Banquets, speeches better with farmers in the audience

It's been said that a banquet or a social function is just a business function where you get dressed up a little more than usual. My earliest recollection with the social world — outside of singing in front of the church — came from attending a banquet.

It's not difficult to think of the jitters of attending a banquet, with all the world watching, as you're on your first date. As a shy boy on a short leash — by the way, I'm thankful for that raising — I was way too scared to carry on any full-time steady relationship at that age. I was too interested in sports. But there was always time for a banquet, usually at the end or the beginning of some season. There's something about having a pretty girl at your side that does wonders for your manners and so-called social graces. An unpolished country boy suddenly becomes an attentive escort. Or at least that's the memory I carry.

It's really no different once we're grown up. Banquets in the “real world” tend to be at the end of something or on special days.

Over the winter Chubby Starling invited my wife and myself to a Valentine's Day Banquet of the Bladen County Farmers Organization. Attending the event gave me a chance to meet many new people, as well as chance to spend an evening with my lovely wife, without the normal bevy of kids. Britt Cobb, North Carolina's ag commissioner, was the speaker for the evening. He talked about the importance of a tobacco buyout, the workings of the department where he's been employed for more than 30 years, and the need to continue ag research. He called agriculture in the state “an economic engine,” generating more than $62 billion annually. “The department impacts the lives of the people of North Carolina in so many ways.”

W. Ray Allen, a farmer in the county, gave a talk about, “You might be a farm wife, if…” It being Valentine's Day, the talk took on even more significance as the women in the crowd smiled and nodded.

About a month later, I had the opportunity to speak at the Warrenton Lions Club Farmer's Night. Robert Carroll and Charlie Campbell were my contacts there. Sitting at a banquet is one thing; speaking is quite another.

The written word is sometimes a different animal than the spoken word. The rhythm of words flows at a different pace on the page than when they come out of the mouth.

A sentence that's perfectly understood on the page can appear awkward when it's spoken. When they're spoken in front of a crowd, vowels and consonants are a lot like relatives. To keep the peace, you need to find the ones that get along and make sure the others either don't know about it or they're on the other end of the picnic table.

Such was the case preparing for that talk in Warrenton, N.C. The assignment was for 15 minutes before a crowd of folks who attended the Farmer's Night. Fifteen minutes is a long time if you have little to say. When it comes to farmers, however, I have a lot of positive things to say. I shared some of the successes and obstacles that farm folks have overcome. When you're speaking, it helps to have a good audience. I had one that night in Warrenton. Funny thing about speaking before a group is that you come away with more friends than you had before you started.

Even more stories and opportunities present themselves. A good thing about being the speaker is, you usually get to eat first. Now, if I could only remember which fork to use first.

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