for your enthusiasm when presenting. Tell us how you developed your Unique Speaking Platform.

CP: People like to be entertained during a presentation. While I’m an introvert, speaking to a live audience makes me feel alive. I’ve always enjoyed being on stage – during my ballet days, as a cheerleader, serving as a lector. During college I enjoyed doing demonstrations in class and later enjoyed teaching classes in my clinical nutrition positions. It’s important to make a talk enjoyable so that the audience leaves in a good mood.

DSG: What do you like in a speaker when you’re in the audience?

CP: I like a great speaker that hooks the audience right away and reels them in. The first thirty seconds of a presentation need to arouse interest in the topic, otherwise, there’s a risk the audience will be hunched over their phones. I like it when the speaker is authentic, humble and relatable, and the audience learns something and leaves with a smile on their faces. I don’t care for typical keynote presenters; usually they seem overly practiced and canned. A great presentation is like a great movie – when it’s over I haven’t once looked at the time or gotten the wiggles.

DSG: What a great analogy! What about pricing and fees? How do you navigate that aspect of speaking?Dietitian Speaker Christine Palumbo stands behind a podium presenting enthusiastically.

CP: Because every presentation is preceded by time for preparation, I’ve never felt shy about charging for them. After all, I’m delivering a great value! However, there are many instances when it feels like my expertise and ability to educate and entertain is not compensated adequately. Way too often, I’m expected to deliver for little or no compensation. When a cause is near and dear to my heart, I’m willing to waive my fee or charge a token. But I do find it challenging to wring out serious cash from organizations and companies that are being too stingy. When we cannot come to an agreement, I suggest they contact the local university for a dietetic student or a dietetic intern who is looking for speaking experience. I hope they get the message!

DSG: You’re an extremely experienced speaker, I imagine you take almost everything in stride. Does anything surprise you anymore?

CP: About 10 years ago an evaluation took me by surprise. While speaking at the Academy Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo, one of my slides depicted the White House vegetable garden that First Lady Michelle Obama had created. One evaluation read, “Promoting the First Lady as the Chief Nutritionist and showing her photo was inappropriate. I can think of many more appropriate examples of the love of organic gardening and well-toned biceps that would not have been so blatantly partisan. FNCE is not a political convention.” I was and am still stunned as I did not consider the slide political at all, simply a statement of fact. I didn’t voice my approval of it or put it down; I only stated that it was something new.

Dietitian Speaker Christine Palumbo presents to a group of dietitians.DSG: Wow. As Jessica says, evaluations often reflect more about the writer than the presentation, and the negative ones really stick in your mind. Let’s end on a positive note – what’s your favorite compliment?

I’ve had some delightful comments from the public, including “I lost weight just watching her.”

DSG: That’s quite a testimonial! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with our readers. For more about Christine, follow her on her social media: website ChristinePalumbo.com  Instagram @Christine_Palumbo, Facebook @ChristinePalumboNutrition, and Twitter @PalumboRD.

5 Times Speakers Must Speak Up Instead of Being Flexible

If you’ve read A Dietitian’s Guide to Professional Speaking, you know I’m a firm believer in going with the flow and making an impression as a flexible speaker. After giving a fantastic performance, being easy to work with is the next most important way to polish your reputation and be invited back.

The hotel elevator broke? You’ll hoof it up the stairs. The previous session ran long? You’ll tailor your remarks to whatever time remains. Flexibility without complaint endears you to your host, your audience, and especially the person who messed up.

There are a few notable exceptions where you have to either speak up and ask for what you need or refuse a request from your host, even if you’re afraid of seeming demanding or uncooperative. In these specific few cases it’s not just your option, it’s essential that you stick up for yourself, even at the risk of making waves. 

#1: The Situation Will Make You Sick

Your hotel room reeks of smoke and it’s making you nauseous; your salad has something on it that gives you stomach cramps – when something is going to make you ill, it should be super easy to ask for what you need. But the desire to be accommodating and not diva-licious can interfere with even common sense.

If you’re hesitant to speak up, channel your inner caregiver and imagine you’re asking for a friend. With utmost politeness, meet the task at hand. Ask for a different room, or could the kitchen please remake the salad. If at first you don’t succeed, ask to speak to someone else.

Once I arrived at a ballroom to check out the scenario about an hour before an all-day event. I walked to the dais where I would be presenting and realized the placement of the screen meant intense projector light was shining right into my eyes. Light and glare are my migraine triggers, and this was a definite recipe for pain.

I mentioned this to my host who suggested this was a molehill not a mountain. Not wanting to go over her head, I was immediately tempted to just let it go. But I knew that even if I got through the day, there would be hell to pay when the migraine hit. I found the hotel AV staff who figured out a set-up that worked much better.

