Nutrition Communications

Express, Engage, Empower: Be a Better Speaker

As an outpatient dietitian and supermarket dietitian, I was always comfortable speaking in front of groups and felt good about the information I shared. However, as I began to do more media spokesperson work, I learned there was so much more I could do to enhance my content and delivery to make them more memorable and meaningful for my audience. I learned it’s not just about educating your audience, but also engaging and empowering them. By incorporating media skills into presentation skills you can take your speaking to the next level.

Here are my top tips for delivering an effective and engaging presentation:

1. Prepare with your audience in mind. Find out as much as you can about your audience before you begin to prepare so you can tailor your presentation exclusively to them.

2. Take your ocean of knowledge and reduce it to a glass of water. Don’t cover too much material or show too many slides. One of the worst things you can do is run out of time before you’ve covered everything or fail to leave enough time for a Q&A session. Focus on the most important points and include resources for more information. Follow the 80/20 rule, spending about 20% of your time on the problem and 80% on solutions.

3. Create simple and compelling images. Slides aren’t the only images you can use; a food display or demo could be more effective. If you’re using slides, avoid using too many words or tiny fonts. When possible, use images instead of text. Don’t be afraid to incorporate video or audio. If the technology fails, just move on to your next point.

4. Distill the science into sound bites. If your audience is the general public, avoid using jargon or complex terms to explain science. I created a free downloadable Sound Science Toolkit with tips and resources to help dietitians communicate evidence-based information.

5. Share stories and real-life examples. When you tell a story, it triggers the part of the brain that processes experiences. Make a point to include some stories and examples in your talk to engage your audience. It helps them apply what you’re teaching. Don’t be afraid to get personal. Humanize yourself!

6. Use humor and let your personality shine. You don’t have to be a standup comic to use a little humor. People actually find humor in everyday situations they can relate to. Most importantly, let your true personality shine through because when you’re authentic, people connect with you and what you’re sharing with them.

Effective communication is more than simply being comfortable in front of an audience or a microphone.

7. Plan a strong opening, an interactive middle, and an inspiring call-to-action. People will remember the first and last thing you say. Start with a story or compelling statistic, use an activity or worksheet to engage your audience, and close with an inspiring message or specific call to action. If you “begin with the end in mind,” you can tie your closing into your opening statement, and bring it full circle.

8. Practice. It’s easy to spend most of your time on the content and slide development, but the best thing you can do to improve your presentation is practice your delivery out loud in front of a mirror or friends. Video-record yourself, then review and evaluate your areas for improvement.

9. Use nervous energy to work for you. Thought leader Seth Godin says there are two errors that lead to fear: 1) You believe that you’re being actively judged, and 2) You believe the subject of the talk is you. But the truth is, the presentation is about the information and inspiration you’re sharing with your audience. As author Rob Gilbert said, “It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach. Just get them to fly in formation.”

I hope you find these tips useful, but most importantly, when you’re working late into the night preparing for a presentation, remember what my mom always says: “The best thing you can do at this point is get a good night’s sleep!”

For more information, including a resource list, presentation checklist, and speaker tips video, visit

— Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE, is an award-winning, nationally recognized dietitian, speaker, blogger, podcaster, and media trainer with more than 20 years’ experience. She’s the founder of Sound Bites, Inc, where she promotes “sound science, smart nutrition, and good food,” and she’s known as The Guilt-Free RD®—“because food shouldn’t make you feel bad!” Melissa has extensive media experience as a spokesperson for the food, grocery, and health care industries, and has received the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Media Excellence Award in 2016.

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