Audience Experience

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Yaffi Lvova

Yaffi Lvova’s mission is creating more joy, connection and tolerance – with both food and other people. Read on for her take on all the feelings of the past 18 months, how she feels about asking for $$, and the ups and downs of her speaking experience.

Dietitian Speaker Yaffi Lvova leans on her kitchen counter wearing a long-sleeved orange top and a pretty head covering. She's smiling at her audience and ready to teach cooking.

AC: Tell us about your evolution as a dietitian speaker. How did you get started presenting?

YL: I started speaking first in elementary school, in 5th grade, and it really helped shape me even at that young age as a speaker – I got interested in how to communicate topics in a way that resonates with people.

As a dietitian, I started out speaking mainly on pediatric and family nutrition around your basic concepts like selective eating and focusing on how families can increase joy at the table. Scientific facts don’t necessarily resonate with the public unless they’re delivered in a way that’s digestible, pun totally intended. I like to take that science and shift it into vernacular speech, into easy words that the public can not only understand but will enjoy understanding. That’s the way to make it stick the most and to have the greatest effect. And I really appreciate that angle.

Scientific facts don’t necessarily resonate with the public unless they’re delivered in a way that’s digestible, pun totally intended.

I’ve written a number of books regarding food introduction for babies, as well as ways to make food more fun at the table. And that’s why I support that with my speaking, and I support my speaking with my writing, and they just go hand in hand. Prior to the pandemic, one big part of my business was teaching a toddler cooking class called Toddler Test Kitchen, and that’s an in-person class.

AC: I’ve never heard of a toddler cooking class! That’s really, really cool. I think that’s a great way to get kids introduced to cooking.

YL: Yeah, we have a lot of fun with it. The class is for kids ages two to six and it’s very, very focused, unlike a lot of other cooking classes for the same age range which focus more on cakes and cupcakes. I mean, those recipes are much less expensive to make, and the mess can be a little bit easier to control because you have these prepackaged cake mixes, and you don’t have a million different ingredients. But I like to take it the other way – we do spaghetti squash as well as baking cookies and we have a lot of fun with it.

I shifted to online when the pandemic hit. I didn’t want to risk being a location where people got each other sick. So that class has been shut down for just over a year. I did try to take it into an online space but trying to parent from home and cook and manage all the technological complexities that came along with everyone shifting to online space just was too much. I shifted a lot more to public speaking and writing where I wasn’t doing quite as much stuff all at the same time.

My focus has been shifting with world events. As the world situation has shifted, I brought a lot more social justice angles into my repertoire. I have a webinar called Supporting Your Religious Client, which I did with me representing the Jewish side and Dua Aldasouqi representing the Muslim side. We compared and contrasted kosher and halal and gave dietitians tools to help support their religious clients when they themselves might not be coming from the same perspective. To help give them that additional compassion that will increase the quality of what they’re giving their patients or clients.

I’ve also been doing “Ask a Jew,” where I just try to answer questions people might have. This has been pretty successful. I think people are really looking for quality information as opposed to short snippets that they might find on social media.

This has been a whole lot of fun for me during COVID with that aspect being able to have much more opportunities to speak with the public. It’s been really great. That’s been a great silver lining for this time period.

People are really looking for quality information as opposed to short snippets they find on social media.

AC: That’s great that you were able to shift gears like that. Did you ever have to shift from speaking for free to asking to be paid? And do you have any advice for someone who’s nervous about it?

YL: That’s a really difficult question, because I get a lot of feelings when someone contacts me to speak. First, I feel honored that they thought of me, and because of that, my gut instinct is to do everything for free. Then pair that with imposter syndrome, and I feel like I shouldn’t be charging people. Then maybe it’s a nonprofit so they don’t have a lot of money coming in… all these things make it difficult to set my price. I just had to fake it till I made it. I had to rely on the advice of people who have been doing public speaking longer than I have as far as calculating what my price point should be and sending it out there. And even now when companies contact me or organizations contact me to speak, I am so much more nervous sending that quote than I am getting up on stage or turning on the zoom. That moment is probably the most nerve-wracking that I’ve experienced in speaking.Beyond A Bite by Yaffi Lvova

I find it really difficult – to send someone a bill saying, I want you to give me twelve hundred dollars for one hour of my time – because it just seems so unbelievably egotistical. What I have to remember as a dietitian, a speaker and in general is that people are not paying us for the hour that I’m on stage. They’re paying for that, but they’re also paying for all the experience, for the internship, for the schooling, for any life experience that aided my knowledge of subject matter and my ability to communicate with their audience in an effective and entertaining way. That’s what they’re paying for. They’re not paying for the one hour.

