Communications Guru Tells Farmers: The World Is Yours’

2/2/2013 7:00 AM
By Troy Bishopp New York Correspondent

FAIRLEE, Vt. — Farmers appreciate good tools to build, fix or help make life around the farm more efficient. In fact, the old adage still rings true: “To do good work, one must first have good tools.”

Communications coach and trainer Fred Ashforth may hold the key to the most important tool of all for farmers — being able to communicate their passion effectively.

This might seem like a lofty statement if it weren’t for the constant barrage of people urging farmers to tell their stories and “be relevant,” as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has suggested.

The road towards self-improvement was a featured day-long workshop at the 2013 Vermont Grazing and Livestock Conference for farmers more comfortable milking cows than standing and delivering a speech.

Enter Ashforth from Ashforth Associates, based out of the one-time hops capital of the world, Waterville, N.Y. During his vast career teaching people to overcome their fears, become effective leaders and garner more business, the professional communications trainer, private coach and former. Toastmasters president has seen many an adult terrified to express themselves.

“It literally makes people sick to speak,” he said.

The quick-witted, charismatic, quote-enriched instructor asked farmers if they had heard of the WIIFM radio station. The call signal of “What’s in it for me” is what most people think about when they are interacting with you, he said.

“It’s important to realize whether you’re communicating in a group setting or networking one-on-one, there is an invisible sign around everyone’s neck that says, Make me feel important or good about myself,’ ” Ashforth said. “If you can master the skills of making your audience feel good and appreciated, the world is yours.”

Ashforth asked the farmers what help they wanted. Predictably, marketing farm products came to the forefront; however, building confidence and improving networking and speaking skills were a close second.

Playing off these needs, he introduced the group to the “success triangle,” with attitude, learning new information and behavior anchoring the three legs.

“Most get excited about doing something and researching the idea thoroughly, but never seem to pull the trigger in making it happen,” he said. “You’ve got to change your outlook and just do it.”

He said the most effective communication tool is become a good listener.

“The best compliment you can pay someone is to listen,” Ashforth said. “People won’t remember what you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel.”

He humorously described three types of people: a bore, someone who talks about themselves; a gossip, someone who talks about others; and what farmers should become — a brilliant conversationalist.

“Basically, you should be talking 30 percent and listening 70 percent of the time.”

He gave tips on making eye contact, nodding your head appropriately, voice inflections and repeating questions to show your potential customer you are listening effectively.

He then took the audience on a rigorous, boot-strapping exercise to get the message out on delivering a 30-second elevator speech, becoming a powerful presenter and a super networker, closing the sale and not giving in to a difficult situation.

He taught the mechanics of connecting with your audience through eye contact, gestures and heart-felt stories while practicing lectern etiquette. All the farmers warmed up to the ideas and spoke in front of their counterparts to rousing applause.

“To grow your business, you must learn to sell. Everyone is in sales. Selling isn’t telling — Selling is listening. Amateurs talk, professionals listen and ask questions. People buy you. At the core, sales and business is simply one person solving another person’s problem. People are extremely loyal to folks who solve their problems,” he said. “Customers are looking for a foundation of logic, trustworthiness and an emotional connection. You’ve got to take a sniper approach in listening and asking enough questions to finally get to the root cause target. I’ve found dollarizing the problem adds to the understanding. When you’ve got the solution, by all means do what you say you will do. This is where the rubber meets the road in sales.”

Reviews from farmers were positive.

“I’m typically a shy person and felt a little nervous going into the workshop,” said Philip Ranney of Spring-Rock Wagyu Beef Farm in Springfield, Vt. “I was looking for the skills to effectively meet more people while marketing the farm and telling the story and benefits of Wagyu beef in the Northeast. After learning Coach Ashforth’s techniques, I’m feeling very confident about meeting more people and sharing my passions.”

As the new powerful communicators headed back to the farm to practice, Ashforth tweaked one of motivational speaker Zig Ziglar’s well-known quotes to fit the occasion: “Building a better you is the first step to building a better agriculture.”

For more information on Ashforth, visit or call 315-269-4412.

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