#2: You’re Going to be Uncomfortable or Distracted

Your success as a presenter relies on giving your full attention to the task at hand, not halfway being distracted by the music in the background or worrying that someone can see up your dress. 

For a panel in a convention center, I walked into the ballroom and noticed the table on stage wasn’t draped. If I sat there in my dress, the audience would have an awkward view. Although my co-speakers encouraged me to just go with it, I knew I’d stress about keeping my legs and knees constantly crossed. I asked to speak with the person in charge who obtained a table covering from conference center staff.

I’m easily distracted by noise, so even soft piped-in background music will distract from what I’m trying to say. I’ve noticed this in smaller hotels where they’re more used to social functions than speaking events, and in restaurants with private rooms. Usually a waiter can turn the music off, but on occasions they tell me it can’t be done, I just ask for a manager. Sometimes “It can’t be done” is code for “I don’t know how” or “I don’t have the authority.”

I’m sure there are situations that can’t be changed. But you owe it to yourself to make the effort and at least a little way go up the chain of command.

#3: It Seems Potentially Unsafe

It’s not an emergency, but it’s a worry. You notice an emergency exit is blocked, someone potentially suspicious is lurking around, there’s a noxious smell of unclear origin. It’s bothering you but you’re not sure it’s important. 

Go ahead and bring it up to your host or staff and let them investigate. Explain you don’t want to ruffle feathers, but you’ll feel better if someone could look into it. You don’t even need them to report back, you just wanted to tell someone. This isn’t demanding; it’s detail-oriented, and sets the stage for a successful talk.

#4: Boundary Violations or Feeling Pressured

Any situation that feels inappropriate or triggers your internal warning system is a situation you should leave. The reason you give is less important than just getting out. You can make an excuse, offer an alternative, or simply say, “I’ve got to go.” If someone else’s feelings are hurt, that’s about them.

Interpersonal boundary breaches can be slippery and hard to spot until you’re right in the middle of them. You often don’t detect them up until the very moment they cross the line. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve agreed to already. Once you realize you want out, it’s time to make your move.  

Going out with colleagues the night before your talk can be a welcome distraction. If you feel pressured to stay when you’re ready to go, it can be tempting to go along with the crowd. Don’t. Either take a stand or just slip out, but don’t risk being grouchy or tired because you drank too much or stayed out all night. 

Meeting with the conference organizer to go over the schedule is routine. When you get to their hotel room and they’re waiting in their bathrobe, Houston, we have a problem. As you walk away, say you must have mistaken the meeting time and you’ll wait in the lobby until they get dressed. Alternately just walk away.

Your number one job is take care of yourself. Anyone who puts that at risk is someone you don’t need to worry about offending, but it doesn’t always feel that way. Your professional side wants everyone to like you. Not just in the sense of wanting to fit in; also because good relationships with peers and people in charge lead to recommendations, referrals, and ultimately more work.

Experienced perpetrators exploit that fact and are ready to take advantage of it, and you. Peer pressure is often easier to deflect than the person who makes you question your own judgment, professionalism or morals. They may try to rewrite history, or tell you you’re in the wrong. I hope this never happens to you. But if it does, please, PLEASE speak about it with someone you trust, someone who can assure you that it was not your fault.

#5: An Unexpected Change You’re Unwilling to Accommodate

Anything that deviates from your written agreement requires a discussion rather than a unilateral decision.

Let’s say you’re scheduled to speak at 1pm and you find out you’ve been moved to 4. You potentially could make your flight, but it’s going to be tight, especially with traffic. You’re tempted to roll with the punches to keep everyone happy, but internally you’re stressing out.

Consider your options to the extent you can. If you’re willing to stay later than planned, check online or call the airline to see if your flight can be changed, and if there’s room on a later flight (if there even is a later flight). If it means spending an extra night, ask the hotel if there’s a room available. Consider talking through your thoughts with a friend or colleague on-site or at home to determine if a) the change is feasible and you’re just annoyed, or b) if it’s actually a no-go and you need to push back.

Once you’ve determined which options you can live with, find your host or the person in charge and ask to discuss the situation privately. Let them know what you’ve learned about alternate travel plans and what they will cost the organization, or explain that you simply can’t take the chance of not making your flight. Stress that you’ll be happy to present at the original time if that’s still an option, and let them know what time you would need their decision.

Hopefully in most situations, it will be clear what route you want to take, and the majority of the time small changes will work out. But you are ultimately the captain of your ship and need to be consulted about things that affect your performance.

