Recipe for Presentation Success: Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Liz Weiss
Dietitian speaker Liz Weiss blended culinary training with a love of family meals into a smooth speaking career. But there have been a few lumps in the batter. Read on as DSG gets the scoop.
DSG: You have a great reputation as a dietitian advisor on family-friendly recipes. How did you develop that niche?
LW: Family nutrition and family meals are the topics I’m most excited about as a dietitian, so I created my niche in the family nutrition space by utilizing every form of media I could think of – a blog, cookbook, podcast, coloring books and presentations, both to consumers and professionals. I cover the benefits, barriers and strategies for making family meal-time happen more often. My other expertise is in the world of the culinary arts. I’m a graduate of the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I love cooking. I give a lot of cooking demonstrations on television and videos that are broadcast in doctors’ offices, and my signature professional workshop is How to Give a Culinary Demo, including do’s, don’ts, and how-to’s. Blending these two topic areas into all areas of media and speaking is very rewarding. It’s a lot of fun but it’s a lot of work, too.
DSG: Knowing how to charge for presentations isn’t intuitive for lots of RDs. How do you make your decisions about fees?
LW: Charging for giving a lecture really depends on who the audiences is. If I’m speaking to a group of dietitians, say at an annual dietetics conference, that’s going to be a different fee compared to, say, giving a lecture to a group of parents at a pre-school. Therefore, the first question I always ask when I’m approached to give a talk is, “What’s your budget?” Sometimes a school district or pre-school or cooking school might already have a budget for speakers, and it’s either you take it or you leave it. But in the example of the dietetics conference, I might not even expect to be paid by the conference. I’ll bring in an organization that I’ve teamed up with, for example the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, and when I’m pitching myself, I’ll include that I’m on that organization’s speaker’s bureau and they’ll cover my fee and my travel expenses.
DSG: It sounds like you’re really comfortable with the process. Any advice for a newer dietitian speaker who’s still working on their pricing strategy?
LW: There are certainly different ways to get into it. It really depends who you’re talking to, whether you have a sponsor, and what are the other kinds of value that you’re looking for at this stage in your career. Start with, “What’s your budget?” and go from there. Sometimes you want to give a talk in your local community because you’re trying to build your business and your reputation, so even if they only offer a nominal fee, it’s going to be worth it to you because there’s another kind of value. If you’re speaking to a group of dietitians at an annual dietetics conference, there are other kinds of value to giving the talk – building your brand, gaining more clients, gaining more customers. You always have to weigh that in.
DSG: You and Jessica have that in common – looking for value beyond the financial transaction. Now let’s turn the situation around. When you’re in the audience, what qualities do you like to see in a presentation?
LW: Three things. I always like a presentation that’s framed more like a story. Storytelling is so much more interesting than just sharing facts, figures, graphs and complicated slides. I much prefer getting a story, hearing about patients, hearing stories from patients, hearing success stories, hearing stories from the road. I was recently at a really interesting presentation about pork: how pork is raised, how pork has changed over the years, sustainability. What I loved about the session is that the person giving the presentation was a farmer, not a scientist. That personal element made him relatable. And I thought, “This guy’s really the expert because he’s the farmer and he lives this every single day, personally and professionally.” So, weaving in your stories, letting people get to know you and your work is really important because we want to make our talks relevant and reliable.
The second thing is it’s fun and interesting to break things up, so you’re not just showing slide after slide after slide. I like breaking things up perhaps with some video or interesting Q and A, sharing with the audience, or just really fun visuals. You just don’t want to be boring people with too many slides.
That’s my third thing that makes a good presentation: minimal slides. As dietitians, we want to get every fact and figure across to our audience, but people can only absorb so much and there’s nothing more annoying than a slide that’s got tiny, tiny print on it. Researchers are notorious for showing those tiny graphs, and in the time it takes an average person to read it and understand it, they’ve moved on. You really can’t emphasize it enough. If you’re going to have slides, you’ve got to have the right number and they’ve got to be easy to read. So, keep the slides to a minimum and focus on what you really came to say. That’s what makes a good presentation.
DSG: So you know what you like and don’t like in other speakers. How do you implement those three things when you’re on stage?
LW: In How to Give a Culinary Demo I talk about cooking on television, and I talk about bloopers, because those stories weave in a personal perspective. In a presentation on the benefits of family meal-time, I’ll frame it as a story, weaving in my personal perspective as well as other people, so it’s not just “Here’s what research shows.” What was it like when I was growing up? What was it like when my husband was growing up? What was it like when I was raising my boys? What kinds of feedback do I hear about from my blog readers and my online community? Weaving in all those personal answers and anecdotes gives life to the research that shows when families eat together, they X, Y and Z. Research is important, but I also want to give the audience the practical piece, and then shake it up and have some fun.
