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.
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