There are lots of things you can tolerate as a speaker, and several things you shouldn’t have to. You may be tempted to grin and bear an unsatisfactory situation or “Make it work!” as Tim Gunn would say. But that endangers the whole reason you came. Don’t take a chance on muddling through your talk when something is wrong that can be fixed. If it’s a choice between seeming demanding and doing a bad job, you simply can’t take the risk.

Have you had a speaking situation where you mustered your courage to rock the boat? A time you look back on and wish you had spoken up more strongly? How did it turn out? I’d love to read your experiences if you’ll comment below. And if you have a specific situation you’d like to talk over, send me a message at Jessica@DietitianSpeakingGuide.com and let’s set up a time to talk.

4 Free Ways to Make An Online Audience Feel Welcome Before Your Presentation Even Starts!If you thrive on the excitement of public speaking, presenting online can feel impersonal and even lonely.

You don’t have the instant feedback of audience reactions, you can’t gauge the energy in the room or make eye contact, and it’s a challenge to recreate the enthusiasm you feel in front of a live crowd.

Attendees of a virtual event can feel equally detached. Instead of trading their daily routine for a live, attention-grabbing event, they’re watching a screen with all the distractions of home or office or coffee shop around them. There’s no excited buzz of anticipation from other attendees, and if it’s a large group, they’re probably painfully aware of their status as a tiny square on your screen – or even worse, just a number in your head count.

Next time you’re prepping an online presentation, consider how you can bring warmth and personality to the technological aspects of the event. I pooled my ideas with suggestions from Rebecca Morgan, who does coaching and master classes on enlivening virtual meetings. Each of the ideas below can help attendees feel valued and welcome from the get-go, and none of them costs a cent.

Pro Tip #1: Personalize the Passcode

Using the random password auto-generated by your platform sends a message – the message that no one cares.

Instead choose a code that sets your desired tone – a word or phrase that relates to your topic, your business name, the sponsor, or something inspirational like “ExcitedToBeHere!” or “RDsRock”.

Pro Tip #2: Invite Information

In your confirmation letter, ask participants to email you back a photo with a few lines about their work experience and what they hope to learn from the event. Compile the responses and print them to review in advance and refer to while you present. (An easy shortcut: send a blank slide template with space for a pic and prompts for the information, then compile the responses into one document.)

Of course this will help you target your talking points, and it benefits the general vibe of the event, too. It sends the message that you want to know more about your attendees than just their screen name, and that you’re interested in meeting their needs.

You’ll be able to call on participants by name during your talk, or refer to something they mentioned, both of which increase the relatability of your speech versus using random examples or pleading for volunteers.

If your presentation is a longer-term event, such as a week-long workshop or ongoing course, or alternately a short event where they need to get comfortable with each other ASAP in order to be productive, consider asking participants for permission to share their bio and photo with others. (Set a deadline for submissions so that you’ll have time to compile the doc and send it back out before game time.)

The ability to review this info in advance and refer to it during your presentation will ramp up familiarity between participants, help them feel more comfortable sharing their challenges out loud, and improve productivity in partner activities and breakout rooms. It also saves all the time and annoyance of asking people to introduce themselves live when they’d really rather hear from you.

Pro Tip #3: Make Waiting Welcome

Insert a slide at the very beginning of your presentation that includes:

  • The title of your event and your name
  • A welcoming message from your host or you personally
  • A list of materials the participants need or might want to have handy (with links to where to get them if appropriate)
  • Instructions on how to submit questions and how/when they will be answered
  • Instructions for getting technical help during the call
  • Tips that will help them use the platform
  • Any prompts or questions you’d like your audience to be thinking about

10 minutes before the official start time, load your presentation to the first slide, share your screen, mute your computer, and click Start.

Now participants who log on early will know they’re in the right place at the right time, instead of seeing the generic “The meeting will start when the host arrives” message and worrying about it. You’ve rewarded the early birds and even encouraged others to log on early for your future events.

Pro Tip #4: Don’t Take Privacy Personally

Accept that there are many reasons people don’t turn on their cameras, and none are about you:

  • Embarrassment about a modest or messy living situation
  • Family members or housemates with poor interpersonal boundaries
  • Didn’t feel like getting dressed just to sit in bed and watch you talk
  • Simply wanting to keep home life private
  • And yes, sometimes multitasking while you speak.

Let it go, and definitely don’t judge or nag. Criticizing an attendee who just wants to listen is a sure way to make them feel unwelcome.

It’s so worth it to spend a few extra minutes warming up the typically sterile virtual environment. I’d love to hear what you do when you present online to help your audience feel welcome.

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