When I tell people the National FFA Organization helped prepare me for a career in public relations, most people ask, “Future Farmers of America?” My response is almost always the same. While FFA does stand for Future Farmers of America, the organization builds much more than future farmers.
During the four years that I wore my Washington State blue corduroy jacket, I competed at local, district, state and national levels for public speaking, interviewing and other team competitions. I helped plan events, wrote a newsletter and honed my leadership and speaking skills.
I may have lived on a wheat farm my entire life and been involved with FFA, but that doesn’t mean I want to be a farmer. After recently beginning my position as the 2013-2014 Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) vice president of member services, I don’t doubt that I will pursue a career in public relations. I also don’t doubt I could not have achieved this honor without the four years I spent in FFA.
Here are just a few of the PR lessons FFA taught me:
Leaders are team players.
Although I admit to participating in some activities to boost my activity list for college applications, FFA was not one of them. I became an officer because I wanted other members to get the most they could from their membership. That was not something I could do on my own. I needed a leadership team. Public relations leaders have to make decisions based on what is best for their stakeholders, and they have to make those decisions with the help of fellow company leaders and employees.
Prepared public speakers are successful.
Before each Creed Speaking competition, I dedicated hours to memorizing the FFA Creed, practicing my delivery and preparing for questions. I never walked into the competition room unprepared, and it paid off.
Even if you are a natural presenter, a lack of preparedness will stifle your confidence. For speakers who may be less comfortable, adequate preparation can enhance confidence. For those odd balls like me who list public speaking as a favorite activity, being more prepared than the competition will not only enhance your confidence, but also help you succeed when competing for new clients or a job. If your goal is to persuade, adequate preparation will help you learn how to successfully argue against opposing views.
Plan for the unexpected.
Things don’t always go as planned. During the Food Science team competition, I forgot to put cheese on the list of ingredients for the pizza my team was building. When the judges asked why we had a cheese-less pizza, instead of saying I simply forgot the cheese, I confidently answered that we were trying to market the pizza to children who don’t like cheese. Because I answered with confidence, they didn’t question my response, and our team received high scores.
Public relations is not a calm industry. Crises of all magnitudes come out of the blue. Each organization should have a crisis communication plan prepared. In addition, practitioners need to conduct environmental scanning to perceive potential problems that could arise.
Always know your audience.
Whether writing a newsletter or delivering a speech, public relations professionals need to know their audience. During FFA competitions, my audience was almost always people with an interest in agriculture. However, if I had been speaking to a crowd representing a different industry, I would have needed to eliminate some of the farming jargon.
One of the key skills in public relations is the ability to understand your audiences and tailor communication to each target. If you can speak your audience’s language and personalize your communication, you will have the ability to establish lasting relationships.