A Dietitian’s Guide to Professional Speaking

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Jennifer McGurk

Jennifer McGurk knows what it’s like to pursue a dietitian dream till it becomes reality! With enthusiasm, courage and lots of laughs, she’s built an empire helping others do it, too. Read on as we hear from the brains behind Dietitian Business School and the Pursuing Private Practice book series.

DS: Tell us about your speaking path.

JM: I got started presenting on eating disorder recovery and Intuitive Eating in my local community when I was growing my private practice. To spread my message, I started to apply to some conferences and events for dietitians. I love to speak to dietitians!

I was so nervous for my very first FNCE [The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics Food & Nutrition Conference & Exhibition] conference as both an attendee and speaker! I remember feeling a mix of excitement, anxiety, happiness, and dread all at the same time. I want to normalize all the emotions that happen when a dietitian is first starting to speak! Now I speak as a regular part of my career and in many different ways.

DS: How do you decide whether a presentation will be free or paid?

JM: Speaking for free was a great way to get started. It was amazing practice and really helped increase my confidence when I was just starting out. But when resentment slowly started to creep in, it was time to charge accordingly.

I’ve learned that my time is worth a lot and that speaking takes up more time than just while I’m presenting. Dietitians deserve to be paid well for our time and expertise. But when someone is already paying for my services, like in Dietitian Business School, I don’t charge them additionally for those presentations.

I’ve also made speaking without being paid into part of my marketing plan to introduce my services to other dietitians, especially on my podcast Pursuing Private Practice. I present workshops in my paid group all the time. I also speak at conferences and events, sometimes paid and sometimes as part of my marketing plan.

DS: What do you look for in a speaker when you’re in the audience?

JM: Someone who can weave in storytelling and not just read words off their slides.

DS: How has the past year impacted your speaking?

 JM: I’ve recently realized that speaking doesn’t have to be in person anymore. Some of my most successful presentations have been virtual due to COVID. I want to continue to speak virtually, even when COVID is over.

DS: Thank you Jennifer!

To learn more about Jennifer and hire her at your next speaking event, visit her websites eatwithknowledge.com and pursuingprivatepractice.com.

Follow Jennifer on social media: Facebook @JenniferMcGurk, Twitter @JenMcGurkRDN, Instagram @pursuing.private.practice, and LinkedIn @JenniferMcGurk.

Have you heard Jennifer present? We’d love to read your comments below!

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 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 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 Julia Cassidy

Dietitian Speaker Julia Cassidy Julia Cassidy’s lovably authentic vibe shines through in everything she does, especially  presenting. Read on as she gets real with DietitianSpeakers.com about armpit sweat, comfort pants, and why people like when things get messy.

DS: How did you develop your Unique Speaking Platform?

JC: I mostly speak to dietitians and at eating disorder conferences which have medical doctors, therapists and dietitians. I did the same two talks for two or three years over and over again until I really felt 100 percent confident. And it finally became, OK, I need something new. I can say this in my sleep. Time to branch out. It took a lot of time for me to develop as a speaker. When I first started public speaking, I was terrified. I know the audience could tell because one of my first evaluations said I had a look of terror on my face during the presentation.

DS: Oh dear.

JC: Yeah, it took some time to get past that and find the right approach. I taught myself to relax and just speak to the audience as if I was having a casual conversation. Over the years, I realized the more conversational and interactive I am, the more comfortable I am, and that comes across to the audience.

DS: What are the ingredients of your most successful presentations?

JC: I think laughter and conversation and interaction with the audience make for a great presentation, plus sharing experiences and personal stories. When I present about food exposure and response prevention, I don’t just talk about the five different interventions I’ve created. I give an example of how each one works really well, and then I’ll give another example of how it didn’t work at all. I think by being humble and being real in my stories, the audience is more engaged and can really take in the information. Nobody’s perfect. They want to hear the messy stories.

DS: What’s your philosophy of charging for speaking?

JC: I haven’t always been comfortable charging for my talks. It took a bit of self-reflection. I’m putting in my time and my expertise, and I know I’m worth it, but yeah, I’m still mixed – a little uncomfortable, a little bit more at ease. My biggest piece of advice is don’t overshoot or underestimate your value and your worth. Be fair in what you charge, depending on if you have many years of experience or you’re well-educated and you know the topic. A dietitian I was supervising was going to way overcharge. The conversation I had with her was about what expertise, what experience do you have to warrant that number? We don’t want to underestimate ourselves, but at the same time, be realistic about your knowledge base.Dietitian Speaker Julia Cassidy stands behind a podium presenting on eating disorders.

DS: How do you handle unexpected glitches while presenting?

JC: At iaedp this past year, my good friend, Megan, and I were presenting and the projector and laptop suddenly didn’t want to work. Luckily we had printed up the presentation beforehand and had it with our notes, so for the first half of the talk, while IT was trying to work on the laptop and the projector, we continued to give our talk based on our printed slides. We were holding up the paper slides and we just kind of made it into a joke. Like, “Well, if I had a slide, this is what it would say.” And halfway through the presentation, the projector worked again, and we were able to get the slides back up. It was really embarrassing, but at the same time, it just kind of worked.

DS: This is an ongoing theme in our Spotlight Series – stay positive when things go wrong. I think new speakers really appreciate knowing that speaking isn’t a bed of roses, even when you do it all the time. Are there other challenges you face as a speaker?

