Now that I am back on the ranch and have calmed down sufficiently to form coherent thoughts, I want to share my experience at CropLife America’s 2014 Policy Conference. This was the first time I’ve done anything of this caliber, it was quite an eye-opening experience for this ranch kid.
Speaking in public or even performing in public (ask me about the burlesque show I was in!) is not an issue for me. Years and years of 4-H, FFA, and college clubs have honed me into an old pro when it comes to crowds, plus once you’ve sang and danced in your underwear in front of your hometown, there is nothing left to fear!
Or so I thought.
Speaking in front of a roomful of people that I respect and lurk often? Whose books, articles and blogs I go to for information and opinions? With cameras and people live-tweeting what I was saying!? In our nation’s capital?! With no cow poo on me?!? Nope. That was not my natural habitat and more than just a whisper outside of my comfort zone.
I was terrified the morning of the conference. It was so ridiculous because I met many of the other participants and CropLife members the night before, and everyone was fantastically nice. We were going to be talking about a subject that is my greatest passion and deepest love. Regardless, the few hours before my panel I was a hot mess. I was convinced I had made a HUGE mistake by agreeing to do this. I wondered if anyone would notice if I just hid in the bathroom?
I met my fellow panelist, Dee Dee Darden, the night before. She was warm, engaging and knew her ham (seriously I want to buy a country ham from her)! Jesse Hirsch, I was familiar with because of his work with Modern Farmer (subscribe, it’s great stuff). And our moderator was Ali Velshi (OMG). And then there was me – needless to say, I felt out-gunned, intimidated and a long, long, way from home.
When it was time to start, I nervously stumbled on the stage and tried to smile. I kept reminding myself that I castrate things for a living. That no one in that room was 1200 pounds, mooing and trying to kill me. Thankfully, Jesse and Dee Dee spoke before me, so I had a few minute to acclimatize to being on stage. When it was was my turn to speak, Mr. Velshi brought up Silly pig, and my hogs, which is my happy place. Much to my surprise, I opened my mouth and words actually came out! Once our panel started, I lost my nerves and decided I had made the right choice by not hiding in the bathroom.
As promised, the video of our panel:
Let’s talk about Ali Velshi for a second. A large part of the reason I was willing to leave the ranch and participate in this panel was because I was familiar with his work both on TV and when he moderated the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance Dialogues in New York. Mr. Velshi gets it; he realizes how important agriculture is and he talks about that fact. We have a primetime, well respected journalist taking time to moderate conferences and interact with farmers and ranchers – are we paying attention Agriculture?
What I like most about Mr. Velshi’s moderating style is how he approached this sometimes contentious topic with humor and knowledge, it made me want to send him some Brown Ranch Beef. He quipped that his “perception of food is just fantastic” but at the same time was able to weave serious issues that face agriculture into the conversation. He mentioned that Al Jazeera realizes their main markets tend to be in the northeast but our natural resource-related problems tend to be elsewhere and they are trying to bring attention to that fact. Hey Agriculture, again does that sound like another industry we know?
Since I’ve been home, I have made more of an effort to watch Al Jazeera because I want to be informed about their reporting on those issues that are relevant to me. I urge you to do the same, I believe it is important for agriculture to engage and be aware of journalists and media that are willing to listen to us. Plus, Al Jazeera is right next to RFD TV (at least on my TV) so it makes watching both convenient! I have to say, Al Jazeera does do a stupendous job of reporting the news (no Justin Bieber or celebrity weddings!).
To wrap up, attending this conference was sensational for me for so many reasons. Getting out of my comfort zone, no matter how terrifying it was at the time, forced me to learn and accept new points of view, which makes me a more effective communicator. Mingling and having conversations with national leaders of my industry was enlightening and inspiring. But something I did not plan on getting from this conference was the confidence to do it again. I now know, that if someone asked, I could get on a plane tomorrow, and hold my own anywhere in the world. What a feeling.