Farm and Ranch women do a lot of hard things.  So, when Tiffany McConkie and I applied for and then were selected for the opportunity to attend the AFBF Women’s Communication Bootcamp, we were prepared to be challenged.  We may not have expected our direct flight to Washington D.C. to be canceled the morning of our departure.  We may not have expected that after an hour long wait in line, the airline would inform us that they had no other flights available until after it was time for us to begin our boot camp experience.  We definitely did not expect that after another hour of intense negotiating, the magic of Susan Furner, and a Delta supervisor that worked miracles, they would find an alternative route that would get us there on time.  We gratefully took that alternate route and 12 hours and 2 connecting flights later we had successfully arrived in Washington D.C.

That was the beginning of our boot camp experience and for me, the trials of that day were just the beginning of the challenges I would face for the next 4 days.  I was nervous going into boot camp because I knew that it would be a struggle to present a speech with all the points I wanted to make in three minutes.  The first day began with introductions of each of the 15 women in the class followed by an overview and an interactive exercise that taught us how to effectively answer three questions.  Who is Farm Bureau?  What is Farm Bureau? Why does Farm Bureau matter?  We ended the day with dinner and a trolley tour of Washington D.C.  The weather was beautiful and the cherry blossoms were in bloom.  We watched the sun go down as we received a professionally guided tour of the city and we were able to visit several of the monuments after the sun went down.  It was a great way to get acquainted with both the city and the members of our class.

The second day began with the presentation of our 3 minute speeches.  I expected it would be tough, but I have to admit that I did not expect it to be such an emotionally charged experience.  I listened to women talk about their life experiences, struggles, and goals for making a difference in agriculture.  In addition to being passionate about my own topic, which was water optimization and conservation that includes turf grass, I heard women speak about their personal connections to rural health issues, the 2023 Farm Bill, and labor shortages.  Each speech accompanied by each personal story brought to mind the importance of having our voices be heard and speaking out on behalf of the agriculture issues that impact our farms and families. 

We spent the rest of that day learning about content and messaging, delivery dynamics, the basics of media training and working a reception.  We had the opportunity to put those skills to work at a reception with the AFBF staff on the roof of the Farm Bureau building.  It was fun to make new friends and meet the people behind the scenes at the American Farm Bureau office. We also had the opportunity to meet with our mentors and go over our speeches.  My mentor was Johnna Miller and for those of you who know her as “Johnna the Piranha” you can imagine how intimidated I felt.  However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed meeting with her and hearing her input and suggestions. She is good at what she does! I felt like she prepared me so well for the media interviews the next day that I had an advantage that I would not have had otherwise.  This was the day that really challenged me the most.  I graduated from college in 1990 and it has been a long time since my brain has been so active in learning and growing.  The saying, “There is no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone” came to mind several times.  I was definitely out of my comfort zone for most of the day and in the end, that is exactly what I needed.

The next two days were filled with media interviews, more training, congressional visits and our final exam presentations.  Seeing the changes and improvements in all the participants presentations was inspiring!  Getting to know so many people involved in a variety of agriculturally related pursuits was the best part of this opportunity.  We supported each other, we encouraged each other and we did hard things together.  This was an experience that changed me and will forever have an impact on how I communicate with others.  One of the instructors told us that we were not learning to be public speakers, but rather “influential communicators.”  I would encourage any Farm Bureau Women--all ages are invited--who are interested in becoming an influential communicator to apply for this boot camp.