JC: The biggest challenge for me, it’s a blessing and a curse, is the traveling. I have two small boys at home, so the challenge is balancing being gone all while having a family. My travel has actually slowed down over the last couple of years, which has been amazing. My time away depends on the conference. Usually I’ll fly home the day that I speak, like that night or the next day. It just really varies, depends where I’m at. I love going to FNCE, the big conference, so my family knows I’m gone for a good chunk of time. If it’s somewhere I’ve never been, I usually like to stay an extra day to explore and do a little sightseeing. I love the time by myself for a little while, the self-discovery, so I’ll take advantage of it when I can. And my travel also goes along with my boys. If they’re in sports, then I’m gone the shortest amount of time possible. If they don’t have any sports going on, then I’ll add on the day. Also, to be honest, humility is a challenge, and nobody’s perfect in that. What I have to say is important, and other people are learning. I love doing supervision, hosting my CED supervision, teaching, but I still have humility in my experience as an eating disorder professional. Confidence of who I am as a person and the knowledge that I have are my biggest ideals.

Dietitian Speaker Julia Cassidy stands behind a podium presenting on eating disorders.

DS: Any advice that you wish someone would have told you when you were starting out?

JC: I feel like there are so many things I wish I had learned sooner about speaking. One thing is dress or attire. Not that I don’t know how to dress, but what to wear and what not to wear. I like to dress comfortable. I like to wear clothes that I’ve worn before – pants or slacks that I feel the most comfortable in. I refuse to wear anything brand new. Nothing too tight or restricted. And I always have to wear short sleeves, because when you’re speaking, either from the lights or just from nerves, you sweat, you get really nervous.

So my biggest advice is wear an outfit you’re familiar with and that you’re super comfortable in. If you’re not comfortable, which I learned the hard way, it’s distracting while you’re trying to present and be focused. Also, when you’re first starting out, zero in on one topic or area of practice that you have a high interest in and you have the education and the expertise to speak on and then with more experience over the years, broaden that with other topics. I think that would be my advice. You know, everyone does things differently.

DS: Thanks Julia. It really helps to hear how you think things through.
For more of Julia’s down-to-earth advice and to find out where she’s speaking next, find her on her website at Thriving Nutrition.
Connect with Julia through Facebook @JuliaCassidyRD, Instagram @juliacassidyrd,  LinkedIn @JuliaCassidy, and Twitter @thrivingnutri.

Have you heard Julia speak? We’d love to read your comments.

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Tori Schmitt

Dietitian Speaker Tori SchmittDietitian speaker Tori Schmitt surfs a wave of positivity encouraging clients to say YES! to nutrition. So when does this Queen of YES! strategically say NO WAY? Read on to find out…

DS: How did you develop your Unique Speaking Platform?

TS: A lot of the conversation around food and nutrition has to do with the word “no” or “don’t eat this.” I aspired to help people live more healthy, balanced lives with a more inclusive approach – focusing on the positive, and promoting the foods, strategies and behaviors to say “YES!” to more often.

In 2014, I began YES! Nutrition, my nutrition communications and counseling company in Ohio. YES! Includes one-on-one nutrition counseling, partnering with food companies to develop online content, and dynamic speaking engagements. The YES! message stuck as my platform because it’s simple and direct. It resonates with patients as well as every kind of audience, from corporate wellness to conferences, high school students and health fairs.

I’ve made YES! my brand and include it in every presentation title. “YES! You Energize Smartly: Getting the Most Energy Out of Your Day with Enhanced Nutrition” and “YES! You Encounter Struggles: Navigating the Hardest Parts about Eating Well” are just two examples.

DS: Your enthusiasm is contagious, Tori. I’m already feeling like I need more YES! in my life. Say more about how you apply this positive attitude when presenting.

TS: The YES! message is more than just the word. My philosophy of presenting is that the audience isn’t just a stationary presence to talk to, they’re a group of interactive participants who are there to speak with you. Sometimes a speaker can get so focused on what they’re planning to say that they forget about the audience as individuals and what they want when it comes to nutrition.

For example, after I gave an open-to-the-public presentation on sports nutrition tips, one evaluation said it was very basic information and another one said, “I would have preferred a more basic explanation.” I realized that to accommodate the wide audience I had made the presentation too general to meet anyone’s specific needs. I used it as a learning experience and decided to host events with more specific topics to a more targeted audience in the future.

Before I agree to speak, I ask the organizer all about the audience. If it’s a company lunch-and-learn, I’ll ask about trends for employee lunches, what food is available on-site, are there vending machines? And I want to know the top nutrition needs of the employees, whether that’s healthier snacks at breaks, microwavable meals for lunch, high energy foods to support their physical labor, etc. Understanding the audience helps me make the most use of my time with them.

DS: An enthusiastic YES! to customization. A generic lecture is just not going to keep anyone’s attention in the smart phone era. What makes you say YES! to a presentation when you’re in the audience?

TC: I like Maya Angelou’s quote that “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” Dietitians have important and useful facts and ideas to share, and to make those details unforgettable we need to package them in a way that also delivers a feeling.

