Montana Farm Bureau Vice President Cyndi Johnson learned all about giving speeches and working with media at the 12th Annual American Farm Bureau Women’s Communications Boot Camp. Johnson was one of 15 farm and ranch female leaders who were recognized by AFBF as graduates of the comprehensive training. The intensive three-day course comprised hands-on sessions regarding public speaking, working with the media and messaging.  

Johnson, a small grains farmer from Conrad, said their first order of business was to give a speech on trade, the farm bill or the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Johnson opted for the latter, explaining to the group why grizzly bears are becoming more prevalent in wheat country.

Following their speeches, the women learned about writing and giving public presentations. “The first tip was to know your audience and know their needs. Don’t make the speech all about yourself,” Johnson said. “If you are talking to a group who has no clue about grizzly bears and where they live, you need to know that when you give your speech. We were instructed to use words like farmers and ranchers instead of producers and name the actual product instead of using the word ‘commodity.’  Use words such as cattle, hogs and wheat. Some verbiage is obvious to someone in our line of work but remember that not everyone knows what we do. You need to make what you say understandable to your audience.”

When preparing the speech, participants were advised to clean up what they wanted to say. “Get to the facts quickly and present your message. Give the audience stories to support the message. If you use statistics, be sure to have the information to back them up.”

The group was interviewed by mock newspaper, television and radio reporters, and later critiqued. The “final exam” was rewriting the original speech using skills gleaned from the sessions and presenting it to the group.

Participants were encouraged to visit Capitol Hill. Since Johnson had recently met with all three Montana Congressmen during the MFBF Advocacy and Action Incentive Program trip to Washington, D.C., she opted to visit with Dan Gerig, Senator Daines’ ag liaison.

“I used knowledge gained from research for my speech at boot camp and visited with him about the ESA and ESA reform,” said Johnson. “We discussed trade, the farm bill and farming. I even invited him to come to our farm and drive the combine.”