PROLOGUE: No matter what setting you work in, chances are you have been asked at least once (if not on a regular basis) to speak to groups on nutrition….for FREE. What should you do? Say yes and give your expertise away, or say no and miss out on an opportunity to help the public eat healthier and possibly even an opportunity for career growth?
As a member of the fabulous Nutrition Entrepreneurs DPG, I enjoy many benefits such as the EML and the wonderful questions, answers and advice that pop up there on a daily basis. A recent question and ensuing chatter on this very topic caught my eye and I thought it would be helpful information to share with other dietitians.

The question came from:

Niki Strealy, RDN, LD
Strategic Nutrition, LLC
Twitter: @DiarrheaRD
Facebook: Diarrhea Dietitian

I was asked to present at a conference for nurses and medical assistants for the local chapter of a national non-profit organization. After going back and forth for several emails, I found out there will be approximately 20 nurses at this educational update. There is no honorarium. The nurses attending this symposium work primarily for medical groups that have their own RDNs. I understand the value of doing pro bono work for non-profits. However, if I do this educational event for free, I don’t think I will be driving any business to my private practice. I suspect it may just drive more referrals to their own dietitians. Also, I do not have a ready-made presentation for their topic, it will likely take at least 10 hrs of prep for a 1-hr presentation.
Am I a jerk for saying no? If I tell her no, should I be honest and tell her why, or just say it doesn’t fit into my schedule (it really doesn’t).

The answers and advice came from:

Dr. Penny L. Wilson, PhD, RDN, CSSD, LD
Chair-Elect, Nutrition Entrepreneurs
Owner, Eating for Performance

No, you’re taking care of yourself and your business by saying “no.” If you want to keep the doors open, I’d talk with her about how you’re wary about it building your practice for the reasons you mentioned. Maybe she knows something more about the attendees that she think will drive business to you.


Julie Beyer, MA, RDN
Interstitial Cystitis Expert
Facebook: Confident Choices
Twitter: @ICDietitian
You CAN Write a Book: The No-Nonsense Guide to Self-Publishing
Interstitial Cystitis: A Guide for Nutrition Educators (A Confident Choices Book)
Confident Choices: Customizing the Interstitial Cystitis Diet
Confident Choices: A Cookbook for Interstitial Cystitis and Overactive Bladder

I ran into this a few years ago with a group of urology nurses and I said yes because the conference was within an hour of my home. The attendance was about 150.
It was a BIG mistake and lesson learned. I did sell some books at their marketplace, but honestly, I haven’t gotten one referral from any of these people. It also made me realize how incredibly high caliber dietetics conferences are! I spent months being frustrated at their process and lack of organization. Although I do speak to patient groups occasionally, I will never speak for free for a professional organization again.

Tamara Melton, MS, RDN, LD
Nutrition and Wellness Consultant
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson
Twitter: @tamarameltonRDN
Facebook: LaCarte Wellness

I’ve had a situation like this several times and most recently with a physician’s practice. They wanted me to speak for just 15 minutes at an event, but it was in a Saturday and in a part of town that is least an hour’s drive away. I politely told them that I just wouldn’t be available for that short amount of time, but would be willing to consider coming to their practice to provide a session for their staff (which is located much closer to my home).
For me, not only is there no compensation and no guarantee of gaining business, it’s taking time away from my family, which I can never recoup. I think providing them another alternative in your coming to speak, and including a fee, in most cases, (unless you see a valid reason for taking on this amount of work pro bono), is extremely reasonable, and quite frankly, what other professionals of other disciplines would expect.

Sonja Stetzler, MA, RDN, CPC
Founder and President, Effective Connecting
Facebook: Effective Connecting
Twitter: @sonjastetzler

There are circumstances when it does pay to speak for free. I have colleagues who are coaches and make six-figure incomes speaking for free. I have taught courses on how to “Grow Your Business Through Speaking”  based on my speaking experience and what what I have learned from my colleagues.
The keys to making speaking for free worth your while are to:
(1) Make sure the audience you are speaking to contains your ideal clients. You can then speak to their pain points and how you are their solution. Make sure that the people you speak to are the ones who will hire you, not just refer to you. Don’t speak for the “exposure” or “to get your name out there.” There are other more cost-effective ways to do that.
(2) Know how to make an offer from the stage. For most people, this can be uncomfortable. However, if you can deliver an offer with confidence, you can gain clients. Your presentation should be filled with value for your audience, and your offer should give your potential clients a road map for what they should do next. It should be a mutual win-win, and never be a pressure-filled sales pitch.
(3) Have “stay-in-touch mechanisms” in place for when you speak for free. Negotiate to receive a mailing list and/or have your audience sign-up for a free gift and become part of your e-mail list. Ask your audience to engage in social media with you – “like ” your Facebook page or make a comment on your social media platform of choice (do this while you are still with them during/at the end of your presentation, or they will forget to do it!) Video a comment from a particpant after your presentation. Social proof is a powerful tool when it comes to gaining new clients.
I am reminded of an experience years ago when I was asked to speak to a group of lawyers, pro bono. I did not speak for that group, as they were not willing to pay even an honorarium. However, hindsight is 20/20, and I would do things differently knowing what I know today. Talking more in-depth with the program planner about their pain points, becoming the solution to their problem, and making them an irrestible offer could have yielded me a high-paying client that might have been equal or greater than my speaking fee!