For instance, someone who comes to a lunch-and-learn presentation might forget the fact that protein and fiber can help keep them fuller for longer. But they might remember that I praised their chickpea salad as a super satiety solution during my presentation. Perhaps they can relate to the feeling of afternoon hunger pangs on the occasion they didn’t have any protein or fiber earlier in the day, or maybe they’ll laugh at the story of what happened when I didn’t include protein or fiber in my lunchtime meal. Feelings from compliments, stories and humor make facts more memorable.

DS: This is such a good reminder to newer speakers that it’s okay to be real and interact, crack a joke here and there, respond to your audience. But it’s hard when you’re nervous about being perfect. Do you have any advice to a dietitian speaker who’s just getting started and is stressing about doing it “right”?

TS: YES! I encourage patients and audiences that the healthy way doesn’t have to mean the “perfect” way, that “mistakes” are merely learning opportunities, and that small changes make a big difference. I think the same goes for speaking, too. Just get out there and say “YES!” You’ve got this!

But – and I know I am all about YES!, but hear me out – there are times it’s important to say no. Say no to opportunities that don’t value you or aren’t the right fit for your skillset or preference, say no to the audience person who is challenging you on nutrition philosophies, and say no to the person who wants to use your proprietary slides.

DS: The Queen of YES! says it’s okay to say no?

TS: Well, when you say no to those things, you’re actually saying YES! to the work that values you, to the opportunities that are the right fit, and to the protection of your integrity and intellectual property.

DS: Enthusiastic YES! to the right kind of NO! Love it!
Have you heard Tori present? We’d love to read your comments below.
Want to contact Tori for your next speaking engagement? Connect with her through her website, YES! Nutrition
Tori would love to stay connected on Facebook @yesnutritionllc, Instagram @torischmittrdn, Twitter @ToriSchmittRDN, Pinterest @ToriSchmittRDN, and Youtube @YES!Nutrition.

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Jennifer Neily

Dietitian Speaker Jennifer NeilyLike Madonna and Elvis, this famed dietitian speaker needs only one name: Neily. During their internship at Texas Woman’s University, with several Jennifers in the class, our own Jessica Setnick started using last names. For Jennifer Neily, it became her calling card. Read on as she tells her story to DietitianSpeakers.com.

DS: Your catchy titles are fabulous! My favorite is Supplement Sense…or Nonsense: The Truth About the Pills People are Popping.” How did you develop your Unique Speaking Platform?

Neily: My USP evolved over the years along with my private practice and coaching business. I’ve honed it to the point where I can sum it up in one sentence: My focus is to help women make peace with food and their body.

DS: Ah, the coveted elevator speech! Well done. Could you sum up your best speaking advice in one sentence, too?

Neily: Stories, stories, stories.

DS: I know I said one sentence, but now I’m intrigued. Say more about stories.

Dietitian Speaker Jennifer Neily stands poised and ready to answer a listener question.

Neily: People may not remember the facts, but they’ll remember the story illustrating the facts. Have you noticed some of the best presenters do NOT use PowerPoint? Look at all the TED talks. And speaking of TED talks – none are longer than 18 minutes.

Sometimes I hear a presenter at a conference drone on and on for over an hour on what could be said in 20 minutes and be much more impactful! Jess made a great point in A Dietitian’s Speaking Guide about the days of yesteryear when presenters had to cram lots of info onto their slides due to cost. Why are people still doing it? Unfortunately I think it’s indicative of the health field. If a presenter says, “You might not be able to read this slide,” then why is she using it?

DS: Wow, great points. I love how fiery you get when talking about speaking! What else stands out in your mind when you think about your speaking career?

Neily: I think lots of speakers hone in on that memorable awful eval that easily blows away the hundreds of good ones. I know Jess talks about one that she remembers word for word. I have a favorite one like that, too.  “Your presentation is like being hit by a tidal wave. No build up. Your voice inflections at times were similar to a 19-year old sorority pledge and it was annoying as sin and undercuts credibility.The funny thing about the evaluation is that he recommended a place for me to speak! Go figure!

Dietitian Speaker Jennifer Neily stands ready to present in front of a screen that reads Brain Training for a Better Life.DS: First of all, kudos to the writer for originality. That is certainly memorable. It takes confidence to put that behind you. Have you always been so confident as a speaker?

Neily: No and I’m still not, especially when it comes to charging. That’s one reason I love A Dietitian’s Speaking Guide so much. Jessica provides the verbiage I have trouble coming up with. I’m more confident having a template of what to say. It’s a challenge because the women’s groups that are my target market may not be able to pay a fee, or only a small fee. Since many of my clients have come from these speaking engagements, I still say yes, and then I make sure that I do as much as I can to connect with those future clients in the audience. At the end of my talk I tell them I’ll exchange a handout I’ve created for them in return for their evaluation of my talk. I include questions that help me spot those who will be a good fit for my coaching services.

DS: So even if you’re not getting paid by the organization, you still make it work. That’s the Dietitian Speaker way!
Looking to get in contact with Neily? Visit her website Neily on Nutrition.
And for more of her nutrition knowledge, follow Neily on Instagram @neilyonnutrition, Facebook @NeilyonNutrition, Youtube @NeilyonNutrition, Pinterest @NeilyonNutrition, LinkedIn @JenniferNeily, and Twitter @JenniferNeily.

