December 11, 2013

Storytelling and the Art of Listening

Guest blogging today is Sara Steever, VP, digital services.

Sometimes you learn the most important lessons where you least expect them. A digital conference I attended recently had a surprising number of sessions on marketing fundamentals.

Storytelling is one of those fundamentals, and one critical to ag advocacy, so I settled in to Bob Smith’s (not his real name) session, hoping for a twist on this topic. Bob began his session with a story he made up that landed him a job. I guess it was a good story, because it worked, right? He continued with some reminders on the power of stories to connect us to each other, help us understand who we are and to move us to act. Good stuff.

To wrap up his session, he shared a story he “wished he would have told.” To my horror, he played Chipotle’s Scarecrow video. Wow. He started the session with a little white lie and ended it with a whopper, which conveniently sums up my perception of anti-ag activists.

Of course, this ended up as a dinner topic that night with some new acquaintances from the conference. I was feeling pretty smug about my assessment of those anti-ag activists, and I felt that agriculture’s side of the story needed defending. And in that defense, I was reminded that effective storytelling begins with listening.

Facts in the defense of agriculture aren’t going to get you very far if you don’t understand why your audience misunderstands modern production farming. That dinner conversation didn’t take a path I could have predicted, and although we parted with a friendly hug, I wondered if I could have done one thing better: listen. I should have heard and acknowledged my colleague’s perceptions of farming. The facts were on my side, but I’m not completely sure she was.

If I had it to do over again, I would have asked more questions and given fewer answers, and had more empathy and less self-righteousness. There is no substitute for connecting first through shared values. What you have in common can be the bridge that let’s you share the bright future of farming. Remember, farming’s story is more powerful when we begin by listening.

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