If I think of it as that much money for one hour, it feels really awful. I mean, just as awful as it feels good when they say yes. But to get to that point, you really have to value yourself and value your own knowledge and value your ability to get your knowledge from inside your head and from the textbooks out to the audience and for use in a practical way in a short amount of time. It’s a lot to ask, but we can get there with practice. I think it’s fake it till you make it and then practice.

AC: Thank you for being so authentic about that. Do you have any advice for a dietitian who’s still in the stage of considering speaking for the first time?

YL: I think it’s great to do some small group events starting out, but it depends – some people would be more comfortable with people they know, and other people would be more comfortable with strangers. Starting out, I would say first consider that and then try to create an event for yourself that has a comfortable audience in it, whether that means strangers or whether that means familiar faces. That’s a good place to start and starting online is also great because we have that that disconnect from the audience. At this point in my career, I don’t like that disconnect. Perhaps for someone starting out, the fact that they’re sitting at their computer with no one directly looking at them could feel more safe and could be a vehicle to increase their confidence. That’s something that they can use until they’re more comfortable, until the world opens up a little bit more and there are more in-person opportunities.

AC: Yeah, I think that’s a great point, just getting your feet wet at first. What would you say makes an excellent speaker in your point of view as an audience member?

YL: An excellent speaker is engaging. The audience does not have to try to pay attention. The audience member doesn’t find themselves checking their phone every five minutes or five seconds. The speaker can get difficult, complex information to their audience in a way that the audience can understand it and put it into practice right away and feel confident with it. Sometimes the audience member is going to have a question that comes up when they try to put this information into practice. The idea is for the audience member to feel engaged throughout the presentation and leave feeling more confident than when they came in. Maybe they’re going to enact this practical information right away, or maybe they’re going to let it marinate for a little bit first. But they leave feeling like they have a little bit more confidence with that subject matter and they know where they’re going to go with it.

AC: So dialing it down from the scientific to what you actually need to know.

YL: That’s exactly it, and I like how you said dialing it down rather than dumbing it down, because if we see our audience as a dumb that doesn’t help us with our speaking skills either. It’s the idea that they’re not at a lower level, but rather they have different interests. We as dietitians are interested in nutrition and so we know big biochemical words and can communicate with each other on that level. But when we’re speaking to an audience, particularly a public audience, they have lots of different varying interests. Their intellect is in different places. And that’s why we need to shift our language to be more open and to be more accessible so that people who are scientists and people who own a knitting shop, you know, whatever interests our audience, they can tune into what we’re saying and understand it. That’s so important because we can have the best knowledge in the world but if we can’t communicate it in a way that our audience will understand and appreciate, it doesn’t matter how much knowledge we have, we’re not getting it across effectively.

If we can’t communicate in a way our audience will understand and appreciate, it doesn’t matter how much knowledge we have.

Stage-by-Stage Baby Food CookbookAC: Exactly, that’s a great point to make. Anything that you’ve had to learn the hard way that you wish you had known earlier?

YL: When I was first speaking, I spoke for a group of familiar people, and this is why I say that it’s important for the person who is a beginner speaker to understand what’s comfortable for them. I had a friend in the audience who is actually a good friend who grilled me and it was just a circular argument, and I did not know how to get out of it, and it was in front of an audience and we were just going in circles and it probably lasted 45 minutes. I swear I could still hear the other audience members rolling their eyes, you know. It was terrible and I didn’t expect it because it was from a friend. I thought this would be more of a supportive environment and it wasn’t. It was really trial by fire and left me feeling very inadequate and vulnerable and frankly, quite stupid. After that, I signed up for some speaking lessons and learned how to get out of those situations.

AC: That sounds painful. Let’s switch to the good moments. What are the positive moments that stand out in your mind and keep you wanting to do this despite the tough parts?

YL: Well in that speaking class I mentioned, we ended the class with everyone giving their own talk that they had developed over the course of the class and certain members of the public were invited to it, including a guy who was very involved in National Speakers of America. I gave my talk and at the end of the class, he came up to me and just said, “You are money.”