DSG: Speaking of stories, tell us a juicy one about a memorable presentation.
LW: Well. I had a snafu once where I was traveling from Atlanta to, I believe Minnesota, and I was speaking at the annual conference for the American School Food Service Association. I was giving the keynote, and I was speaking first thing in the morning. I had a connecting flight from Atlanta through Chicago to Minnesota, and I got stuck en route. I was on the last flight out of Atlanta – this is the night before the presentation – and my flight from Chicago to Minnesota was long gone. I had to sleep at the Chicago hotel airport and get up in the morning, fly to Minnesota, hop in a taxi and hope and pray I was going to get there in time. I barely made it. I can remember literally changing my clothes in the back of the taxi, pulling up pantyhose, because we all wore pantyhose back then, and running in to the venue. I don’t even remember a lot of what happened, but I remember very clearly, I was wearing an orange jacket, because when the curtain opened and I looked out, first of all there were a thousand people in the audience, and secondly the backdrop behind me was orange, so I basically blended right in! I was so rattled. I don’t know how the talk even came out, I just made it happen.
DSG: You are a true professional if you can give a talk under that scenario. Anything you do differently now, based on that experience?
LW: Definitely. First of all, I had no idea how many people were going to be in the audience because I never even asked. Sometimes we get so caught up in everything – we’re so busy – we don’t ask those basic fundamental questions. Had I known I was going to be on a giant stage with a thousand people, I might have asked a few questions, and I probably wouldn’t have taken the last flight out of Atlanta. Never take the last flight out and never travel the same day! So that was a big snafu. When it comes to planning, give yourself plenty of breathing room. Your presentation will be so much better because you won’t be putting your pantyhose on in the back of a taxi.
DSG: Oh Liz. Talk about lessons learned the hard way! What about evaluations? Do you have a memorable one, or any advice on how to handle a negative evaluation?
LW: Once I did a session at FNCE with another dietitian on how to give a culinary demo in person or on television. We both showed some clips of us doing cooking demos on TV. My co-presenter’s clip was a pretty big deal – a high-profile segment on a major TV network. I loved it. I thought she just knocked it out of the ballpark. Then when the evaluations came in, someone criticized her for having a French manicure. Something like, “If you’re doing a cooking demo, you shouldn’t have nail polish on.” It just goes to show you that people will be critical of you no matter what. You can be the best presenter, the most professional ever, and you’re always going to get one or two negative comments and you have to let go because people are people. People have opinions and you just have to do the best you can do. And certainly, if you were getting lots of comments like “she wasn’t prepared” then you’d want to reflect and change and learn from that. But you’re always going to get a few snarky comments and you have to just move on. Move on. Move on.
DSG: It’s great for our readers to hear that even as experienced as you are, it’s not all a bed of roses. What do you think is the biggest challenge for dietitian speakers overall?
LW: I think the biggest challenge is always how to take this huge body of information and then just narrow it down to 45 minutes, which is often how much time you have to speak, because you should always leave time for Q and A. So how do you take all of this material and streamline it? That to me is always the hardest part about giving a presentation. There are just so many directions you can go in. Another big challenge is really keeping the slides to a minimum. Because if you’re giving a 60-minute lecture and you have 60 slides, you’ve got a problem. You really have to time it out. My pet peeve is, whether I’m sitting on a webinar or listening to somebody in an actual session, if those slides and that presentation does not time out correctly, then I say to myself, that speaker is not prepared. That speaker didn’t time it out, practice to go over it. And when that happens, and the speaker is frantically now rushing through those slides or skipping slides and it starts to feel very frantic, then to me, that’s a big distraction. And it’s really unprofessional. Practice makes perfect, practice many times. Time it out. If you’re doing a webinar, type up a script, you can always go a little bit off script, but you have it in front of you and you know exactly what you’re going to say. You’re going to stay on target, stay on message, and you can stay on time because people’s time is really valuable. And so you need to respect that.
DSG: That’s great note to end on, THANK YOU for sharing all this great advice.
Have you heard Liz present? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Want to invite Liz to your next event? Contact her through her website, lizshealthytable.com.
You could find her products linked here: https://www.lizshealthytable.com/cookbooks/