Have you heard Neily speak? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Jessica Jones

Dietician Speaker Jessica JonesIf the name Jessica Jones rings a bell, it may be because she’s a superhero. Not the Marvel superhero Jessica Jones – this Jessica Jones is a superhero dietitian speaker, fighting cookie-cutter nutrition advice and spreading her wisdom across the nation through print, podcast and in person. Read on as she shares her origin story with DietitianSpeakers.com.

DS: You’ve developed an amazing brand in multiple media formats, most of which involve putting yourself “out there” in front of people. Have you always been confident in your skills?

JJ: I used to be terrified of speaking and sometimes still am. One thing that helped me through that was one of my nutrition professors saying I had a special gift when it came to public speaking. I had to give a presentation in front of the class and I was so nervous I felt like I could pass out. What I realized was how other people were viewing me was different than the narrative I was painting in my head.  Also, working for the NYC department of health conducting hundreds of nutrition workshops in marginalized communities helped me learn how to mess up in real-time and still keep it going.

DS: Yes! That ability to press on through glitches is crucial. Do you have a particular blooper moment that stands out in your mind?

JJ: I was giving a talk to hundreds of people at the Today’s Dietitian Symposium about getting paid from brands and I accidentally blurted out some confidential information about the specific terms of a contract that shouldn’t have been shared. Oops! I was mortified. But I kept it moving and acted like I meant to spill the beans. Afterwards, people said they really appreciated the transparency! [Editor’s note: I was at that presentation, and it was fabulous! – JS]

Dietitian Speaker Jessica Jones on the set of her podcast

DS: Thank you for sharing that. As much as you plan and prepare, real life can’t be scripted, can it? Hopefully it will take some pressure off our readers to know that they don’t have to be perfect to do a great job.  Say more about what makes a great speaker in your eyes.

JJ: Someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. I like when speakers are clearly being themselves and not what they think they should be. Making jokes helps too. Not reading from slides and keeping slides simple is another plus.

DS: Authenticity, humor, and no tiny words on slides – this may become our Speaker Spotlight motto! To your point, it’s so different than what we think we “should” do. But the most memorable speakers are the ones that show their personality. Now tell us about your current speaking focus. How does speaking fit in to the other work you do?

JJ: I typically work with brands as an ambassador hosting and speaking at various events, both for the public and press. In addition to the brand work, I’ve spoken at conferences and conducted several webinars and hosted wellness retreats where I give multiple nutrition presentations. Last but not least, I co-host a podcast.

DS: It’s inspirational how you channel your speaking skills into so many venues and formats. You’ve become a leader in encouraging dietitians to charge appropriately for our work. How did you determine your pricing strategy?

JJ: I started realizing that “exposure” doesn’t pay the bills. I have a hefty student loan balance and live in one of the most expensive regions in the world. I started to add up the prep, travel, expertise, time spent actually speaking, and realized that I couldn’t afford to not get paid for that. Also, when you say yes to speaking you are inevitably saying no to something else that you could be paid for. Once I realized that, I stopped doing free events, unless it’s giving back to the community.

DS: That’s the Dietitian Speaker way. You’ve really reinforced so many of the foundations of The Dietitian’s Guide to Professional Speaking. Any final words of wisdom or experience?

JJ: I’ve learned that each of us is our own worst critic. That no matter what it will be okay. And that, for me, the nervous feelings before a speech never go away. However, I have the lived experience to know that even with those unsettling feelings, I will still be able to power through!

DS: Jessica, your authenticity at your level of success is really inspirational, thank you.
To invite Jessica to speak at your next event, connect with her through her website Jessica Jones Nutrition.
Get more genius from Jessica on LinkedIn @JessicaJones, Twitter @NutritionByJess, Instagram @JessicaJonesRD, and listen to her podcast @FoodHeavenThePodcast.

Have you heard Jessica present? Share 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.

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.

Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking - Steps to Vanquish Stage Fright Forever

If you’ve read A Dietitian’s Guide to Professional Speaking, you know there’s a difference between anxiety that inspires and paralyzing stage fright.

Nearly every professional speaker I’ve talked with – even the incredibly experienced ones – describes some kind of adrenaline rush before and during presenting.

Sometimes it hits the night before a presentation, or right before you take the stage, and although it can be distracting and even uncomfortable (for me it’s super sweaty armpits and wishing I stayed home), it’s a sign that your body and mind are gearing up for the event.

Alternately, many newer speakers have described feeling petrified to speak – not anxiety before presenting, but an actual dread of public speaking that paralyzes them before they even try. And most “advice” I’ve seen is worthless – “forget the audience is there,” “practice in the mirror,” “drink a glass of warm water” (???) – because it’s not only generic, it doesn’t get to the root of the issue.

Instead, try my 6-step process to get you to the podium. It won’t make you not nervous, but it will get you through it.

Step One: Connect Physical Reactions to Success

There are really two parts to this step.

Part A is to recognize that you won’t be able to totally control your body’s physical reaction to pre-presentation (or really any) stress. In other words, all the meditation in the world, and even beta-blockers, can only do so much. Your physical and mental symptoms are part of the package that comes with putting yourself out there in front of other people.

Does that mean you have to be in pain? Not at all. If the thought of speaking or speaking itself causes you migraines, dissociation, debilitating thoughts such as overwhelming obsessions or suicidal urges, or anything that’s not even half that bad, make an appointment with a sports psychologist and a psychiatrist to describe your symptoms and hear their take on what strategies they recommend.