That felt amazing, just to have a validation from someone who is an expert in this field tell me that my speaking skills were great, that felt really, really good. When I give a talk and I get calls or texts or emails from people in the audience afterward expressing their appreciation or what they liked about the talk, that feels really good. It goes so far to boost my confidence as a speaker.

When I’m with an audience that’s particularly engaged, asking questions and having conversations back and forth, that feels amazing as well, because I feel like I’m really connecting with people. That’s what I want to do. I want to connect with people in a way that helps them increase their food enjoyment and pass that onto their kids. This is a multigenerational concept. It’s a multigenerational goal. And just to be part of that food enjoyment in this generation and for generations to come is it’s such a happy goal for me. I’m so happy to be living that reality.

I just feel like I’m going to get better and better with more of those positive interactions. I would start every morning with a talk. I would speak at 7:00 a.m. every morning instead of having a cup of coffee and I will be adequately wired the rest of the day just off of the joy of that.

It happens at my toddler test kitchen classes, where at the end of the class, a parent will always come up to me and say, my child would never have tried a carrot. Well, now they’re eating carrots. And my child never tried this before and now they’re trying it. Or the best, I brought my child to your class because we’re weaning her off of tube feeding and trying to introduce her to her appetite and this went really well and I’m glad that we came. When that mother told me that I just felt so honored to be a part of that child’s food journey and food enjoyment journey. That was really wonderful.

AC: That’s awesome. Those are really cool experiences to have. Hopefully you can get back to cooking in the kitchen soon with the kids!

YL: I hope so. I hope that things are calming down. I have a great venue, but I live in Arizona and the venue’s outside. In the summer we get cooked in Arizona rather than cooking. I’ll start again in the fall and I’m optimistic that it will be safe enough to do so.

AC: Would you say you have any final words of advice for aspiring dietitian speakers?

YL: If you love it, do it. Make sure that you respect yourself along the way and keep your boundaries clear, but if you love it, do it. The audience will know that you love it and they will appreciate you and love you for it.

AC: Passion definitely goes a very long way in terms of presence on stage. When someone is speaking with passion, you can feel it.

YL: Especially when you’re passionate about food. It’s everything. Food is culture. It’s connection. Food is joy. When we can find joy in food and we can find connection in food, especially after 2020, it’s everything. I’m just happy to be along for the ride.

To hire Yaffi for your next speaking engagement visit her website babybloomnutrition.com.

Follow Yaffi on social media: Facebook @babybloomnutrition, Twitter @babybloomnutrit, Instagram @toddler.testkitchen, Pinterest @Yaffi, Youtube @NapTimeNutritionByBabyBloomNutrition,  and LinkedIn @YaffiLvova.

 

Speaker Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Amy Goodson

Dietitian Speaker Amy Goodson leans forward in her chair as if to share something special with her audience. She's wearing a green patterned top and a bright orange necklace, plus a big smile.

Dietitian Speaker Amy Goodson radiates personality – enough to light up a room when the power goes out in the middle of her presentation. Read on as she illuminates us on her path to star status, how she turned a green screen into gold, and tips for igniting YOUR speaking career.

AC: Tell our readers how you got your start speaking and how your speaking has evolved.

AG: I’ve always loved speaking in public. Growing up I was in pageants at church and plays. My original degree is in communication, and then I stayed in school to get my master’s degree in sports nutrition and become a registered dietitian.

I’ve always done a lot of public speaking in my career. Right out of school I immediately got hired by a sports medicine facility where I really got a ton of opportunity to speak because I was being used as a marketing person for the facility. We worked with tons of high schools and sports teams, so I would go out and do talks to schools, parents, coaches, athletic trainers. So speaking was built into my job. It was such great experience.

And even though a lot of speaking was built into my job, I did a lot of over-and above stuff, too. Like speaking to a nine year-old’s baseball team at seven o’clock at night. So a lot of my speaking wasn’t just baked into a nine-to- five job. I took every opportunity I had to speak, whether it was popping up to a company at seven a.m. or talking to a little baseball team at nine o’clock at night or doing stuff on Saturdays or whatever it was. I just said yes to everything.

I also worked with the executive health program in the same facility. We contracted with companies to see their executives, kind of like concierge physicals. And I was able to do a lot of speaking at some of those companies. I really got to include a ton of speaking through that job, which allowed me to really develop a name for myself, I would say, in the speaking world.

AND I started speaking for some larger groups outside of work like the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Verimark, the National Security Council.

