Wow! Who’d have thought you could cover so much in just three days.
In early January, a group of eight young Agri-professionals gathered at the picturesque Madingley Hall in Cambridgeshire to participate in an intensive three-day communication skills course. The course was fully funded by The Felix Cobbold Trust and The Morley Agricultural Foundation and run by Susie Emmett from Green Shoots Productions. The course itself covers communication techniques from presenting to interviews as well as providing participants with the tools to take amazing photographs and even produce film footage.
Tackling the nerves
Nerves have been my biggest obstacle when it comes to speaking in public. Even in a room of only eight other people my palms were getting clammy at the idea of standing up and delivering our pre prepared presentations! However, Susie dove straight in with introductions, something so simple yet the key to making a good first impression. This settled us in nicely and after only a few minutes, the ‘um’s’ and fidgeting were soon ironed out and everyone was introducing themselves brimming with confidence.
Over the next few days, Susie and her team really amped up the pressure and put us through our paces with interviews for both television and radio. Patrick Harvey, Susie’s business partner had prepared a mini studio ready for our TV interviews – with intense, warm lights shining down on the ‘hot seat’ and a large camera ready to stare you in the face. It was surprising how much your surroundings can add to that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach. However, once everyone had completed their interview there was a unanimous sigh of relief that it was over but also an echoing of ‘it wasn’t actually that bad’ across the room.
The key to coping under the varying amounts of pressure was to try and channel your nerves and turn them into excitement!
Developing communication and media skills
How to facilitate discussion, the powers of presentation and the essence of media skills were also on the agenda.
We have all witnessed PowerPoint presentations of varying degrees of effectiveness. Some with slides jam packed with information or speakers that simply stare at the screen when presenting. It is so easy just to jump straight to PowerPoint when asked to create a presentation and this is what most of us had done when asked to prepare one in advance. Susie pointed out that the slides aren’t always necessary. If you have graphs or data to present or quality pictures to display then PowerPoint is the way to go but sometimes they can be a distraction. The simple use of a prop can be just as effective. Choosing the correct tools is only the first step to a gripping presentation. Looking out across the audience to catch their eye as you talk and positioning yourself where everyone can see you can help to hold the audience’s attention. Sometimes completely re arranging the room may be necessary and if so then don’t be afraid to get everyone involved as this can be a good icebreaker.
To assist in our presentation skills Pat delved into how to take a quality photograph and there was much more to it than just simply aim the camera and press the button which had been my usual technique! Within half an hour using the rule of thirds, leading lines and holding the camera in a landscape position I was pleased to say I had actually taken some half decent pictures just using my phone.
Facilitating discussion was one of the topics I found most helpful. Everyone took a turn at chairing an interesting topic of discussion with participants engaging in varying levels of enthusiasm – or lack of! Using a combination of open and closed questions you could really open up the conversation and improve the flow and interaction across the group. Accompanied with good eye contact and appropriate use of body language, these skills can be transferred into a trials tour scenario where you wish to encourage engaging discussion amongst the group.
Coming away from the course I feel as though I have a new sense of self confidence and am ready to apply my new found knowledge to my every day work as a trials agronomist and with chairing discussions within young farmers.
I would like to thank everyone from The Felix Cobbald Trust, The Morley Agricultural Foundation and Green Shoots Productions for the chance to attend this fantastic course. For anyone looking to enhance their communication and further develop their careers I would highly recommend applying!