Speaking Dilemmas

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Dalia Kinsey

Even if you’ve only been a dietitian for two minutes, Dietitian Speaker Dalia Kinsey wants you to know your worth. Read on as she shares how she learned to normalize asking to be paid – even when it’s hard – and how focusing on transformation is the key to success.

Dietitian Speaker Dalia Kinsey is ready to present, in a green shirt with black jacket, glasses, and a big smile.

AC: Tell us about your evolution as a speaker and how it blends with your career as a dietitian.

DK: I feel like speaking is something that constantly came up for me as a kid. Whether I was volunteering, or in different settings including religious settings, cultural settings, public speaking was a norm or a skill everyone was expected to build.

When I first entered public health, I worked for the Department of Public Health. That was where I first started working after I completed my degree. Because I wasn’t afraid of public speaking, I was always being asked to do it whenever another organization would reach out to the Department. That could be a school system. It could be a nonprofit that served families. That first job was awesome.

Right now, the focus of my public speaking is on helping providers create more inclusive practices. My overall mission is essentially to eliminate health disparities for LGBTIQA+ BIPOC people. My work focuses on the individual consumer and making wellness more intuitive for them. But then also I center the providers when it comes to creating more welcoming environments.

AC: Did you ever have to make the transition from speaking for free to asking to be paid? And was it challenging for you?

DK: I spoke without charging a speaking fee for years, not really realizing the value and that this could be a stand-alone service, because it was something that was intuitive to me, and I kept being asked to do it in the context of another job.

When I started a class, a professional speaking class with speaker and communications coach Dawn J. Fraser, that was the shift. I was working with someone who brought in professional agents who could give all of the students an idea of what the market norm is for certain services.

That was a game changer for me, because in dietetics in general, the business side is super weak, maybe not in all programs, but it definitely was in mine. I know in general that is the consensus. Dietitians are kind of primed to undervalue themselves and if we get this information from the field itself, sometimes we’re still going to be way under-pricing.

So actually working with a coach that specifically works with professional speakers from business was really helpful, rather than just working with someone who focuses on health care or health promotion. That was the game changer for me and I would still say, even though I feel clear on what industry averages are in a lot of areas, it still feels uncomfortable sometimes because I just haven’t had enough experience putting a price on what I do.

I think this is a big issue for dietitians and also for anybody assigned female at birth and socialized to be. It’s very uncomfortable to assert that you need to be compensated for doing something, especially if it’s part of a helping profession. The assumption is we just want to work for free or keep getting that 70 cents on the dollar. It has been a challenge from that perspective of just getting out of my own way.

Once someone clearly said, “This is normal, you’re not asking for anything out of the ordinary,” it was helpful, but it’s been hard getting used to the idea of being comfortable with the person saying, “No, I don’t want to pay that, I’m going to find someone who wants to come volunteer.” But I’m getting there.

AC: I think we have a lot of readers who are still overcoming those barriers as well, feeling like they shouldn’t be asking for money for whatever reasons. Do you have any advice for a dietitian who may be new and is feeling insecure about the whole idea of charging?

DK: It might be helpful to remember that it isn’t even just about you. So it feels awkward, like, “Oh, who am I to ask for this amount of money? I’m too inexperienced.” Remember that you’re not just doing it for you, you’re doing it for every other dietitian who is also going to be asked to accept unacceptable wages. It moves the entire field forward when people start to understand dietitians don’t work for free.

It moves the entire field forward when people start to understand dietitians don’t work for free.

Dietitians are experienced in really unique ways because it’s a field where your on-the-job experience creates your expertise and the way in which we continue to learn with our professional development portfolio. The person who wants to work with you might think they could find an equivalent for free, but there’s literally no such thing. In particular, the way we have to intentionally look at our professional development and say, Where do I specialize? – that is unique to us. We really need to be compensated for it, and not just for ourselves, for everyone else in the field.

AC: That’s something we don’t hear about much, that because dietitians have so much specialization, two people with the RD credentials could be completely different in their knowledge base. Thank you for that point. Switching gears, tell us what makes an excellent speaker from your point of view as an audience member?

DK: When someone has created their presentation thinking about what the audience will walk away with. What is the audience going to get out of it? Because I’ve been to talks where I’ve seen the same speaker in different settings where one presentation was so powerful and then I saw them again and at first it was hard to pinpoint why it was so boring, but it was because it didn’t have anything to do with me.

While it sounds so self-serving, that’s how everybody is. That’s how adult learners are. If you don’t tell them why they should care, I promise you they don’t care. If you can’t verbalize it, then you haven’t communicated it. Maybe somebody will still resonate with you because they just love your personality, love you as a person, but for everybody to get something out of it, you had to know as you were writing your speech what the transformation was that people were going to experience after they listened to it.

Also authenticity is important. I saw a presentation at a national conference for school nutrition that was really not good because it was not authentic to the presenter. Maybe someone else had helped them plan the presentation because it seemed like it didn’t feel natural to them. There was a point where they stood up and they sang and they danced. They are not a singer. They are not a dancer. They looked like they were uncomfortable. It really felt like someone else told them this will be engaging and the presentation was not their own. It might have worked great for someone else but wasn’t working for them.