When I started working for myself at the end of 2017, I already had so many contacts from the first 11 years of my career, especially here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I also will apply to speak at conferences or whatnot, but a lot of the way it’s really evolved in my own business is from my experience and past experiences of speaking where people are referring to me and people are reaching out to me to speak. Those same people I had spoken for through my job kept contacting me. And then, of course, I just evolved because more and more people get to know you, especially when you speak at conferences and those types of things.

Speaking is now about a third of my business, and it’s really my favorite thing to do. I still do a lot of speaking in the sports nutrition role, whether that’s with teams or at conferences or to school groups or whatnot. Another speaking area is general health and wellness to the everyday person. And then I do some speaking about the entrepreneurial side of being a dietitian, based on some of my experiences and creating my own business.

AC: Amazing. You said you got paid to speak as part of your job – was there a transition when you started your own business and you had to specifically ask for a payment?

AG: Now the outside of work speaking that I did, Gatorade and Dreambox – I was already getting paid for those. Those large companies just naturally pay speakers.

With the speaking I did as part of my job, it was more interesting. Here I am with this salaried, full-time job, getting paid as part of that job to speak, but we weren’t charging the companies or schools I spoke to. It was more me marketing, representing our business. Over a decade, I was speaking to them – from their point of view – for free.

I had to explain to a lot of the schools that I can’t speak for free anymore. There wasn’t really an option. If I was going to speak after I left that job, I had to get fees for my business. Luckily my reputation preceded me, so to ask to be paid wasn’t that big of a deal because they already had a point of reference for me as a speaker. A lot of them were people I knew or people that had been referred to me by someone who recommended me. I found they were pretty understanding.

I had to explain to a lot of the schools that I can’t speak for free anymore.

AC: What about now? How do you decide what to charge, and do you ever speak for free anymore?

AG: Back in the day I said yes to everything, but at this stage it’s different. I remember someone wanted me to do a cooking presentation with recipes and cooking demonstrations. And they said, we have one hundred and fifty dollars. I can’t do it because that’s hours of work. If it’s me doing a virtual talk and I can do it for free, I will.

There’s a high school boys and moms’ service organization I speak to for free. And I spoke for the American Heart Association off and on for years for free. There’s an aspect of that that’s community service. But for the majority of the time, I would say 95 percent of the time, I now get paid.

As far as how to charge, I had to evaluate what am I going to charge to speak at a conference versus a company versus what am I going to charge locally versus what am I going to charge schools… Because schools by default are not going to have the same funds as a big company. So that was a little bit of a stretch in my way of thinking.

I live in Dallas, Texas. There’s big companies that are going to pay. But I also evaluate my benefit analysis, There’s times that I might be willing to speak for a little bit less because I want an opportunity to speak with that company. I might be willing initially to accept a little bit less because it’s going to open up more doors for me.

There’s a group that flies me to their conferences and I speak five times in one day. Typically I would charge more than what I charge them, but that’s all they can pay. And they call me every single time they do one of these events, so while I might be making a little bit less, I’m doing it almost every month now. I have such a great time seeing that the participants are so interested, it’s a great experience, and very organized. I weigh those things out as well.

The Sports Nutrition Playbook by Amy Goodson

I also found another way to get paid for sports nutrition talks when schools don’t have the money to get me out there in person. I created four presentations and recorded them in front of a green screen. I paid to have them well produced, and I sell them on my website now. It’s way cheaper than bringing me to a school. And they have access to that presentation for a whole year.

And of course, there was an investment up front to get those made and produced and on my website, but long term, it’s a great way for me to make passive income and get to still make my mark without me actually having to be there.

AC: Do you have any advice for a dietitian who’s feeling insecure about expecting to be paid to speak?

AG: My initial reaction is I feel dietitians should get paid to speak. If you have experience, then you should be able to ask for payment. You need to be charging. But you also need to weigh things out.

I don’t do a lot with clients, but if you’re seeing clients on a regular basis, you might speak with a goal of getting clients, where you volunteer or charge less. If you walk out of there with ten people contacting you to be your client, your ROI [Return On Investment] was much bigger.

For people that have a book to sell, are they going to let you sell your book when you’re there? That might be a whole other avenue to make more money or to make up for what you’re not making from a speaking fee. Those are things I would consider.

If you’ve never really spoken before, you need to get experience, like with anything, to get good at it. You have to have somewhere to practice. If your kid or niece and nephew has a soccer team, or if you’re in a church group, could you talk to them about nutrition to gain that experience? To build your experience, take all the opportunities regardless of pay. Volunteer to speak at your local dietetics group, other small groups, and branch out from there.

