Problem Solving

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 David Wiss

David Wiss likes to dive deep into the dark corners of his favorite speaking topics – addictions, eating disorders, and traumatic experiences – in addition to the hive mind of dietitians. Read on as DietitianSpeakers’ Alex Caljean probes the depths.

Alex: Hi David. Talk to me about how you got started as a Dietitian Speaker.

David: My speaking goes back to before I even was a dietitian, but I’ll skip ahead. I got started doing webinars, and the reason I was able to get my information out as a new RD is because I was one of the few people talking about drug addiction. I talked about substance use disorders and how dietitians can be involved in the treatment. I was also one of the few people, at least in the dietetic community, that started a conversation around food addiction. So, I had a lot of what I’d call novel information to share.

My speaking style has certainly evolved over time. I spent a lot of time in my early career trying to figure out what my PowerPoint master slide was going to look like and what kind of approach I wanted to take with my slides regarding pictures and text. Now I rely less on my slides because I’m more experienced, but I do have a long history of making my information dense, which means that I move quickly through it. It’s just who I am, I like fast information. I like fast moving slides. I like rapid fire. But I also want to acknowledge that not everyone else does. So, my initial speaking was as if I’m speaking to an audience of myself, and what I learned over time is that I need to slow down and explain things more for people that have differing levels of prior knowledge.

It’s interesting because someone else might think of it the other way – I’m just starting out so I need to talk like my audience is just starting out, too – when really there will always be a range of experience in the audience. So that’s a good way to put it, to try to know your audience before you get there.

Yeah, I’m biased towards me – I’ve been to many presentations and webinars where I thought, “This is just too basic. This isn’t helping me.” I don’t want a 101; I want a 400-level class! I’m one of those people who wants a much deeper dive.

 Alex: Jessica’s phrase is “delete slides one through thirteen”; in other words, don’t spend time on that basic information someone could get out of a book. Skip to the part they can’t get from anywhere but you.

David: Yes. I don’t like the model where speakers assume the audience members don’t know much and you’re supposed to cater to the “lowest level of knowledge.” I think that there is a room for advanced topics and times when people should get really to the nuances and get into specifics and move quickly through things. But the real thing that I’ve learned is that’s not always the case. And that for me, I’ve learned to get to know my audience. And that means I need to ask: Who’s going to be there? What are the participants like? Those are important things. Are they researchers? That’s very different than if it’s nutrition students. Those are things I find myself thinking more about now than I did at the beginning.

Another thing that’s evolved is that in the last year or two, the whole world is waking up to higher degrees of cultural sensitivity, particularly with respect to issues of gender and race/ethnicity. I don’t want anyone in my audience to feel slighted or offended or marginalized. One example is the images I choose for my slides. Things I say and show as a speaker land on people in different ways. I have learned to err on the side of cultural sensitivity whenever possible, especially when we’re talking about things like weight, eating disorders, gender… I think that it’s really, really important for me as a speaker to be sensitive to all possible audience members and their experiences and how they might differ from my own. Not making sweeping generalizations about people or groups is super, super important.

Alex: Can you give an example of what you’re trying not to do?

David: For example, I’ve heard speakers say eating disorders are all about control. Well, maybe some eating disorders are all about control, but are all eating disorders all about control? No. When people make really broad strokes, it can leave people feeling misunderstood or marginalized, and that’s not the way to bring people to the education you’re trying to provide.

Alex: How does speaking fit into the other work that you do?

David: I’m a dietitian for individuals in addiction recovery within a group practice, and I’m also a fourth year PhD student in Public Health. My focus is on trauma and the biological embedding of adversity. I have a minor in health psychology, and my research is about how early life adversity and different exposures: stressors, traumatic experiences and other forms of adversity get biologically embedded and increase someone’s susceptibility to a wide range of negative health outcomes, specifically mental health.

The way this has impacted my speaking is that I’ve moved away from classic dietetic talks and moved toward the biopsychosocial model of health and life course epidemiology. The past two years, my speaking has really been focused on trauma-informed nutrition therapy, speaking a lot to professionals in substance use disorder treatment centers.

Alex: Moving on to the topic of payment. What’s your take? Did you have a transition from speaking for free to asking to be paid?

David: I never really had to make that transition because I’ve always been comfortable asking to be paid. Especially if someone’s charging for an event and they’re making money. If everyone’s paying thirty dollars to watch me give a webinar and I’m not getting paid, that’s going to feel like I’m being taken advantage of.

Meanwhile, there are times when speaking for free is the ultimate marketing tool – as a private practice dietitian, giving a presentation to other mental health professionals and potential referral sources is a huge opportunity for me. If it’s a networking event full of therapists who want to learn more about eating disorders, it’s an honor and a privilege for me to give that presentation. When I give those talks, those people are then referring their clients to me. As a private practice dietitian, there’s nothing more valuable than marketing. Talks are the best form of marketing that exists, in my opinion, at least from the perspective of getting out to other referral sources.

