February 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 1 // Tools of the Trade // 1TOT1
Promoting and Organizing Agricultural Extension Meetings
Promoted successfully, the traditional meeting format is still a valuable Extension tool. A crucial step in successful Extension meetings is establishing credibility with clientele. Maintaining quality is important, information taught should be useful, in lay terms, and well presented. Topics should be non-commercial, properly scheduled with a convenient starting time. Timeliness of topics supports program attendance, and programs should be coordinated with local events. Modern visual aids and comfortable, accommodating facilities are important. Establish meetings as a tradition. Never underestimate the need for social interaction. Advance planning and promotion is the most important issue for Extension meetings.
Promoted successfully, the traditional meeting format is still a valuable tool. Before the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, Floyd Bucher in Pennsylvania was advised by his director to go out, become acquainted, and establish credibility. Experienced agents still offer the same advice to new agents. Programs will not be successful without credibility and respect from clientele (Reeder, 1979).
Asking agriculture producers to take a day off from work and travel to an Extension meeting is appropriate only if it provides information that can make producers money, secure their future, or make life easier. It should be taught in laymen's terms, be well prepared, smoothly delivered, and fit the needs of clientele. It should also be timely. Schedule programs for the producer's convenience. Being aware of 4-H, sports, and school programs helps in selecting a non-conflicting date and time for a program.
Time is valuable. Delaying the starting time of an educational program for the benefit of late arrivals penalizes those arriving on time. Starting programs on time establishes a tradition among clientele. If advertised as a three-hour program, make the program three hours long. If speakers go over their allotted time, cut them off.
Meeting rooms have to be comfortable and create an open and friendly atmosphere. Arrange rooms so clientele can be seated and can view the screen easily. Make clientele comfortable with correct heating, cooling, and seating. Be able to shut out light so visual aids will be legible to all. Acoustics of the meeting room need to be adequate so people can hear easily. Room accommodations such as public address system, chairs, projector, and screen should be ready well in advance. Avoid having to apologize for visual aids, screens, or equipment. Early set up is essential for correcting equipment problems. It allows Extension personnel to be free to meet and mix with clientele.
Quality programs develop strong attendance and tradition over time. Based on previous programs, participants know that all presentations will be of the highest quality, the accommodations are going to be comfortable, visual aids will be the best, and the program will be valuable. Many professionals have established national creditability on certain subjects. Producers recognize these individuals from trade journals and other publications. These professionals can be a draw for programs. However, they must be good public speakers. Include a local producer or veterinarian on the program. They substantiate the information being taught and add creditability to the presentation.
Allied industries often sponsor Extension programs. However, Extension has an obligation to teach only scientific-based information that is non-commercial. There should be a quality presentation from an Extension person on the program to maintain balance. Never promote a program entirely for a commercial company, as it erodes creditability.
Never underestimate the need for social interaction. Due to the remoteness of agricultural life and the nature of the business, people look forward to attending Extension meetings for the social aspect as well as educational materials. Schedule time before or after the program for social interaction. After a few years, this social time becomes tradition and supports attendance at meetings. Many times more Extension work takes place at these social functions than during the program itself.
Successful promotion of a program or meeting requires an up-to-date mailing list. Publish an informational newsletter. Do not set a publishing date or set number of issues per year. Prepare and mail information to producers about production problems or promoting a specific program. By maintaining quality, narrowing the subject matter and publishing an attractive newsletter, clientele read the information and look forward to receiving it. This is an important, effective delivery system for production information and promotion of educational meetings.
Meeting promotion is the most important aspect of getting people to attend and often the most neglected. Never leave the promotion of cooperatively planned programs to other agents. Eleven months before the program, secure speakers, dates, locations, facilities, co-sponsors, and start publishing proceeding papers. At five months before the program, write a half-page brief summary about the program including dates, locations and program theme. Publish the summary in newsletters.
Four months before the program have an attractive flyer ready that includes all pertinent information. Do not use "to be announced" notices on the flyer. Distribute these flyers one-on-one for the next four months. Three months before the program put the flyers in a newsletter to producers. One month later put promotional flyers into producer association newsletters. Mail a news release about the program to monthly magazines.
One month before program, re-mail a newsletter with the flyer describing the meeting. Three weeks before program place a radio ad at the local station. Run the news release in the local newspaper along with a classified ad. The classified ad simply states the program name, starting time, location, and cost of the local program. Two weeks before program begin calling or visiting producers in a one-on-one effort. Remind them about the program. Mail a program flyer, different in appearance than previous flyers. Three days before the program telephone key producers and remind them of the meeting.
On program day at registration get all names and addresses so you can update your mailing list for next year's promotion. Have producers complete a questionnaire on the program offering suggestions for improvement, suggestions for speakers and topics for next year's program. After the program send letters of thanks to program co-sponsors and reaffirm their sponsorship. In addition, send letters to program speakers and others that contributed to the event. Send a newsletter to producers recapping the program and outlining the dates for the next year's event. Meet as a program team and summarize evaluations and suggestions from producers, then start to formulate the following year's program.
Reeder, R. (1979). Pioneers and Veterans of the Extension Service remember how they did their jobs. The People and the Profession. National Board of Epsilon Sigma Phi.