If you think you should automatically be paid but you have no reputation or experience, that’s going to be more challenging. When someone’s paying you they’re expecting you to be good at what you do. Putting in some time, whether it’s volunteering or presenting as a part of something else you’re involved in, would be helpful.

People only see what I do now. They weren’t there for the hundreds of talks I did on Saturday morning and at eight o’clock after baseball practice and going to church group crockpots. I mean, I just said yes to everything. I was not getting paid but it built my experience and I got good at talking to all different types of groups. I happen to love speaking. And so it didn’t really bother me because I knew I was building a resume and my goal was to say yes to everything so that one day I could say no to what I didn’t want to do.

My goal was to say yes to everything so that one day I could say no to what I didn’t want to do.

AC: It sounds like you’ve reached that goal. You’re very inspirational. Switching gears, tell us what you think makes an excellent speaker from your point of view?

AG: Excellence to me is if someone who knows their information so well that they’re not really thinking about what they’re saying, they’re thinking about how to say it best to the audience in that moment. Those speakers don’t just provide information, they make it really relatable. That’s where I think you get the biggest impact because people are more likely to connect to you when you’re speaking. I’ve noticed it the most with younger speakers and interns, that they focus so much on what they’re saying and what the information is, they’re not paying attention to the audience or adapting if the audience isn’t responding.

Being a good speaker also means being a clear communicator, not using filler words, and being able to communicate concisely. Dynamic speakers resonate with people; they’re more engaged with you. All of these things you can develop over time.

But the biggest thing is being able to connect with people, with the information that you’re providing them, and giving information in such a way that they can relate to it and apply it. Because it’s one thing to have information, it’s another thing to feel like the information is applicable to you.

…it’s one thing to have information, it’s another thing to feel like the information is applicable to you.

AC: Any suggestions for how someone can develop those skills?

AG: Absolutely. There’s no other way to do that but to practice, by just doing it over and over and over again. The further along you get in your career, whatever you speak on, the more you know your information. It becomes easier to present that information in a different light based on who you’re talking to, and the more the more experience you have, the better you’re going to be at answering questions, the better you’re going be at giving examples.

In the meantime, it’s great to watch other speakers and think about what engages you as a listener, then check to see if you do that or not. Challenge yourself to see if you can get through an entire presentation without using a filler word. You can also record yourself presenting on your phone and watch it to see what you want to improve.

If you ever have the chance to do any media-related trainings, do that, because a lot of that translates over to public speaking. Media is a like a two- or three-minute presentation. That training can overlap. But honestly, the main thing is repetition. Because anything that you do over and over and over again, once you know that information so well, you can start to manipulate your presentation of the information in the best possible way for your audience.

AC: Is there anything that stresses you out as a speaker? Do you worry about things going wrong?

AG: I’m not a nervous speaker by default because I like speaking and it’s something I’ve done for so long. I’m confident in my knowledge of the information. I think people can sense when you’re not being confident in the information that you’re providing.

Newer speakers might be nervous about what they’re saying or how they’re saying it, or what someone is going to ask them. I’m at the point now that normally I know the answer to the questions that I’m being asked, but if I don’t, I can just say, “I’m not really sure about that. But if you’ll share your email, I will find out for you.” In my earlier days, I may not have wanted to do that.

AC: Out of all your speaking engagements, is there an experience that sticks out in your mind?

AG: The most interesting speaking experience I’ve ever had was a few years ago I was invited to do a sports nutrition training for a company in the Middle East. I went to Beirut, Lebanon to do two trainings and there were two days in between where I was on my own. I would have never thought I would go there and stay at a hotel by myself!

I spoke to one hundred dietitians, I think all women. They all speak English, but English it’s at least their third language. If you go to college in the Middle East, you pretty much speak Arabic first, then you may also speak French and English. So here I am speaking to a group where English is not their first or second language, and none of the examples I use make sense over there. A lot of my gestures don’t make any sense because they have no connotation or reference for them. None of our slang makes sense. They had no clue what I was referencing when I said you hang carrot in front of someone.

And I’m talking about sports nutrition, but they don’t really have sports teams there.

