Public Speaking: The Chili Con Queso Test

By Gini Dietrich

I love Mexican food. If I could eat it every day, I would. I used to try to limit it to once a month, but I decided a couple of years ago, I exercise enough, I can eat it once a week.

When I’m in a new city or we want to try a new Mexican restaurant, I judge the place by their chile con queso.

I realize a “real” Mexican place this does not make, but I love me some chili con queso. If a restaurant doesn’t have chili con queso on the menu, I won’t eat there. If it’s not spicy, creamy, sit on the table for 15 minutes and not congeal, I won’t be back.


But if the chili con queso has just the right amount of spice and the chips are warm and salty, the restaurant is a winner in my book. An extra gold star if the entrees are as delicious and the margaritas have a kick.

Like the chili con queso test, we judge content with the same lassez faire attitude. It doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest person in the industry or the very best at what you do, if you can’t effectively express yourself in words, audio, video, or images, we judge you.

Have a crappy headline, an ugly image, or a crappy first paragraph and most of us won’t spend time with you. But if your content is spicy, teaches us a thing or two, and doesn’t fizz out by the end, we’ll gladly comment, share, and spread the word.

Conference Attendance

The same goes for speaking engagements. I recently was at a conference where I had carefully planned the breakout sessions I was going to attend. While it’s not typical of me to plan attendance in that way (I’m not very good at sitting in a room for hours listening to anyone talk ab

out anything), I decided to go with a different attitude. My goal was to get at least one blog post idea from every session. That would be a win for me.

The first day, I attended six sessions. I came away with two blog post ideas. The second day, I decided to skip a couple of sessions and attended only four. I came away with one blog post idea. Ten sessions, three blog post ideas. It didn’t even come close to my measure of success. Their chili con queso sucked.

It was pretty disappointing. The first day, I thought I was going to learn how to white label a mobile marketing program, gain new ideas to monetize content, and figure out which strategic hires to make next and how to invest into the business.

After all, that’s what the descriptions of each of those sessions promised.

Instead, the mobile marketing program was an ad for AT&T (I left after 10 minutes), in the second, the presenter read slides with bullet points with stats about content marketing (I left after 20 minutes), and the last was a panel discussion that meandered into only three questions and never got to what the session description promised. I stayed for that one, but only because lunch was included.

Public Speaking: The Chili Con Queso Test

The new black is to get yourself on the speaking circuit. Even better if you have a book (Andy Crestodina has Content Chemistry; I co-authored Marketing in the Round with Geoff Livingston) because it allows you to increase your fee.

If you’re lucky enough to be invited to pack your clothes into a suitcase, fight the lines in security at the airport, fly for hours without any food or water, land in an exotic location like Fargo or Omaha at midnight, go on stage at 7 a.m. the next day, and then fly home, there are certain things you should remember as you plan what you’ll say for that hour you’re on stage.

  1. What is your title? Does it pass the chili con queso test? It should be compelling and interesting enough to get people to plan to attend your session ahead of anyone else. Remember, we definitely judge a book by it’s cover. This is your one shot to gain their interest.
  2. Does your description match your content? I always write my description after I’ve written my content. That way, I know for sure it matches what I’m going to talk about.
  3. Always include takeaways. In the description of your session, list a minimum of three things your audience will learn. And don’t just deliver those three things. Repeat them and repeat them again. Make them tweetable phrases and repeat them one more time.
  4. Death by PowerPoint. Your slides should be nothing more than images that support what you’re saying. If you have text on the slide, people will read it and you will have lost your audience. Don’t use bullet points, text (unless it’s a quote and you can make that look like an image), or stats.
  5. Think in tweets. Ask yourself what your audience will get from attending your session. Can they tweet what you’re saying? I’ve seen people (Brian Solis does an amazing job of this) put the tweets you should send on the screen with a little “tweet this” next to it. When you leave the session, a trained eye can tell the speaker spoon fed the audience just by looking at the tweet stream.
  6. Ask yourself if someone can write a blog post from your session. This may be my chili con queso test, but if you provide enough valuable content your audience can write blog posts later, not only will you gain your extra 15 minutes of fame, your content will live on forever.

Public speaking isn’t the delicious, creamy, cheesy chili con queso we get in Mexican restaurants, but you can apply the test to both the sessions you conduct and those you attend.

Do they pass?

There is more where this came from…

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