Three days can make a big difference. That’s the view of independent agronomist Harry Cotton. He is brimming with examples of what he gained from being one of eight selected for the latest John Forrest Award Communications Skills course which is co-funded by TMAF.
“Wow, what an inspirational and memorable three days! Nestled in the heart of Cambridgeshire, Madingley Hall was home to eight aspiring agriculturists selected for three days of communication skills training on the John Forrest Memorial Award 2023. The Award is a residential course joint funded by The Felix Cobbold Trust and The Morley Agricultural Foundation.
The John Forrest Memorial Award is fully subsidised – with no financial barriers the award is available to anyone passionate about agriculture. From farmers to research students, Susie Emmett from Green Shoots Productions was tasked with refining the communications skillset of the entire cohort. Met with some challenges along the way and assisted by Patrick Harvey we knew within the first hour that we were in for a ride!
Good from the start
A shake of hands and introductions aside we were showed into a smaller room, confused glances were exchanged as we began to wonder what was ahead of us. Susie Emmett, alongside her glowing personality drew our attention to a list of objectives to complete, with the promise nobody would leave until we were compliant. This was our first real indication as to what the course would be about. We were to learn how to present, introduce, chair discussions, take effective pictures, produce videos and how to conduct ourselves in a professional yet memorable manner. I turned to my side and consulted my new friend Jack, grinning back at me he whispered, ‘This is going to be good’.
No need for nerves to get in the way
Our excitement momentarily faded as we were immediately told to prepare ourselves to deliver our presentations. This certainly wasn’t what we were expecting, only a few minutes through the door and we were told we had to present?! The presentation was only a short four-minute self-selected topic which looked to analyse a communication opportunity. Why the anxiety? Why should I feel nervous about presenting in front of eight people on a sleepy January afternoon?
Susie had the answer: “You really shouldn’t”. This is the magic of the John Forrest Award.
How to use all the presentation tools
Presenting is all about content and the way you choose to deliver it. We were guided to understand that preparation, accuracy, professionalism and above all a personability would conjure the perfect presentation. Susie used her eyes and body language to show us how to invite and retain the attention of the room. Your voice is only a small aspect of the tools which are available to you. We learnt about the use of props, how to answer difficult questions and the value of interaction.
I left with a new confidence which only came from being taught that I had the ability to empower the room with what I had to say. I have struggled with confidence and nerves for many years but as we all walked to lunch, I felt a lot more accomplished and happier within. I now look forward to the next time I present, an opportunity to capture the room with my newly found sparkle.
Many assignments make progress faster
The evenings were fun, character profiling providing fits of laughter as we enjoyed the delicious food provided by Madingley Hall on behalf of The John Forrest Award. We revelled in each other’s past and futures as each of the cohort began revealing more about themselves. This is another crucial skill we learnt, the power of getting to know a person by the power of their interests. However, an evening of hysteria and revelation often goes without balance. This evening was no different as Susie gave us instruction that we were to prepare a creative piece of writing ‘What inspires me to be in Agriculture’ and a funding application to The Felix Cobbold Trust.
These mini assignments allowed us to recruit creative writing powers, a skill which I hadn’t exercised for many years. We were to submit our work to Colin Smith who represents The Felix Cobbold Trust for assessment. Colin provided a range of useful feedback, highlighting our strengths and weaknesses and lifting our moods by telling us that some of our funding applications would stand with little alterations.
The days were filled with structure and excitement. One morning we were asked to split into two groups as we began our training for: ‘How to chair a discussion’. This is one aspect of the course I was excited for as my work sometimes draws on this skill set. I believe that knowledge exchange and discussion will play a fundamental role in agriculture in the future.
The mistakes and successes which are made season to season are invaluable, they should be shared. A farmer, having farmed their whole lives may have only experienced fifty harvests. There is no other industry where fifty years’ experience would result in only fifty season attempts. Agriculture is special in this way which is why experiences should be shared. To be able to chair a discussion between different growers from different locations on different soil types growing different crops requires a skillset. Susie showed us just how powerful body language, eye contact and even physical movements can be when moderating a discussion.
This training even touched on how to deal with challenging people who are dominant and demanding. We selected themes at random from a hat – some topics designed to create a little adversity. I remember one theme was ‘It’s ok for men to give each other flowers’…
Taking away life-long skills
As our time at Madingley Hall began to draw to a close we were given time to reflect on our experiences with a rather emotional prize giving. I believe The John Forrest Memorial Award has left a permanent mark on my personality. Not in a way which will affect my day-to-day persona, but I feel like I have a John Forrest key inside me.
Whichever door I may come to, although it may appear locked and shut, I only have to reach inside myself to unlock it. Whether I’m feeling anxiety before a presentation or figuring out a memorable way to make an introduction my mind will always revert back to my time at Madingley Hall.
As I return to my professional life as an aspiring agronomist, I know that I will apply all the knowledge I have learnt and will always remember that the John Forrest Award is responsible. I would like to pay my thanks to The Felix Cobbold Trust and The Morley Agricultural Foundation for their generosity in coordinating such a memorable experience.”
To apply for a place on the course to be held in January 2024 email the FTCAT administrator for details of how to apply.