Opening your farm to the public can be daunting, but with some careful planning it can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for everyone. Clemmie Gleeson reports...
WITH Open Farm Sunday around the corner, Leaf’s (Linking Environment and Farming) Speak Out Roadshow toured the country equipping farmers and growers with the confidence and know-how to make the most of every opportunity to talk about the industry.
Communications expert and farmer Susie Emmett, who delivered the roadshow with Leaf’s Alice Midner, said: “It is as important as it has ever been for farmers to communicate well.
“That is within their business, with their staff and team, but also through the chains they supply and to the wider community and society.”
More than 100 people attended the roadshow workshops, including 56 farmers and 20 researchers plus 17 with other roles in the industry.
Ms Midner said: “It was a fantastic opportunity to talk to more of our members wanting to communicate positively about food and farming.
“It was great to have a range of people, from those wanting to host farm visits and talk more about farming as well as those already doing a lot of visits who wanted to improve their skills.”
FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT
THE roadshow covered making a good first impression, planning presentations and farm walks, social media skills and how to tackle tricky questions and explain difficult subjects and coincided with publication of a library of advice on the Leaf website – leafuk.org/speakout.
“The start starts before the start,” said Ms Emmett.
As well as offering visitors a warm welcome – including a handshake – she suggested considering the smaller details such as the layout of the room, whether blinds were open or closed, background music and so on.
She said the key to memorable and enjoyable presentations was to keep information concise.
“People actually only remember a very small percentage of what you say,” said Ms Emmett, adding personal details made it more memorable.
“The amount of time that is wasted on bad presentations is huge – it has got to stop, it is dismal.”
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
LEAF’S top tips for planning a presentation were firstly to know your audience.
“You must know who is coming, how many and who they are,” said Ms Emmett.
“Then, what three things do you want them to remember as a result of your presentation and finally, what are my main means or tools of how to deliver those messages?”
Powerpoint is just one of those tools and should not be the default choice for all situations, they warned.
Ms Midner said: “It can work if you use it for key points or to show photos.”
Instead they suggested farmers could consider use of props for their presentations, and on farm tours, such as a jar of seed or grain, products made from crops produced on-farm, photos to pass around or things to handle or taste.
Small printed cards, perhaps with website address or social media handles, to take away were also a great idea, they said, as were other handouts which gave depth of information not appropriate for the main presentation.
Ms Midner advised farm walks should also be well planned.
“Have a plan of what your three messages are and maybe have a stop for each point,” she said.
A good welcome, introduction and some context would get things off to a good start. Farmers should think about road and machinery noise and how well people can hear.
INTERACTION with your audience should be encouraged, whether that is asking questions, some sort of activity or a simple ‘show of hands’.
Ms Emmett said: “You should try to get some form of engagement within the first two minutes.
“It can give you so much information about your audience and shows that you are interested in them.”
She encouraged farmers to consider telling a story through their farm tour – explaining how decisions were made and anecdotes of successes and failures. “That is the really rich stuff,” she said.
Gaps between stops or activities are not ‘dead time’, as they allow for participants to talk and network, added Ms Midner.
“Being able to talk about what you have just heard is really useful,” she said.
She also encouraged the use of handouts for detailed information, rather than trying to relay that to the whole group.
THE PERFECT SIZE
A GROUP size of 15-20 is ideal. Ms Midner said: “If it is more than that then people are less keen to join in.
“It is a trade-off between reaching lots of people and quality.
“If sound might be a problem, consider standing the group against a hedge or alongside a building to create a ‘natural amphitheatre’.
Ms Emmett added: “In an exposed wide open field it is much more difficult to hear.”
TOP TIPS FOR HANDLING TRICKY QUESTIONS
1 Anticipate: Think through what questions you are likely to be asked – for example, has there been something controversial in the news recently?
2 Welcome: Even if asked in an antagonistic way, it is important to thank the person for their question and the opportunity to be able to answer it. It takes the pressure off the situation and gives you time to consider your answer.
3 Deflect: If the subject of the question is nothing to do with you then it is okay to deflect it and either say you will find them an answer or refer on to someone who can answer it.
4 Listen: Be sure you understand what you are being asked. Are you being asked for your opinion or what you do in your business?
5 Recycle: If you hear someone else answer a difficult question well, note down what they say and recycle it. It is generous to name them and attribute your answer to them.
6 Condense: Shorter is always better.
7 Illustrate: If possible use examples which help people understand your response better.
8 Invite more questions: Particularly after a tricky question ask if there are any further questions.
9 Keep calm: It is fine to show you feel strongly about something, but if you lose your cool you lose your opportunity to communicate the answers.