If your physical and mental symptoms are more along the lines of uncomfortable – distracted, sweaty, elevated heart rate – your basic fight-flight-or-freeze reactions – consider them (as hard as this sounds) to actually be part of what makes you a success.

That’s right – How would you do if you felt the same way taking the stage as you do lounging at home, watching tv in your jammies? You have trouble summoning the oomph to get up and make a snack; how are you going to captivate your audience, keep them engaged, and drive your message home?

So Part A, accept that the stress/adrenaline combo (up to a point, see above) is actually a crucial part of your speaking success.

Part B, now separate your stress response from your belief that you’re not prepared.

What I mean by that is whatever you think your stress is telling you – Something bad is going to happen, I’m not prepared, This was a terrible idea – is not true.

The only thing stress tells you is that you’re stressed. Only. Everything else is a fiction that comes from your/society’s association with stress as a problem, as something to avoid or as evidence that something’s amiss.  As in, “If I were prepared, I wouldn’t be stressed,” or “If this was a good idea, I wouldn’t feel so stressed out about it.”

The fact is that you can feel stressed about both good choices and bad (and I won’t even get into whose judgment that is), just like you can feel perfectly fine about empirically bad decisions. Your stress is not proof you’ve done anything wrong.

I mean if your stress is just a problem with preparation, then reviewing your notes would make you feel fine, right? Since that doesn’t solve it, that wasn’t the issue.

Combine A and B and you get to the point where you simply accept stress (and the personal cocktail of symptoms it mixes up just for you) as a part of the plan. “Yep, I’m stressed,” or “Yep, this is what my body does before I present.”

Once you accept it, of course you can also plan around it.

I always decline invitations to hang out before presenting because I know I’ll be a head case who can’t follow a conversation. I ask an understanding colleague or a hotel staff person to help my find the right room because I get really turned around. And I ALWAYS wear a professional top with my suit because unless the room is sub-zero (and sometimes even if it is), I’m going to sweat so much that I’ll need to lose my jacket.

Knowing you’ll get stressed, accepting it and planning for it doesn’t mean that you’ll be comfortable. But you won’t add to your discomfort with false interpretations.

Step Two: What Speaking Glitch Worries You Most?

Answer this question: What’s the worst that could happen while you’re giving a speech?

If your answer is something that could actually happen –

  • I could stumble over my words
  • I could forget what I wanted to say
  • Someone might disagree with me
  • I could embarrass myself in front of my colleagues

– you’re on the right track.

(If it’s completely unrelated to speaking – a tornado could hit the building, something bad could happen to my kids while I’m away – this method won’t work. It may be a matter to take up with your therapist or trusted support person. Although I’m glad that thinking about speaking helped you identify this underlying source of distress.)

Step Three: Plan Ahead for Speaking Glitches.

Once you find your answer(s) in Step One, accept that one or more of those things is going to happen. It just is. It may have already. And hey – you lived through it. 

You’re not trying to be a robotic speaker. You’re a person with quirks and flaws and occasionally a missing slide. That’s part of being a speaker and it’s simply something you have to accept.

You may feel silly thinking about your answer – I mean stumbling over your words is really no big deal, right? Probably every speaker’s done it, and lived through it, and you will, too.

But just because it seems petty or even inescapable, don’t try to talk yourself out of it, because this silly-seeming fear is only the gatekeeper that scratches the surface and gets you ready for the deeper dive that’s coming next.

Before we go there, let’s plan ahead for any snags you anticipate.

  • If you’re worried about forgetting your talking points, make a notecard titled “MOST IMPORTANT POINTS” to keep in your view, or if you can’t bring notes, create an acronym that helps you remember.
  • If you’re worried about running out of time, review this article on Presentation Perfect Timing.
  • If you worry you’ll have a coughing fit, work a five-minute self-reflection exercise into your material that you can plug in when you need to take a break to cough it out.
  • If you’re worrying about an emergency or a heckler, review those chapters in A Dietitian’s Guide to Professional Speaking.

And so on. Once you’ve got your practical solutions on board, it’s time for the next step.

Step Four: What Are You REALLY Afraid Of?

Take your first answer(s) a step deeper: What if you do stumble over your words? Forget what you wanted to say? Get a bad evaluation? What could happen next?

You have to really dig in here, listen for the answers that are buried deep, because we’ve already established that this surface fear is probably no big deal.

What are you really worrying about?

  • No one will like me?
  • I’ll lose my job?
  • I’ll lose credibility in my field?
  • I’ll go broke?
  • Everyone will know I’m a faker?

These deeper answers are existential – they’re things that feel REALLY scary, because they threaten your livelihood, your security, your career… even your identity.

How do I know there’s something there? Because the simple things aren’t really scary. You already know you’ll live through minor glitches. If it’s scaring you from speaking, there’s something else behind it.

Try to identify your existential fear. You’ll know you’ve found it when it hits you like a ton of bricks. It might surprise you, or maybe not.

One of my workshop participants answered Step Two with his fear of being wrongly accused of plagiarism. That struck me as no big deal. I mean it could happen, but what are the chances? And once he pointed out he hadn’t plagiarized (Step Three), the situation would be over, right? WRONG.

In Step Four I found out this had actually happened to him. In his very recent past he had been unjustly accused of plagiarizing information for his presentation slides at a professional conference. And it had been INCREDIBLY distressing because not only was he wrongly accused, his accuser was a friend and colleague who did not accept the fact she was wrong, really made him miserable, and threatened to expose him as a fraud and sabotage his career.

