Published Mar 14, 2013

Telling Your Story to Make a Difference

By Drake Larsen

Practical Farmer and Soil and Water Conservation District assistant commissioner Amber Anderson Mba practices her 3-minute advocacy talk. She is cheating just a little by using the cutest prop in the room – how could you say no to that?

PFI farmers, board members and staff prevailed over drifting March snow to gather and hone their communications skills at the Iowa Arboretum ( for two days this week.  Led by communications coach John Capecci (, and his colleague Tami Spry, 28 Practical Farmers worked on bringing clarity, confidence and impact to their story telling.  Teaching from his book, Living Proof:  Telling Your Story to Make a Difference, Capecci armed us with the essential skills needed for utilizing the most powerful tool we have – our personal stories.

First thing, participants were challenged with creating “My six-word reason” for being an advocate for a more diverse and sustainable agriculture.  The variety in answers revealed a diversity of perspectives and experiences – characteristic of a Practical Farmers crowd.  Six-word reasons included:  I want to eat wholesome food; I want to hug a shrimp; growing it organically for our future; my grandfather’s farm is a treasure; and, real farm fresh food tastes different.

Participants then divided into small groups to practice delivering a 3-minute advocacy message.  Each speaker chose a key message, linked to the mission and vision of Practical Farmers of Iowa, and carried it through the steps of effective advocacy story telling:  introduction and framing, state the message, tell your story, recast the message, and provide action items for the audience.  A small group format provided a safe atmosphere where all could be complimented and critiqued by the communications coaches and fellow Practical Farmers.

The first day of training concluded with instruction on giving great media interviews.  As advocates we have the one thing that all journalists need – a story.  The key is making sure the story we tell is the one the reporter reports.

In typical PFI fashion, the work day was followed by a most excellent potluck.  Plates piled high and crocks full of farm-raised and homemade meats, breads, fruits and vegetable ensured that we all went home with a full belly.

Day two focused on policy advocacy and practice for one-on-one interviews and interactions.  In round-robin fashion Capecci and Spry bombarded the group with questions and commentary – sometimes seeking honest answers and sometimes baiting us to stray off topic.  As a group we worked to define useful “bridges” and “flags” to keep the conversation on task and ensure the message shined through.

Armed with essential communication skills and increasing confidence – farmers, board members and staff left the communications retreat ready and willing to share their stories in order to promote the positive message of Practical Farmers of Iowa.