Jennifer Neily, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Neily on Nutrition
Wellcoaches Certified Health Coach
Nutrition Entrepreneurs Past Chair
Twitter:  @JenniferNeily
Facebook: Neily on Nutrition
YouTube: NeilyonNutrition

As noted by others, we need to fix the real problem.
By accepting opportunities to speak for free it only diminishes our worth in the marketplace. And that it’s not fair to those groups that have paid for our services is spot on.
Now having said that…I will say that I actually think there is a time and place to speak for free. I am a member of ABWA a women’s networking group. We have monthly luncheons with an unpaid guest speaker – about 20-30min. It’s usually quality information and often followed up with an opportunity to join a program (at a discount), mailing list etc.
ABWA (American business women’s association) is my target audience for my coaching program! My plan is to develop a ‘signature talk’ (thanks to the help of Lesli Koskela and Margie Geiser) and offer to speak to other networking groups associated with ABWA in the Dallas area. if I can get just one coaching client for my three-month program it will have been worth it. But at the least I will have more for my mailing list.
There are other high-quality networking groups that I could potentially pursue as well if this pans out. The opportunity just came along this week but I declined for several reasons. We had a lovely conversation but I very kindly explained that speaking is a part of my business and I don’t give away my services. Although it was a women’s networking group it might have been a good opportunity however my signature talk is not yet ready and the biggest reason it was a breakfast meeting at 7am and only under rare circumstances does my day start that early! She asked for suggestions and I did suggest that she contact a hospital or outpatient clinic that has salaried dietitians on staff. In past instances when somebody contacted me to speak for free I suggested they call the local university for a nutrition student or dietetic intern.

Joseph (Joey) Robert Gochnour
CEO of Nutrition and Fitness Professional
Twitter: @nutrfitnesspro
Google+: Joey Gochnour
Facebook: Nutrition and Fitness Professional, LLC
This is all great for standing up for paid time and effort, but the problem is that there are nutritionists (“Sally JuiceCleanseGreenKaleSmoothie”) who do this for free and aren’t concerned with making a living or promoting nutrition science while really only know how to hop on the next new trend.  The last time I got offered a speaking engagement, I gave my rate, but it was out of their budget.  It is good I didn’t waste my time, but I do find it vexing we compete among a lot of people who have good intentions of wanting to help but don’t know what they are talking about.  They’re just good at coming in with enthusiasm for the current trend.

Chere Bork, MS RDN
Unstoppable confidence –  live ridiculously happy and healthy ….ever after!
Energy Dietitian Nutritionist * Speaker * Media Spokesperson
Chair – Nutrition Entrepreneurs
Twitter: @ChereBork
Facebook: Savor Your Life Today

Free Talk Ideas…
My favorite is my sister Laurie Meyer RD saying “I have designated my charity organizations for the year and did not have you on my list”. So what to do? Determine the number you are going to give per year and stick with it. Ask for mileage and to sell your books, ebooks or request that every member
receive one.
I have also asked the organization requesting me to speak to make a contribution to National Speaker Association or NSA MN – and that then pays my dues. (I like this one the best!)
Nothing is free. Life and your business is not about time! The currency of life is energy.
If you are already feeling “badly” about “free” how the heck is that going to give you an energy boost.
I would carefully consider who will be in the audience. If the audience is a group of 12 year olds, I would believe they will not be able to hire me. I also have the program planner fill out a form requesting my free talk. I have discovered they do not really want to fill this out and as one speaker has said they not only want free, they want hassle free. You can make more money creating an e-book and selling one of them for $5.00 than doing a free talk…all from the convenience of your own office. Or do like I do…just don’t go to Target and spend money!  Easier for me to NOT to go Target then to give a free talk. How about you?
My free talks have never generated any other business. But I will say one time a $150.00 talk resulted in a 30 minute talk that paid for my family of 4 to fly to Hawaii. But I knew the audience could potentially hire me.
So be honest and tell the program planner what your speaking fee is and that you would be happy to present next year with your fee. They have a whole year to figure it out!  And start to work on this talk for other groups as our clients and audience are always telling us what to do next IF we pay attention and stop our busy lives and listen. They often tell us our “next thing.” I help my clients find an energy booster to say NO to free. Remember energy NOT time!

