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Get the most out of meeting season

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By Holly Martin

It’s early in the morning—probably too early to string together some coherent thoughts for column, but such is the life of an ag journalist in the first quarter of the year. I’ve long contended that for the agriculture industry, the four seasons should be named spring, summer, fall and meeting season.

From commodity organization meetings to farm shows to local Extension meetings, there is a never-ending stream of learning opportunities for farmers and ranchers. And to be fair, High Plains Journal has done its fair share of contributing to meeting season in recent months.

If a producer isn’t careful, he can find himself on the drive home from a meeting and thinking, “Was that a useful way to spend my time?” His head may be swimming with details and facts. The point of those meetings is to share as much information as possible but often, a lot of information is thrown at producers very quickly.

I’ve been there. I will cover a meeting and write a story, but actually thinking about the discussion requires more time. And often, that precious time never comes. But it’s that “thinking” that nets the reward of the time invested.

So what does it take to get the most out of those meetings? Over the years, I’ve developed some tips that help me ensure a valuable experience. I’ve also had the opportunity to watch farmers do the same.

1. Take notes. But not just ordinary notes. Jot down quick quotes or particularly important thoughts. Don’t try to write every detail down. Often you can follow up with the presenter to get the digital presentation. Develop a system with your notes. I “star” anything I write down that needs a follow-up. I underline particularly important quotes that I want to think about at a later time.

I often make the mistake of thinking that I will remember things after the meeting without writing them down. Perhaps that happened in my younger days, but no longer. There’s just too much in my brain, so often what is happening right now pushes the things that happened five minutes ago to the back of my brain, never to be thought of again—unless there’s a note to remind me.

2. Visit with fellow attendees. I often think the most valuable lessons are to be learned during breaks. When farmers gather and discuss what important things they have learned, the value of the meeting increases. Two brains are better than one—four or five are even better.

3. Prepare. Think about what you want to learn before you get there. Often, meetings bring experts to the masses and they will address topics that might not be exactly what you need to know. More often than not, there will be an opportunity for questions. Make sure you take advantage of those times.

4. Ask questions. Speaking of questions and answer sessions, they are your opportunity to shape the meeting into what is on your mind. Don’t just sit there in your chair and consume what the conference organizers and speakers feed you. Ask challenging questions. Engage with the experts to help you understand how the issues will affect you.

5. Take business cards. I’m often surprised how many farmers don’t have business cards. Farms and ranches are businesses, after all. You can find low-cost printing websites or you can print something simple on your home computer. The business card allows you to quickly share your contact information with speakers so they can follow up with you or with fellow producers you want to stay in contact with.

Now, I’m off to pack for my next meeting. Only 657 left to go.

Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171, ext. 1806, or by email at hmartin@hpj.com.

Date: 3/3/2014



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