So it was a big challenge to translate the information – not literally translate, but explain – to people in the country that I’ve been in for twenty-four hours, that I really don’t know a ton about the people or their totally different experiences, that can’t relate to the things I usually say…

On top of all that, in Lebanon the electricity cuts out every single day, no matter what. At least one rolling blackout every day. It might be for 10 seconds or it might be for five minutes. One of the days I was speaking, the electricity went off for three minutes so I had no projector, no PowerPoint. They’re just used to it, like, “Oh yeah, the electricity goes out every day. No big deal.”

But even with all those barriers, the dietitians were all so involved, so hungry for the information. They would question, question, question. I would really have to think through how I should answer that for their situation. It challenged me more than usual because speaking is generally pretty easy to me.

I’ve now been to the Middle East six times, in five different countries. After that first experience, every time I went to a different country I knew to ask questions about their experience to help my frame of reference. And I noticed each time knowing more about the culture helped so much in making my points. So that’s got to go down as the most interesting. They’ve all been interesting, but that first time was so unique, it was a phenomenal experience.

AC: I can’t even imagine going and speaking in another country and how exciting and challenging that was for you. You’ve shared so much great information – thank you so much, Amy.

To hire Amy for your next speaking engagement visit her website amygoodsonrd.com.

Follow Amy on social media: Facebook @amygoodsonnutritioncounseling, Instagram @amyg.rd, LinkedIn @AmyGoodson, and Twitter @amy_goodson_rd.

Speaker Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Nancy Clark

Dietitian Speaker Nancy Clark presents in front of a white board with a marker in her hand. She wears a blue top and necklace and is presenting on sports nutrition. Superstar alert! Dietitian Speaker Nancy Clark is the Jesse Owens of sports dietitians, breaking ground for the field since before it had a name. If nutrition were the Olympics, she’d have medaled in multiple events. She’s even been pictured on a Wheaties box! Lucky for us, she took the time to share some tips for speaking success from her long career at the top.

DSG: You’re well-known in our profession as the original sports nutrition dietitian. How does professional speaking play a part in your career?

NC: My job is to teach people. Speaking is a wonderful way to reach a large audience.

I started by going to running clubs and bike clubs, asking if they wanted me to give a nutrition talk. I started local and then moved to professional groups – RDs, sports medicine MDs, athletic trainers, etc. Now, I speak internationally (much easier with Zoom!), and people seek me out.

DSG: What’s your stance on speaking for free versus charging? Any advice for a dietitian unsure about how to charge?

Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook

NC: I have always charged unless no money was available. In which case I traded the free talk for the opportunity to sell my Sports Nutrition Guidebook to the audience at the end of the talk.

We dietitians have valuable info to offer. The audience wants our info. If you’re unsure if you’re worth it, offer a low price range you feel comfortable with, such as $100 to $400.

DSG: What qualities do you see as the marks of an excellent speaker?

NC: Three things: an excellent speaker speaks clearly, in an organized manner, and teaches by telling stories.

DSG: Our readers love to hear about glitches so they know they’re not alone. Any terrible snafus that you managed to survive? Or amazing speaking experiences that stand out in your mind?

NC: Several situations stand out in my mind, all for different reasons.

Amazingly nerve-wrecking: Speaking to a room filled with professional baseball players for a mandatory nutrition talk.

Amazingly great: The day-and-a-half workshops I presented for years with an exercise physiologist. The audience was primarily RDs and personal trainers, inspiring them to get involved with sports nutrition and partner with each other.

Amazingly terrible: An afternoon talk I gave to hungry high school students. I had asked for them to have a snack before my talk, but the athletic director insisted they wait for the snack until after the talk. Talking to hungry athletes is a total waste of time!

Talking to hungry athletes is a total waste of time!

DSG: Love that important lesson! Don’t speak to hungry athletes. Any other advice for dietitian speakers starting out?

NC: When giving a new talk, it’s important to practice it – particularly if you will be doing this talk on television!  Those reporters are pros – but even they practice behind the scenes.

DSG: Thanks Nancy for the wise words.

To hire Nancy for your next peaking event visit her website nancyclarkrd.com.

Follow Nancy on social media: Twitter @nclarkrd, and LinkedIn @NancyClark.

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 Leslie Bonci

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

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

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

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

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

DSG: What have you been speaking about recently?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Christine Palumbo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pro Tip #1: Personalize the Passcode

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

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

Pro Tip #2: Invite Information

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

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

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

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

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

Pro Tip #3: Make Waiting Welcome

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

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

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

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

Pro Tip #4: Don’t Take Privacy Personally

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

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

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

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

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