Step Four revealed that his ACTUAL fear was of endangering his professional reputation. His family depended on him financially. If he were exposed (wrongly or not) as a fraud, he would be ruined and lose his livelihood. OBVIOUSLY he didn’t want to present in public again.

Once you allow yourself to identify this genuinely terrifying fear, take it to the next step.

Step Five: Detach Performance Anxiety from Existential Dread

They key to Step Four was accepting that your existential fear of public speaking is something REALLY scary. No one wants to ruin their life, lose their job or be hated. If you could protect yourself from those things by never speaking in public, that would be a small price to pay.

But Step Five may be even scarier, because it means accepting this equally terrifying fact: you can’t protect yourself from those things, not by never speaking and not by anything else.

You read that correctly. There’s no way to guarantee that your super scary fear isn’t going to come true.

[I predict right now you’re thinking, “Thanks a lot, Jessica, I thought this article was going to help, not confirm my greatest public speaking fear!” – but hear me out…]

Those terrifying things may happen, they may not. BUT IT WON’T BE BECAUSE YOU GAVE A SPEECH.

In other words once you accept that not everyone will like you, not everything will work out, and not everything is perfect, you free yourself from tying those outcomes to public speaking.

Accepting you have no control over other people’s behavior – or anything existential – is brutal. But it means you CAN stop attributing those outcomes to speaking in public.

Don’t believe me? I can prove it. If your fear is that you’ll lose your job if you say something wrong in a speech, consider that you might lose your job if you continually refuse to present.

If your fear is that people won’t like you, let me assure you that people (hopefully not many, but some) already don’t like you.

In the case of my workshop participant whose fear was being wrongly accused or taken down by a colleague, that definitely could happen. But it could also happen if he wrote a book, an article, or did an interview. Not speaking doesn’t eliminate the possibility of being accused, criticized, or even slandered.

I want to say take your time with Step Five, really marinate in accepting that public speaking is not the root of your fear, that it’s really about your identity and self-worth, your knowledge that the world is not always safe, or the fact that life gives no guarantees.

But since that’s so uncomfortable, I’ll let you dip lightly into reality, then quickly move on to the last step.

Step Six: Create Your Stage-Fright-Busting Mantra

The final step – the one you’ll come back to again and again – is creating a mantra to use whenever your stage fright rears its ugly head.

What should this mantra contain? That’s up to you.

It can be a Bible verse, motivational quote, affirmation, supportive message from yourself or a loved one… anything that contains these qualities:

  • It’s true.
  • It’s supportive.
  • It’s overarching, meaning it applies to more than just your one worst fear.

Your mantra should not:

  • Deny reality. “I will do a great job and everyone will like me,” is no good.
  • Minimize your fear. “No one is going to accuse me, that’s silly,” would not be a fit for the example above.
  • Shame you, e.g. “Stop being ridiculous and get on with it!”

Here are some examples of pre-made mantras that fit these criteria:

“I can do all things in God who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

“I’m a grown, competent person. I’ve handled everything that happened so far, and I’ll handle whatever happens next. (Even if handling it means throwing a tantrum alone in my bed.)”

“I will try to learn from each experience, even those that feel unpleasant. I know that other people’s reactions to me say more about them than they do about me. My family loves me no matter what happens today.”

“If you’re never scared, embarrassed or hurt, it means you never took any chances.” Julia Sorel

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you.” – Isaiah 41:10

“God, grant me the serenity the accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Neibuhr

You can also craft your own that is specific to you and your needs.

If you’ve made it to this point, well done! It’s a lot of work to actually find the source of your stage fright and debunk it. There are no guarantees it won’t turn up again, in fact it’s more likely than not. But next time, you’ll know how to comfort yourself that you’ll also be okay.

If you’re willing to share, I’d love to know the mantra you’ve created or have chosen to use. Share with me in the comments below. And if you’re struggling at all or just do better with things in a one-on-one session, send me an email at Jessica@DietitianSpeakingGuide.com and let’s set up a time to do it together.

Jessica Setnick is the author of A Dietitian's Guide to Professional Speaking: Expert Advice for Pitching, Presenting & Getting Paid. She's presented hundreds of times to thousands of people and still gets nervous every time.

 

Unique Speaking Platform Makeover: From Drab to Fab

Last year I gave a workshop based on A Dietitian’s Guide to Professional Speaking to my local iaedp chapter of eating disorder professionals.

I intended to focus on creating fabulous Unique Speaking Platforms, but it turned out that most of the attendees were struggling with stage fright, so we started there.

Recently I got this email from one of the participants, Jamie English, who gave me permission to share her story.

“You might remember helping me come up with my USP at the speaking training you did last summer. I had been asked to present and was scared to death. I walked away with a great USP and did the presentation 6 months later.

I printed off my fun USP and my original boring bio and offered both to the person introducing me.

She read the fun one, and I knew it was a hit when someone came up afterwards and introduced herself as a Gryffindor!”

Curious about the before and after? Of course!

Here’s where she started:

“Jamie English, LCSW-Supervisor (Licensed Clinical Social Worker Supervisor) has been in private practice since 2013. She specializes in eating disorders, body image, and trauma. She is EMDR Certified (and a Consultant in Training). In addition to using EMDR, she also uses Emotional Transformation Therapy (ETT) and Sandtray Therapy (which is not just for kids).

