Professionally Speaking: A Story of Courage and Charisma


Professionally Speaking: A Story of Courage and Charisma

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Center Stage: Dr. Jo Lichten

Prologue: I met Dr. Jo about 5 or 6 years ago when she came to speak to the Illinois Dietetic Association. We ended up sitting next to each other at lunch and struck up a conversation. Dr. Jo is so easy to talk to and connect with! Whenever I see her at meetings like FNCE I feel like I’ve reconnected with a long lost friend. This interview will focus on Dr. Jo’s professional speaking career, but she has also written several books.

MELISSA: How long have you been an RD and how long have you been speaking professionally?

DR. JO: I’ve been a dietitian for a very long time . I wrote my first book, Dinin’Lean in Houston, in 1991 and I self-published it. When 5500 copies appeared on my doorstep (140 boxes!) my husband asked me how I was going to sell it. Ouch! I’d forgotten to consider that! After getting my book into every local bookstore, I called every group (ladies, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, etc.) and offered to speak for free – and then schlepped my books to sell at the back of the room. After about 50 or more free engagements a woman came up and asked me if I do corporate programs. I said “of course” but that wasn’t true (I just a lot of self-confidence). Turned out this woman was the director of health at Compaq Computer Corporation. That first year I earned $26,000 in speaking fees from this company alone! And, many more companies followed.

MELISSA: Tell me a little bit about your speaking “niche” – what are you known for?

DR. JO: I inspire busy people to stay healthy, sane, and productive. Right now my top program is “Reboot Your Energy – how to stay focused, energized, and more productive.” I speak on way more than nutrition!

MELISSA: What do you enjoy most about speaking?

DR. JO: I love inspiring others to make healthy changes! It’s so gratifying. And, I have to say, too, that I enjoy getting paid 4 figures for an hour or so of speaking!

MELISSA: What skills or experiences do RDs need to cultivate if they want to focus their career more on speaking/presenting like you?

DR. JO: If you want to be a professional speaker, it’s important to get comfortable speaking in front of a group, promoting yourself, and asking for more money! A lot of time goes into speaking for 1 hour!  And, a lot of experience so it’s not at all unreasonable to ask for 4 figures for one hour of speaking. But, probably more than this, like Gypsy Rose Lee used to sing - you’ve gotta have a gimmick! You’ve got to make the group salivate about your topic. Read magazine articles and listen to TV talk shows to learn how to make your topic sizzle. And, lastly, you’ve got to be interesting to listen to. So often dietitians come up to me and, in a monotone voice, they say, “I want to be a speaker.” Aaah, that won’t cut it at all. No one wants to listen to a monotone message. You have to be inspiring and your message has to sizzle!

MELISSA: When it comes to speaking, what comes naturally for you and what do you have to work hard at?

DR. JO: Speaking in front of a group of people appears to come naturally, but it didn’t always. I was very shy, introverted when growing up – even in college. But at the age of 24, while driving 3 days from NY to TX, realizing how uncomfortable that made my life, I made believe I was outgoing. In other words I “faked it till I made it.” I’m still introverted, but eventually got comfortable speaking in front of a group of people. I didn’t plan on becoming a speaker, but I found that when I spoke and people listened and got inspired, I wanted to do it more and more. What comes hard for me? Hmmm. While I do promote my books in front of the group, I know I could do a better job.

MELISSA: What is your number one tip for other RDs who want to be better speakers/presenters?

DR. JO: Speak a lot – even if it’s for free. Keep each program (even if it’s an hour long) to just a few points. And, then practice telling a good story to illustrate each point. Stories are what differentiates professional speakers from ‘wanna-be’s’. Oh, and make these ORIGINAL stories – don’t take someone else’s!

MELISSA: Please share an experience that either taught you a lot or you think would help other RDs

DR. JO: Back about 20 years ago I was still asking for $250 or so to speak. I just couldn’t, just couldn’t ask for more. Then, I contracted hepatitis A (the food poisoning type). There’s not much you can do except take it easy so your liver can heal. But, that was no problem because all I wanted to do was sleep – 16 to 20 hours a day! I knew I was contagious for about a month so I just took care of myself – getting up periodically to get my daughter up (then go back to bed), pick my daughter up from school (then take a nap), then put her to bed (so I could get to sleep). You get the idea. So, one day I got a phone call from a woman’s group asking me if I would be interested in speaking to their group (next month). I said sure. When she asked me about my fees, I was soooo exhausted and I didn’t care if I ever worked again so I doubled my fee. And, she said, “That sounds great!” And, mind you, this was for a woman’s group! And how many times have we been told that women’s groups don’t have any money! Well, a few days later I got a call for another speaking engagement and I doubled my rate again (hitting 4 digits) and they said yes. By the time I recovered I had increased my speaking fee by 10X my original fee. While I do not recommend contracting hepatitis, I would highly recommend you raise your fee once you have enough experience. Just do it! But keep in mind that professional speakers don’t always get their asking fee. For example, I no longer do corporate lunch-and-learns – they can’t pay my fee. But conferences can – and so can corporate business retreats or sales meetings.

Epilogue: What an inspirational story! You can find out more about Dr. Jo and her activities on her website www.DrJo.com.

Would you like do more speaking engagements? What skills are you currently working on? What resources do you recommend?

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    2 Responses to "Professionally Speaking: A Story of Courage and Charisma"

    • Brooke/ Bitchin' Nutrition
      June 20, 2012 - 7:23 pm

      Great interview Melissa! I really enjoyed reading Dr. Jo’s advice to newbie speakers.

    • Anna Shlachter
      June 20, 2012 - 8:38 pm

      I love Dr Jo! Great speaker and great advice!

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