stage fright

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.

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 Julia Cassidy

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

DS: How did you develop your Unique Speaking Platform?

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

DS: Oh dear.

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

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

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

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

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

DS: How do you handle unexpected glitches while presenting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spotlight on Dietitian Speaker Jessica Jones

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

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

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

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

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

Dietitian Speaker Jessica Jones on the set of her podcast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you heard Jessica present? Share your comments below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step One: Connect Physical Reactions to Success

There are really two parts to this step.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step Two: What Speaking Glitch Worries You Most?

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

If your answer is something that could actually happen –

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

– you’re on the right track.

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

Step Three: Plan Ahead for Speaking Glitches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step Four: What Are You REALLY Afraid Of?

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

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

What are you really worrying about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step Five: Detach Performance Anxiety from Existential Dread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step Six: Create Your Stage-Fright-Busting Mantra

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

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

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

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

Your mantra should not:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Unique Speaking Platform Makeover: From Drab to Fab

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curious about the before and after? Of course!

Here’s where she started:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No wonder the organizer chose to read this USP!

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

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

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

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