Two weeks ago I participated in American Farm Bureau’s Women’s Communication Boot Camp. Why? It was a great opportunity to hone my skills as a communicator that’s involved in all things farming. If you want more info on how you can participate, give me a shout and I’ll help you out.
American Farm Bureau Federation wasn’t lying when they labeled this program as a Boot Camp! In the four days, I was in Washington DC at AFBF’s Women’s Communication Boot Camp from October 24-27. I needed to write a 3 minute speech on the Farm Bill and present that during the event. Little did I know my 3 minute speech was the least of my worries. Ha-ha!
Let’s just say that my travel to Washington DC was a bit like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. My flights and connections were just fine, since I flew into Baltimore rather than DC. Hey, it was cheap and the connecting Amtrak train sounded pretty fool proof. Unfortunately, I found the train wasn’t fool proof. It was over an hour late! No problem, right? No, no not even close. See, I had scheduled a visit with Senator Stabenow’s office at 2:30. I didn’t get into the train station in DC till 3:10. I emailed Stabenow’s office and had told them I wasn’t able to make it. I did barely get to my appointment with Rep. Moolenaar. He and his staff were great and we had some discussion on the Farm Bill. My day really wasn’t done by a long shot. I arrived at my hotel just on time to see that the rest of the ladies were about headed to AFBF offices. Luckily, Sherry Saylor, Chair of AFBF’s Women’s Leadership Committee, waited for me to put my bags away. Once at AFBF headquarters we were given the overview of the week and made introductions. There were 15 of us total from all over the nation. We then made our way to a wonderful restaurant while getting a bus tour of DC along the way. The meal was so good! Course it helped I didn’t have time to eat all day. I’m pretty sure most anything would have tasted good. After stuffing ourselves and wanting to find our hotel bed, the staff said nope, we are taking you on another tour. We went to the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Wall, and Jefferson Memorial. Our tour guide, Jordan is a certified guide and an AFBF staff member! I learned a lot of great details about the monuments that I didn’t know before. Even in my tired state of mind I remember a lot of these details. Finally we made it back to our hotel. Wow! This was just Tuesday!
Wednesday, first thing we started off with giving our speech! Yay! Well, not really, but you know it wasn’t so bad. After our presentations, Elise Stoddard, Director of Organization Development gave us some really great tips on using gestures, inflection, and other easy but extremely powerful tips on how to make vocal presentations better. Later Elise critiqued my speech and gave some very good tips on how to make it better. What was hard was to watch myself give my presentation. It just felt so awkward! The afternoon featured Johnna Miller, Director of Media and Advocacy Training for AFBF. She spoke to us on Social Media Advocacy and Media Training Basics. Johnna is tough, her nickname is Johnna the Piranha. She was never mean, just lots of tough love. Her comments probably were the ones that made me stretch the most personally. This lady knows her stuff! Our cat herders were Jamison Cruce and Maggie Good. Jamison recommended some great places and Wednesday night we went to the Georgetown area on the Potomac and ate a seafood restaurant. Again great food!
Man, Thursday was crazy. We were put through our paces by doing a mock radio interview, print interview, and TV interview. Each had evaluations and tips on how to improve. There was enough time for me to go walk a bit in the Smithsonian Air Flight and Aviation Museum. After lunch Lindsay Calvert, Director of Learning & Development for AFBF spoke to us on public speaking. To be honest, after Lindsay spoke there were 2 more presenters, but my brain was really full, apparently and I don’t really remember all that much about the tips for seeking and running for public office. Later that afternoon we got the news that we would need to prepare a speech on our chosen topic and be ready for a mock press conference. Yikes. As a group we decided to either dine in or eat at the hotel restaurant. I know after supper I spent probably 4 hours writing and prepping for giving my speech, plus repacking for the trip home. That was totally nerve wracking. I woke up at 4 am without an alarm, with thoughts on how to change and tweak my speech. Argh!
As I got everything together and practiced my speech for the 50th time on Friday morning I realized I was beyond nervous. I rarely get nervous about this stuff. I was also nervous about getting to the airport but that worked itself out when 3 of us shared an Uber ride to the airport. Did I mention my curling iron stopped working and smoked the outlet in my hotel bathroom? That was fun. And added to my nervousness as I borrowed a flat iron to curl my hair (I’ve never done that, but it worked!) Later that morning, we presented our speeches and answered questions on the fly and then were critiqued again. Julia Ann Potts, Executive Vice President of AFBF gave the closing remarks about faking it till you make it. Boy did that hit home! After a brief “graduation” ceremony and lunch we were on our way to our respective homes.
I still have lots to process from the boot camp. I’ll be reviewing my notes, handouts, and that speech. But best of all I made 20 new friends. We now follow each other on Facebook and Twitter and gave each other our business cards. We laughed at ourselves throughout the week, groaned when Johnna really went after someone really trying to break them down, and cheered for our improvements. Without these ladies and spending time getting to know each other this experience wouldn’t have been so rich.
So what did I really learn? I can answer tough questions. I can turn a negative into a positive. I can boil down jargon into something a consumer would understand. That I am an advocate and that it matters that I have passion for what I speak about. Being authentic isn’t a marketing strategy it’s truly who I am and I can now translate that into what I do.