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What Are Other People Around You Thinking at a Meeting?

Don't read their minds; ask them, and put it on the screen!

Part of my job is going to meetings, especially this time of year. It's one way I keep current with what farmers are thinking and what industry and Extension believes are hot topics. I've been to my share of meetings this winter, and my waistline, already big enough, is even bigger now. The best way to get people NOT to come back to your meeting is to have bad food!

Even so, food isn't why I go to meetings, but it's an added perk. At about every meeting there's been at least a hundred people there with me, most of them farmers. As the presenter starts into his talk, I always wonder what the guy next to me, or the older farmer two rows over is thinking. I usually know a few people at each meeting. They're normally the ones that always ask questions – that's why I remember them.

Well, I attended a Stewart Seeds Meeting at Greensburg recently, part of their winter series of meetings for customers. The food was right down my alley, by the way, fried chicken and roast beef. But what impressed me most was when the emcee started asking questions of people in the audience. And he wasn't asking for a show of hands. He was asking them to pick up the little 'clicker' at their spot on the table and punch in the answer they preferred. It resembled a calculator – in fact, I'm so technology illiterate about certain things I thought it was a calculator.

Instead, people could vote by punching in a number corresponding to a choice on a question. A little box appeared on the screen and counted down from 15 seconds. Once the time expired, the system somehow calculated the answers that had been submitted, and magically produced an instant bar graph of the answers. It was almost like being on Family Feud and waiting for Richard Dawson to say, "Survey says…" and then the board reveals an answer, and the percentage of people who gave that answer.

What this neat little system does is let the presenter know who he is talking to, and how to adjust his talk. Why talk about no-till if only 10% of the people there do it? When you ask for a show of hands, some people are reluctant to answer, or asleep, or both. But the clicker seemed to captivate people.

Some of the answers surprised me. Only about a fourth of the people at the meeting had planters that would let them vary rate on the go. That's an important wake-up call. The trend toward precision farming is growing, but there are still plenty of farmers who buy products and raise crops who don't utilize all parts of the technology. Only half of those who have the technology expect to use it to vary seeding rates this year. That gets down to about one in eight in the audience.

It probably wouldn't be a good thing if I was speaking and had control of that clicker system. I might spend the whole time asking questions. Before I was done, I would probably ask 'What's your favorite meal?' give choices and let them ring in.

Would that be a waste of technology? I guess that depends upon your point of view. Technology is just a tool – a means to an end, not the end. It doesn't care if you're asking important questions about farm management decisions or goofy questions about what food you like. It just lets you ask questions.

It is neat technology, though. Look for more people to use it to collect information at meetings.

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