After all this expert advice and support, here is an update from Niki:

Thank you to everyone who shared their input and advice! This is what I sent as a reply:

Thank you so much for answering all my questions. Unfortunately, due to the time commitment of these types of events, I need to decline. I really enjoy speaking to groups as well as individuals on this topic,, and I support the mission of your organization. However, as a private practice dietitian and published author, and I feel strongly that I should be paid for my time. I would be putting at least 10 hours of prep time into the presentation, as well as taking time away from my clients for the actual education day. I would still like to be considered for future partnerships with your organization. Thank you for offering me the opportunity to work with you.

Unfortunately, I have not heard anything back from her! Meanwhile, I received a request to speak to 50-60 at the local library. I said YES to that request because she “knows a professional should be paid for their time”, and because I can sell my books after the presentation is over. Thank you all for sharing your stories, advice, and words of wisdom. I love NE!
Niki Strealy, RDN, LD

EPILOGUE: So there you have it – an important question and oodles of sage advice from RD experts! While not specific to speaking opportunities, I wrote a blog post “Show Me the Money: Using Communication Skills to Get What You’re Worth” which may provide you with some more tips. And, author Jill Weisenberger MS, RDN, CDE addressed this topic with a focus on whether or not you should WRITE for FREE in a recent NE Ventures newsletter article so if you’re not a member, you’re missing out on this valuable resource! (Hint: Sign up today!)

Please share YOUR thoughts and advice in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you!

Like what you read here? Hear what other nutrition experts have to say about careers, communication and chasing their dreams. Visit the Directory of Dietitian Interviews and be inspired!



  1. Tori Holthaus on October 1, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Awesome post – thank you! As I start my own business, it’s a bit of a challenge knowing what to give away in order to generate attention (speaking, blogging, social media – all take time w/o pay when beginning!). This is a good reminder that I need to be in the same space as my potential clients and be confident in the rates I charge, promoting my business on and offstage, asking others to joining my mailing list, requesting “likes,” etc.

    • admin on October 1, 2014 at 2:51 pm

      Thank you, Tori! So glad you enjoyed it. Best of luck in your new biz!!

  2. Annette Maggi, MS, RD, LD, FAND on October 1, 2014 at 4:24 pm


    Great post! Very informative. One of the related issues I think needs to be addressed is within our own Academy. As professionals, we are not appropriately compensated to present at FNCE. It seems like part of the problem starts here, with the Academy. I’d love to her your NE partners comments on this policy.


    • admin on October 1, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Thanks, Annette. Great question! I encourage others to chime in!

  3. Shelley Johnson on October 2, 2014 at 3:13 am

    What a great way to approach what can be a sensitive issue. When I was a brand-new RD, Christine Palumbo gave me some sage advice about defining my value and the impact it has on our profession. That was probably 15 years ago and I still remember what she told me. This is a post every young budding RD/N should read. It is tempting to give your skills and talents away for free when trying to improve your visibility or repertoire but be aware of the your own value, even if you are inexperienced. It affects us all! Thanks for the post!

  4. Torey Jones Armul on October 3, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Another great post, Melissa & company! This is so relevant, and I learned a lot of good insights and points I hadn’t considered reading through the responses.

    • admin on October 3, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      Thank, Tory! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  5. admin on October 3, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    Thank you, Shelley! Christine Palumbo is a GEM with words of wisdom and supportive advice!
    Thanks for commenting and I agree – we need to lift ourselves up and our peers, too!

  6. Michael Breen M.D. on October 15, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    I am not a nutrition expert. I’m a non-practicing physician who often gives speeches.
    What I’ve noticed is this: Without exception, the more I receive for a speech the more grateful my audience. Frankly when I’m “nice” and agree to speak for free, the speech is taken for granted. The thinking is, “How good could he be? We got him for free.”
    However, if I charge several thousand dollars for a speech, I’m appreciated more and taken far more seriously. Frankly, I think Hillary Clinton knows this better than anyone.
    Just my observation.

    • admin on October 15, 2014 at 6:04 pm

      Dr. Breen,
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience! Excellent points that may seem counterintuitive but are clearly reality!
      BTW – Do you remember doing multiple TV interviews with me YEARS ago when I was the Jewel Dietitian and you were at CBS and had your own show?
      Hope all is well with you,

  7. Bev Benda on October 19, 2014 at 1:19 am

    Excellent post and great views from a variety of RDs! I agree that it is best on many levels to consistently charge a fee. I worked in public health for 17 years and am now in private practice. I know if groups cannot pay my fee, I can refer them to local public health and county extension resources for community presentations. This provides another “out” for those RDs who have a tough time saying “no.”

    • admin on October 19, 2014 at 3:21 am

      Thanks, Bev! I really appreciate your comments!

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