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Use science to be a better agvocate

To capture someone’s interest you need to find a way to connect on an emotional level

Farmers in a Canola Field

As a farmer, you use science every day. On a day like today you might even use it to calculate how much snow load your barn can withstand, or to improve the success of your agvocacy efforts.

Research shows that to build successful farmer-consumer relationships, we need to connect with people emotionally by telling our stories, and we must build trust based on shared values.

But how can we make sure the stories we’re telling and the information we’re sharing will pique our audience’s interest, and that they will resonate and stick? And how can we continue to nurture the farmer-consumer relationship once it’s established?

First, let’s step back to before your story begins and before you draft those tweets. By understanding how the human brain receives, processes, stores, and retrieves information, you can tinker with how, when, and where to present your messages to ensure they have the best possible impact.

Tali Sharot, professor of cognitive neuroscience and author of The Influential Mind, writes, “Here is the problem though: we approach this task from inside our own heads. When attempting to create impact, we first and foremost consider ourselves. We reflect on what is persuasive to us, our state of mind, our desires, our goals. But, of course, if we want to affect behaviours and beliefs of the person in front of us, we need to first understand what goes on inside their head and go along with how their brain works.”

Sharot notes that even though we look, speak, and act differently from one another, our brains have evolved along the same line and will therefore react in similar ways when faced with the same stimulation.

This makes the job of educating and influencing easier: you’re not just talking to a variety of individuals, person to person, you’re talking brain to brain.

Here are a few communication hacks based on scientific research that focus on the brain-to-brain connection to help you have better farm-to-consumer conversations:

Create intrigue

To effectively capture someone’s interest, you need to figure out how to relate with your listener and create an atmosphere that generates receptiveness to your information. This is where you’ll want to connect emotionally.

Timing is also a key factor: you need to meet people where they’re at. This means offering up the information they need at specific points in time (similar to how sales people offer particular information at different points in the purchasing funnel) and ensuring that the information you provide is timely, relevant, and factual.

Self-interest is another key factor that helps people relate to and care about an issue. Invoking self-interest engages them directly and explicitly. When their identity and self-interests are threatened, people stand at attention.

Ramp up resonance

Typically, we think that because we have something important and “correct” to share, people will want to hear it. But this assumption is wrong.

If we back up a step, we’d see that we first need to figure out what it is that engages people’s attention and makes them listen — because unless your information is framed in such a way as to make it sticky right from the start, you’re more likely to lose your listener’s attention before you’ve even got it.

The biggest sticky factor that helps something resonate and be remembered is presenting it as a story.

Humans have evolved as storytellers from as far back as our first campfires. Our brains are hardwired to perk up and soak in information presented in a story format.

According to Chip and Dan Heath, co-authors of Made to Stick, other elements that make information sticky are:

  • Simplicity (think proverbs, analogies, and metaphors).
  • Concrete images (for example, five football fields is easier to envision than 6.6 acres).
  • Connecting to emotions.
  • Unexpectedness (generating interest and curiosity opens gaps in our knowledge — which we immediately feel compelled to fill).

Nurture what you’ve built

After you’ve captured your listeners’ attention and they’ve eagerly soaked up what you have to say, you must now find ways to sustain the relationship. That’s how you can continue to educate and influence.

Uri Hassen, a Princeton University professor, said, “Our ability to communicate relies on our ability to have common ground.”

To create common ground, smash assumptions: listen actively and ask questions that clarify assumptions the other person holds and helps them see the issue in a new light.

By focusing on what you have in common you will build trust and you will also increase the perceived value of the information you bring to the conversation.

Every conversation has a purpose and every interaction you have with someone can either advance or destroy the narrative.

Learning how to use insights from the fields of neuroscience, social science, consumer psychology, and behavioural and social psychology, to name a few, will allow you to tweak and optimize your conversational skills.

Think of it like two bar magnets: pointed at each other one way they connect and stick; pointed the other way, they repel. If you learn how the brain functions in terms of communications and if you set yourself up to speak brain to brain, the influence of your agvocacy efforts will be far more “sticky” and successful.

April Stewart is a sixth-generation dairy farmer in Quebec, president of Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture, and principal of Alba PR, whose latest project is The Farmer’s Survival Guide.

About the author


April M. Stewart is the owner of Alba PR, a brain-to-brain communication design firm, and the creator of “The Farmer’s Survival Guide: How to Connect With 21st Century Consumers,” a blog and workshops which look at communication impact boosters. She is also a sixth-generation Quebec dairy farmer, president of Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture, and a member of the Canadian Agri-Business Education Foundation board. You can find her on Twitter under @FarmersSurvival.



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