But if there’s no money and no other type of benefit, I think dietitians have a long history of being taken advantage of and being assumed to be volunteers, and I think when people take opportunities to do things for free too much, it creates an expectation which is hurtful to our profession.

Alex: I think that’s definitely a common thread for most people that I hear from that it’s very easy for dietitians to want to kind of over-give and you have to take a step back and consider, “Where is this going to benefit me as well?”

David: Correct. I’m a businessman, so this is one area I’ve tried to be helpful to other dietitians who don’t feel as confident. I’ve always been comfortable charging. I remember someone asked me if I had a sliding scale once, and I jokingly said, “Yeah, I slide up.”

Alex: Do you have any advice for dietitians who aren’t as comfortable expecting to be paid, or even having the conversation?

David: Yes. If people are feeling insecure about being paid, I think it’s not an unreasonable place to start by just asking, “What’s the stipend?” or “Is there a stipend?” Just start there so that there’s no confusion and you know up front, this is the deal.

Alex: You make it sound so simple. Next question: Can you share a memorable speaking experience, something that was either amazingly great or amazingly terrible?

David: FNCE [The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics Food & Nutrition Conference & Exhibition] 2018 was an incredibly meaningful experience for me. This was the peak of the opioid crisis and I proposed a talk called Nutrition Interventions Amidst an Opioid Crisis, The Emerging Role of the RDN. The talk was not accepted and it didn’t make any sense to me, given the need and my expertise in it. I reached out the Committee for Lifelong Learning which is the branch of the Academy that plans FNCE. The response was that this topic required another presenter, given that we’re talking about the opioid crisis and it’s probably somewhat outside of the known scope of the dietitian. At FNCE the dietitian always presented information in conjunction with another professional.

I thought about it for a day or two; I really gave it some thought. I’ve always been somewhat of a renegade, so I took a chance, and I sent a letter back to the Committee.

It said I was highly offended by the fact that my parent organization did not think I could stand alone and present information, and that by saying that dietitians aren’t enough to present at our own national conference and by requiring another speaker, you’re basically telling me I don’t have enough experience to stand alone and present my work. I assured them I was an expert, I attached all my peer-reviewed articles that I had published as a first author, and I let them know the other conferences I was speaking at.

And I wrote, “if you don’t believe that I’m capable of presenting my work as a dietitian to my fellow dietitians, that’s fine. I won’t submit any more proposals.” I did a good job on the letter. I was so proud of myself. I wasn’t mean, but I was firm. I was very clear that I thought that I was “enough” to speak at FNCE on my own without needing a co-speaker. I don’t need someone else there. I’m enough. And they gave it some thought and came back and gave me an hour and a half to be a solo presenter.

The talk I gave that year was a full house and I was pleasantly surprised by the attendance and the large room and the feedback that I got. I had a chance to meet a lot of dietitians that I’ve networked with. So it was a very, very memorable speaking experience- doing FNCE as a solo speaker and most importantly, advocating for myself that I was sufficient enough to stand on my own and present this information without needing a co-presenter.

That’s a really good story and goes to show that it’s OK to stand up for what you believe in. If you feel you’re capable of something and people don’t see it, then it’s OK to take a step back and be firm with your decision about it, too.

I’d like to think it might have been the beginning of a new era where dietitians no longer required a co-speaker. You aren’t required to be a sidekick. I noticed that after that, there were other talks where there were solo dietitians. And, you know, I’m presenting again at FNCE this year as a solo speaker so I know that it’s changed.

I think that’s awesome that worked out for you. I think the substance abuse community Is not talked about enough in dietetics either. I used to work for a substance abuse treatment center, so I kind of know that community and don’t hear dietitians speak about it enough. You’re paving the road which is really cool. Do you have any last words of advice for our readers, some encouragement for aspiring speakers just starting out?

Yes. I want to encourage dietitians to be independent thinkers and to not be afraid to go against the “groupthink” in our field. Don’t just accept the popular opinion, don’t be afraid to have differing points of view, don’t just trust whatever your mentor thinks without developing your own clinical intuition. In order to advance the field of dietetics, specifically with eating disorders and mental health, we need people that have cutting edge intuition and explore the edge a little bit more, rather than just spend your whole career being safe and socially accepted. I believe in that.

Thank you David. Appreciate all that you’re doing. To learn more about David or invite him to speak, visit www.nutritioninrecovery.com

Follow David on Social Media: Facebook @davidawiss, Twitter @DavidAWiss, Instagram @davidawiss, Youtube @NutritionInRecovery, Pinterest @NutritionInRecovery, TikTok @davidawiss, and LinkedIn @DavidAWiss.

Have you heard David present? We welcome your comments below.

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.

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