Ag Communication–Be Passionate, but Be a Listener Too

One way to communicate!

**Ag/education student Hannah Pagel (right) is a junior at Iowa State University and an administrative assistant intern at CAST. She attended the recent World Food Prize CAST side event in Des Moines, and here she explains how the words of Kevin Folta and Julie Borlaug Larson helped her consider the important role she and many others take on when they communicate about agriculture.
Listen, Understand–then Explain
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Borlaug CAST Communication Award Breakfast at the World Food Prize. At the award breakfast Julie Borlaug Larson, grand-daughter of Norman Borlaug, kicked off the event with some food for thought. She stated, “We cannot be silent or silenced. We need to work for solutions for food security.” 
Words can be very powerful and together we can use communication to answer crucial questions. This was one of the many messages shared at the World Food Prize this week that has had an impact on how I view the agricultural industry.
Julie Borlaug Larson and Kevin Folta
As I reflect on the 2016 Borlaug CAST Communication Award Breakfast, I am filled with many messages from the leaders of the agricultural industry. This year Kevin Folta was the recipient of the Borlaug CAST Communication Award. This was the first time I have heard one of Kevin’s speeches, and I think that it is fair to say that I, along with many others, were moved by his message. You know it is a good speech when someone is communicating effectively to an audience about communication. 
Being an agricultural educator, it is one of my main goals to tell the story of agriculture. At the award breakfast, Dr. Folta opened my eyes to the world of communication and how to effectively share one’s story with others. “It’s not enough to talk to people; we have to talk to them in a language they understand. Build their trust.” Dr. Folta explained the keys of effective communication in a 5-step process: audience-empathy-values-satisfaction-action.
1. Audience: Know your audience and who you are communicating with.
2. Empathy: Understand your audience’s concerns, and show you are interested in listening.
3. Values: Share your values and establish a common ground between yourself and your audience.
4. Satisfaction: Gauge consumer understanding of the information you provided or help them gain more resources to answer their questions.
5. Action: Explain the next steps of action they can take to learn more.
We as agriculturalists have a strong passion for this industry, and sometimes that passion can get in the way of effectively communicating with others. We want to express our love for this industry, but we also want our audience to engage with us to learn more; that is what gets the message across to them.
Now don’t get me wrong—I have done this before. I get so excited that someone wants to engage in “Ag-talk” with me that I start to control the conversation; sometimes I barely leave room to listen to the concerns that person might have. Instead of sharing my passion, I end up turning people away because I am talking at them. I say I want to educate the general public on agriculture, but am I actually getting through to them effectively and personally?
The problem “Ag-vocates” have is that we do not take the time to establish that relationship, to connect with the people we talk to. Dr. Folta said, “We need to lead with our ethics—our shared values. This is the way to start, and our story can communicate itself from there.”
Dr. Folta is right; actions speak louder than words and taking the time to listen and understand where a consumer is coming from is what is going to make that connection even stronger and build up consumer trust.
It has been a journey for myself to figure out the best way to tell agriculture’s story. There is so much that I want to share with others all at once. But I know establishing a connection can last longer than starting one on a whim.
So my challenge for you–the next time you talk to someone–is to listen. Listen to what they are asking and then share your experiences in this industry that has helped you learn more about what agriculture does. Don’t be afraid to speak out, but listen and communicate your love for this industry by establishing the connection first.
As Dr. Folta said, “We need to listen, understand, then explain.”
by Hannah Pagel

Help Support CAST

Your donation to CAST helps support the CAST mission of communicating science to meet the challenge of producing enough food, fiber and fuel for a growing population. Every gift, no matter the size, is appreciated.