Our nation’s schools have become a focal point for the debate on what foods and beverages constitute healthy eating. Where milk and milk products fall within this debate tends to vary, making it critical for professionals in the dairy industry to have the skills necessary to effectively serve as ambassadors for our products.

This is why Dairy Council of California recently embarked on a dairy advocacy training program to equip staff and board members with debate, persuasion and social tools to speak out successfully on behalf of dairy products and the dairy industry.

A four-step method

To refine the skills necessary to improve our mark on the dairy debate, we enlisted Robert H. Gass, a professor in the Department of Human Communication Studies at California State University, Fullerton. He is an expert on persuasion, debate, argumentation and social influence.

Gass stepped in and formally trained our staff and board members. But even without going through the training we did, dairy industry members can boost effectiveness by following Gass’ four-step method. As an example, consider the scenario of defending flavored milk in schools at a school district board meeting.

  1. Step one. Provide the audience with a succinct headline statement that is assertive and memorable, such as “We’re all concerned about childhood obesity, and the truth is that flavored milk is an excellent nutritional choice.”
  2. Step two. Provide evidence and proof for your point of view, such as “Flavored milk has all of the great health benefits of white milk, including protein, calcium and vitamin D, and a surge in research at leading universities is expanding milk’s health portfolio beyond the traditional benefits.”
  3. Step three. Present an analysis or reasoning that can prove the point, a personal experience or story to share. “Milk, including flavored milk, has a strong track record of supporting bone health. Flavored milk is also extremely versatile and provides a good nutritional and economical bang for your buck.”
  4. Step four. Summarize the consequences of the argument. Often people make a succinct argument without backing it up with the possible impact. In this situation we can say, “We know many kids won’t drink milk unless it’s flavored, so the overwhelming irreplaceable nutritional benefits of having them consume milk in some form outweigh the concern over small amounts of added sugar.”

These steps can easily be tailored to work in any scenario, whether it be discussing sustainable practices in a sales meeting or talking to a Rotary Club about hormones in milk. With some forethought and organization around the questions we most come up against, we can have a positive impact on the dairy debate.

No matter the issue, it is crucial not to be adversarial or antagonistic but to acknowledge that an opposing argument is normally well-intended.

We are eager to extend what we have learned beyond Dairy Council of California so industry representatives, in a united voice, can be better ambassadors for milk and milk products.  

 The future of our industry lies in being able to effectively communicate the irreplaceable value of milk and milk products in a healthy diet. I invite you to email me (TammyA@DairyCouncilofCA.org) with thoughts on this effort. 

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