She received her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Abilene Christian University in 2000, her master’s degree in Social Work from Stephen F. Austin State University in 2006. She has been an LCSW since 2010. In addition to providing clinical social work in her practice, she also enjoys supervising social workers who are working toward their clinical license.”

As you can see, Jamie did everything right when it comes to describing her credentials blah blah blah. But can you imagine someone introducing her from the podium at a big event? Half the audience checked our before the first paragraph was over.

There’s no disputing Jamie’s qualifications. But what will an event planner see in this bio that will move Jamie to the top of the pile of proposals? Nothing. There’s nothing to make attendees want a front-row seat in this session, and that’s what event planners look for.

Brainstorming the Unique Speaking Platform steps with a partner, Jamie transformed that ho-hum bio into this fabulous USP:

“Information junkie Jamie English drank the diet Kool-Aid so long she didn’t realize it was making her miserable.

Now a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Harry Potter nerd, she presents to people like her who know there has to be a better way. She hopes to help you find and embrace your authentic self (even if you’re a Slytherin like her) so you can ditch the diet culture for good.”

No wonder the organizer chose to read this USP!

In far fewer words, you get a MUCH better feel for the type of speaker Jamie is – irreverent, self-deprecating, easy to relate to – and what she brings to the table. Hired!

Now it’s your turn. Are you ready to revamp your tired bio into a USP that gets you hired?

Get in touch and let’s set up a time to talk.

Making Dollars and Sense of Nutrition News: Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Neva Cochran

Dietitian Speaker Neva Cochran says Being paid has become more the norm than the exception.

Combatting nutrition misinformation is dietitian speaker Neva Cochran’s cup of tea. Read on as she shares with DietitianSpeakingGuide how she infuses media communications experience into her presentations.
DSG: You’re such an experienced speaker, it’s hard to picture you starting out. Tell us your origin story.

NC: I was the first dietitian in a new hospital where the staff were excited to have a nutrition expert devoted to patients. They invited me to speak to the Breathe Easy Club for chronic pulmonary disease patients, then cardiac rehab and diabetes groups, Internal Medicine staff, an ICU nurses training workshop, a cardiovascular nurses’ seminar, and others. As I became known in the area, I was invited to present to students at the two neighboring universities and to a variety of community groups.

DSG: How did you settle on your Unique Speaking Platform?

NC: It depended on the work I was doing and interests I had at the time. I became a state media representative for the Texas Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, and that led to my first professional presentation to colleagues, “Moving Your Media Message” at the 1986 Texas Academy Conference. That created more opportunities to speak about dietitians working with media which continued after I became a national Academy spokesperson. Combatting nutrition misinformation is a topic I’ve been passionate about over the years, so I keep updating it. I’ve had three distinct presentations: Nutrition: Sense and Nonsense; Nutrition News You Can Use: What’s Hot, What’s Not; and Eating Beyond the Headlines: Sorting Evidence from Emotion.

DSG: How did you transition from volunteer to paid speaker?

NC: The first presentation I recall being paid for was about 10 years into my career at another state Academy’s conference. I don’t recall the amount, but they offered it to me as the standard rate they paid speakers, and I accepted. That set the stage for being paid for presentations to state Academy groups, but I still presented without compensation for local dietitian and other community groups. Over the past 10 years, being paid has become more the norm than the exception. Once I began consulting with food, nutrition and agricultural organizations, they were willing to sponsor me to speak before professional audiences. Now I’m comfortable asking to be paid because I have a track record of success and am well-known as a good speaker.

DSG: Do you have any advice about charging for a dietitian who hasn’t gotten the hang of it yet?

NC: My go-to colleague for pricing advice shared his thoughts with me about getting paid adequately for speaking. When he’s offered an honorarium or fee less than he believes is appropriate, he tells the meeting planner, “That’s the fee for an entry-level dietitian. I’ll help you find one.” If they really want HIM and not just any dietitian, they will rethink their fee. My advice to new dietitian speakers (and I just had this conversation with one last week!), is to remind them that the organization is not just paying for them to regurgitate facts and information. They are paying for your knowledge, reputation and ability to inspire an audience in their field of expertise. They have to think beyond just an hourly rate to the value their presence on the program brings – things like drawing in attendees and lending credibility to the organization putting on the conference.

DSG: Yes! There’s much more than just the time on stage. The other side of the coin is delivering the value to back up that fee. When you’re in the audience, what differentiates the excellent speakers from the so-so?

Dietitian Speaker Neva Cochran films a cooking demo in her kitchen.

NC: The ability of the presenter to capture the attention of, engage with and keep the audience’s attention. Might I even add, entertain them! Telling stories about your own experiences and those of other RDNs or clients (of course, observing HIPAA regulations!) helps bring a topic and concepts to life. In addition, really knowing your topic and being able to deliver it in a confident and relatable way is essential. Finally, fielding questions well is crucial.

DSG: That’s a great subject right there – how do you handle questions from the audience when you don’t know in advance what they’ll ask?

NC: I make sure I know my topic really well so that I can answer most any question about it, and my media training helps me define the most important information and distill it down to the key messages.

DSG: You seem to be ready for anything. How do you handle when things go wrong?