And finally, engagement and storytelling. I went to a virtual in the early days of the pandemic. It was for a professional association here in the state of Georgia for school nutrition that had to cancel their face-to-face conference. This speaker was a master of using the chat and asking people to share their personal response to what they were saying.

They started out with their personal story and then it went straight to How does that relate to your life? They found a way to tie it into professional development and then closed with How does this relate to your whole life? So it had multiple levels of personal application, it was also really strong from a storytelling perspective, and most people seemed to be really moved by it. Because of the story element, everyone I know that was there still remembers that presentation, even though it’s been a year.

I went to a presentation last week, I couldn’t tell you what it was about. There was no story. There was no hook and it’s just hard to retain when there’s no story.

I went to a presentation last week, I couldn’t tell you what it was about. There was no story.

AC: All of these are such good components. You’ve obviously learned a lot from observing others. Any other important lessons you can share with our readers?

DK: I really think the most helpful thing that came out of my professional speaker training was starting with the transformation and making sure every element of my presentation is a necessary part of that transformation. Also understanding that your client, when you’re hired, is the meeting organizer or the person who hired you, not really the audience. So, is the person who hired you really interested in that transformation? That’s probably what you advertise.

Especially with audience participation in real life, sometimes I would be derailed by things that were good questions or were related to something I’m also very interested in but weren’t going to help me get to the transformation. I lost too much time serving the needs of one person in the audience instead of staying on focus with the whole purpose of the presentation. You can’t let a good question derail you and that’s been one of my biggest lessons.

AC: So do you focus less on the questions that are being asked in the audience or do you still tune into those If they are important?

DK: I tune into them if they’re important and part of the overall focus. You know, sometimes when people get access to a dietitian, they just have a bunch of questions. They just maybe want free time with a dietitian, they’re excited about an opportunity to ask questions about things they’ve been seeing maybe in the media lately or something about a fad diet… If it happens to be something you’re also interested in, it’s really easy to say, Oh, I actually want you to know the truth about that, so let’s go down the rabbit hole… But if it’s not related to my mission of the day, I will save it for later and say I’m available for questions afterwards. And if it was just turning into a full-blown consultation, if that’s what they’re trying to do, I would just let them know how they could work with me one-on-one.

It feels a little awkward because in most situations, the person in front of you is the person you serve, but in this case, that person is not the one who hired you. That person might not even be in your line of sight, so just really remembering who hired you and who’s objectives are the most crucial.

AC: Any other words of advice for new dietitian speakers out there?

DK: Really just that you’re probably more ready than you think you are. If you have completed your training to become a dietitian, you shouldn’t be afraid. I don’t care if you’ve been a dietitian for two days. There’s plenty of training to be charging someone for, and there are other people charging with a whole lot less training. You have to start somewhere and you’re ready.

AC: I could not agree more with that. Thank you, Dalia for sharing your advice and your time.

To hire Dalia for your next speaking engagement visit her website daliakinsey.com.

Follow Dalia on social media: Facebook @decolonizingwellness, Instagram @daliakinseyrd, LinkedIn @DaliaKinsey, and YouTube @DaliaKinsey.

 

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 Connie Diekman

From television reporter to Academy President, Connie Diekman’s speaking savvy has taken her far beyond the St. Louis Arch. Read on as she shares her best tips for staying confident about charging, plus her unusual connection to two US Presidents!

DSG: Tell our readers how you got started speaking professionally and how it fits into your career now.

CD: My local Dietetic Association and then the local Heart Association were my main speaking opportunities starting out. Probably the main growth was after I was a television reporter here in St. Louis. Those years on air increased my comfort with speaking and of course my visibility to the public. My 6 years in television and 17 years doing radio certainly improved my style. I learned the beauty of pacing, voice fluctuation, how to “hit” important points with voice, and confidence.

My time as ADA (American Dietetic Association, now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) President opened lots of doors to excellent training on presentation styles as well as future clients. Being trained by two different speaking professionals – both of whom had coached US Presidents – really enhanced my delivery and manner.

At this point, my speaking generally falls into three areas: professional issues and ethics in practice; nutrition for health and performance; and nutrition and cardiovascular disease. Currently speaking, teaching, and writing and consulting are each about a third of my practice. Speaking was a bigger part of my practice pre-COVID, and I hope that will return as we slowly resume conferences.

DSG: Did you ever have to transition from speaking for free to speaking for pay, and if so, did you ever find asking for a fee to be a challenge?

CD: Always a challenge! Speaking for the Dietetic Association or the Heart Association was always for free, so shifting to getting paid took a bit of time. What I found worked was sharing honestly with those who invited me that one, this is now my business, and two, I’ll be giving your group some of my time (more than just the presentation) and that has a value.

DSG: Do you have any advice for a dietitian who is feeling insecure about asking to be paid to speak?

CD: Yes, two personal tips. First, do enough talks for free that you have a resume that shows you’ve been a speaker, and if possible, have those free talks provide a review about your excellent performance. Showing you’re worth the fee does help.

