Learning is a life-long process. Last week, I certainly learned a lesson the hard way last Thursday while presenting – or at least trying to present – during a webinar hosted by Iowa State University Extension on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

#EpicFail is probably how my grandkids would’ve describe this event. Why? Because I didn’t understand the folks were involved in this webinar! I have always said farmers need to listen to understand. Learn where an audience stands, and then talk in a way that leads to greater understanding. Sounds simple, right?

PrintWhat I learned through this experience is that there’s more to listening than it sounds! I should have investigated how the webinar would be run. I should’ve asked to see, in advance, the outline that would be followed. If I had done due diligence, I would have been much better prepared.

Don’t misunderstand me… I went into last week’s webinar armed with facts and prepared with science, including a few emotion-laced nuggets about the fear of food. I had an hour’s worth of information, which I trimmed down from what I thought would probably have taken a month to present. I also knew from a blog entitled “OMG GMO”, which was posted on the ISUE website, that there would probably be a participant or two that was anti-GMO.

What I hadn’t expected, however, was the vast amount of information that I should’ve studied in advance like the rules of engagement. Slide 1 of the ISUE deck outlined these rules, and I started getting a little nervous! It’s been years since I’ve sat in a classroom, but I still felt like the student who showed up without his homework done. The next slide (more like lecture) was on being nice! More rules were given about talking and listening. All in all, it took about 15 minutes of the webinar just to set the ground rules.

Knowing there was little more than an hour left for the webinar, I expected there would be little time left at the end for questions. I started going through my scientific-themed information. Now I know, emotion trumps science every time but facts are needed to set the stage. About 10 minutes into my presentation, the moderator told me to wrap up. I was only on my fifth slide, expelling what GMOs are and my time was nearly up! Trying to think quickly, I jumped ahead to explain how GE plants use fewer inputs. I then finished with this very short quote from George Washington Carver, “Learn to do common things uncommonly well. We must always keep in mind anything that helps fill the dinner pail is valuable.”

With that said, I was done. From here, we went into a structured question and answer session. Every question asked by participants was based on emotion, and the questions “asked” were really more stated opinions than true questions. Honestly, I didn’t know at this point what my role was so I waited for others in the group to chime in. Finally, I started giving a few answers but the discussion stayed very anti-GMO.

After the webinar, ISU Extension sent me information that was provided the participants. I have been very surprised at the good information they were provided. One site was “protecting and promoting your health” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It explains what GMOs are and the process a new trait must go through before being approved. It also explains that USDA is not the only government agency that examines a new trait; it must also go through the EPA and APHIS.

Because the information on this site is so factual, I’m guessing few participants read it before the webinar. It didn’t support their fears or help confirm their beliefs. Somehow we must learn how to use science-based information with emotion!