NC: Travel delays even within the state can be an issue. I’ve become adept at walking in right at presentation time and getting started. Audiovisual problems are the most common – audio from another session coming through the speakers, projector incompatibility, video won’t play, there’s no screen to project onto. Once in a restaurant I took a painting down and projected onto the white brick wall. I just persevere and make it through.

DSG: What has been your most memorable speaking engagement?

Professional Dietitian Speaker Neva Cochran presents to the Texas Woman's University commencent

NC: I was so honored to be invited to be the commencement speaker for the Texas Woman’s University College of Health Sciences in May 2016. My topic was “Make Opportunities, Take Opportunities, Walk through Fear.”

DSG: Wow, a true career highlight, and what an inspiring title. Thank you for sharing your path with us.

Have you heard Neva Cochran speak? We’d love to read your comments below.

To learn more about Neva, visit www.NevaCochranRD.com.

Follow Neva on Twitter @NevaRDLD, Facebook @NevaRDLD, Instagram @nevardld, LinkedIn @NevaCochran, and YouTube @NevaCochran.

From Fearless Feeding to Fearless Leading: Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Jill Castle

Dietitian Speaker Jill Castle says There's an Art to Speaking. It's a craft to be honed.

Jill Castle’s recipe for speaking success? She mixed her expertise as a children’s hospital dietitian with her experiences as a mother of four, folded in a heaping helping of top-notch communication skills, and blended it all into books, courses, a TED talk, and a podcast. Read on as DietitianSpeakingGuide.com interviews our first Spotlight Speaker!
DSG: Tell us about the evolution of your Unique Speaking Platform.

JC: My speaking platform reflects my perspective on childhood nutrition on a larger, thought leader level as well as in micro-expertise areas. The Nutrition Prescription for Healthier Kids, which I presented at TEDx, is my signature talk, introducing what I call my “trifecta” of child feeding principles. My workshops and breakouts take thFearless Feeding: How to Raise Health Eaters from High Chair to High School By Jill Castlee main concepts of The Nutrition Prescription to a more experiential and specific level. For example, Nourished: A New Model for Raising Healthy Kids takes a deep dive into the same trifecta in either a half- or full-day workshop. My breakout sessions include the trifecta in the context of a specific topic update, like Attention Deficit Disorder or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. And even when presenting on nutrition communications and speaking, I always weave in examples related to child feeding.

DSG: Pricing and payment are uncharted territory for dietitians starting to give talks. Do you have any advice for making the move from volunteer to professional speaker?

Dietitian Speaker Jill Castle

JC: I think with anything around asking for compensation, you need to wrap your head around a few things: what feels like a right price for the effort and expertise; what would be too low and not worth it; and what the market will bear. Then you make a decision to ask for what you want (and promise yourself you won’t back down). Prepare yourself for a “no” and be okay with that. For me, I initially wanted the experience of presenting, and that was worth doing my first one or two or three without compensation. After that, I charged something I felt reflected my value, and I worked my way up to my current rates. Understanding what speakers outside of healthcare get paid can help you move forward with your fees.

DSG: What inspires you as a speaker?

JC: I think there’s an art to speaking. It’s a craft that should be honed and worked on, from your style of presenting to how you connect with the audience and the stories you tell. My goal is to be a speaker who can make the audience sit on the edge of their seat, have an Aha! moment, and leave ready to take action. I think this requires being fearless with your thoughts and weaving stories into presentations so that the research/techniques/tips come alive. I watch TED and TEDx talks to get inspired.

DSG: What experiences as a speaker have forced you to learn and grow, whether you wanted to or not?

Eat Like a Champion by Jill Castle is pictured. The book cover shows four teen athletes dressed in their uniforms.

JC: Early on, I had a situation where my slides didn’t work, so I had to go solo and mostly by memory. It was a good lesson on not only knowing your stuff, but your talk structure and how you are moving the audience to transformation. Fortunately, most of my evaluations have been good, but like most of us, I focus on the negative ones! I’ve learned over the years that you cannot please everyone, and when you choose to put your own ideas and thoughts out there–particularly when crafting your thought leadership–you are open for criticism. I think you have to grow a thick skin and be convicted in your ideas. I think the biggest life skill I’ve learned is how to connect with any audience through storytelling. I’ve always inherently been a storyteller in my one-on-one practice, but to bring stories to the stage is an art I keep working on. When you tell stories, particularly personal ones, the vulnerability connects you with the audience deeply and they become more invested in what you have to say, they remember you, and they take the actions you want them to take. I love when people come up to me later and tell me their stories or ask questions about my stories! It’s truly changed the way I speak, and I’ve learned to mine stories from my own past and my interactions as a dietitian to enhance my messages.

DSG: It’s so eye-opening to hear that even as an accomplished speaker you’re still trying to learn and grow. Jessica is going to love what you said about vulnerability connecting you with the audience – she often says that one of her big surprises as a speaker is the more she shares of her authentic (and authentically imperfect) self, the more enthusiastically people respond. THANK YOU Jill for sharing your path with our readers.

Have you heard Jill present? We’d love to read your comments below.

Interested in booking Jill for your next event? Visit her speaking page or email her directly at jill@jillcastle.com.

Follow Jill on Twitter @pediRD, Facebook @TheNourishedChild and Instagram @i.am.pediRD, and on her podcast, The Nourished Child.

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