Second, force yourself to look at how much time it takes to prepare a talk, go to give the talk, and the talk itself. Once you put a dollar amount to all of that, you may feel more comfortable asking for the fee. When you know how much time you spent, it’s easier to want – and ask for – payment.

DSG: What makes an excellent speaker from your point of view as an audience member?

CD: I look for speakers who engage the audience and who look at the audience to read if they’re connecting in a positive way. I also look for speakers who talk to us, not at their slides, and definitely who do not read their slides. Talk to us! Speaking is about connecting, developing a relationship with your audience so that they feel welcomed and they learn.

DSG: Out of all of your speaking engagements, do you have a memorable experience that stands out, either because it was amazingly great or amazingly terrible?

CD: This is really a hard question; I have had so many great opportunities. I have talked to Academy affiliate members throughout the country… I have spoken to international groups in Thailand, Korea, Japan, The Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil, Canada and more… I’m not sure I can choose one!

The good news is I do not recall a terrible talk; I found something positive in all of them. Whether I learned from the audience, or whether it was a self-learning of how to be more impactful, I do not recall an awful talk.

DSG: Any lessons learned that you wish you had known sooner?

CD: People will pay us to speak! I wish I had known that sooner!

People will pay us to speak! I wish I had known that sooner!

DSG: A great note to end on. Thank you Connie!

To hire Connie for your next speaking engagement visit her website cbdiekman.com .

Follow Connie on social media: Facebook @ConnieDiekman, LinkedIn @ConnieDiekamn, Instagram @cbdiekman, Twitter @CBDiekman.

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 Alexandra Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Dietitian Speaker who knows how to pivot. From growing her speaking niche to adapting to covid life, read on for her take on professional speaking and why it’s good to feel uncomfortable.
DSG: Tell us about your Unique Speaking Platform and how it developed.

AC: I love speaking! I know some people say public speaking makes them nervous, but being in front of an audience has never been difficult for me. I’ve always enjoyed performing and feel like speaking is an extension of that. I did a lot of small group presentations when I was a Sports Dietitian for a D1 [NCAA Division 1 College] program and evolved from there. I moved into webinar presentations for various companies and national magazines and then eventually to conferences.

I’ve also diversified my message over the years; I started out speaking on sports nutrition and eating disorders in athletes and have moved to pediatrics and plant-based nutrition as my interests evolve.

DSG: How did COVID-19 affect your speaking career?

AC: In 2020, my speaking focus completely changed to podcasts instead of live events and conferences. I’m really loving the podcast landscape and getting to tailor my message to various audiences without a lot of prep work like I would if I was presenting for a webinar or conference. Podcasts are much more conversational and being able to do them without travel has allowed me to speak much more often than I had in the past.

DSG: It sounds like you’ve really found a silver lining. Fabulous. What about the financial side of speaking? How did you make the transition from speaking as part of your job to paid speaking?

AC: I’m thankful to have had great mentors early in my career that allowed me to understand my value and my worth. That’s not to say that I didn’t cut my teeth doing plenty of low-pay and free gigs; there’s a certain freedom that comes from not being paid and continuing to evolve and become better. Once I realized that my message was unique and my experience had value, I became more comfortable in addressing payment. I know money can be tricky, and that’s usually a larger gendered issue. My husband also speaks at national conferences and the conversations he’s able to have around payment are much different than mine. You’ll get more comfortable as you go. As one of my mentors told me early on, if you’re a little uncomfortable with what you’re asking for, that’s a good sign.

DSG: That’s an amazing statement. It fits in with Jessica’s idea that discomfort isn’t the same as incompetence – even excellent speakers need to grow our comfort zones. What about speaking skills? What do you admire in a speaker when you’re in the audience?

AC: Someone who can read the room as they speak, making adjustments as needed. Canned speeches that are too rehearsed are boring and don’t take the unique audience into view.

DSG: That’s really a sign of excellence, isn’t it? The ability to shift in response to the audience or the environment. Have you ever had an unexpected situation while speaking that you had to adjust to?

AC: I’ve had too many technical failures to count! The most memorable was when I was speaking at a popular dietitian conference and my presentation couldn’t load on their computer. Nothing like winging it when the props and media you were relying on were gone! It wasn’t the best speech, but wasn’t the worst either– the more comfortable you are with the material, the easier it is to go unscripted.

DSG: That’s great that you were able to press on without your tech – and it really hits home your point about being able to adapt on the fly. Any other words of wisdom for newer dietitian speakers?

AC: Do things that make you nervous. I’ve done a lot in the past decade and I attribute that to not being afraid to put myself out there. I apply for a lot of speaking opportunities that I don’t get, but I keep going. With the current media landscape, you don’t have to wait to be invited to become a speaker. Start practicing with IGTV, IG live, IG stories, etc. Host a FB live on a topic! Gone are the days where someone else decides that you get to speak on something you’re passionate about. Audiences are everywhere; find yours and speak to them.

DSG: That’s a great message to end on. Thank you!

Interested in hiring Alexandra for your next speaking event? Contact her through her website Delish Knowledge !

Follow her on social media: Facebook @DelishKnowledge, Instagram @delishknowledge, and Twitter @delishknowledge .

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.

Scroll to top