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10 Tips For Conservation Storytelling in Canada

Environmental videographer in Ontario Canada

10 Tips For Conservation Storytelling in Canada

What is conservation storytelling? And why is it now a must-have for your conservation organization today?

A great story makes us relate to your conservation cause. It shows meaning and purpose in a way that builds a deeper connection between viewer and your organization. We want you to be real. Not Ron Burgundy-like ‘real’. Besides, if you’re trying to create an emotional bond to your cause, being Ron Burgundy-like cheesy or over-the-top TikTokish happy-dance goofy is about as far off the path of targeted marketing that you can get.

10 Tips For Succeeding at Conservation Storytelling

Stories make people do an action

You can blast all kinds of facts and figures at viewers (and many conservation organizations do!). But even facts and figures with no story will add up to zero emotional connection. Stories add the necessary context. If your goal is to make us do something, like sign up for a campaign, become a volunteer, or help spread word of mouth, storytelling has the power to potentially move us toward doing that action.

Humans crave stories. Good stories

Remember sitting around a campfire and listening to stories? Or being bored to death in a meeting….. until someone started to tell a story that woke everyone up? Humans are hardwired for stories. Afterall, we are a species built on communicating. Remember reading a book that you couldn’t put down? Or a favourite movie that is still etched into your brain. In both cases, the power of storytelling made an incredible lasting impression on you. Simply put, a good story is always a bridge between two people or a group of people. When those stories bridge a commonality among people, imagine the power a good story holds for bridging an outdoors tourism business with potential donors, customers, business-to-business, supporters or volunteers?

It’s easy to go too far and be unauthentic

Today, there’s a growing trend in authentic video storytelling. It’s about being mindful of the dangers of overproduction of videos. Adding zipping and zooming text and transitions, and way too many special effects can come off as being too slick and in some cases, almost cartoonish. Every one of these gimmicks inches you closer to looking like a TV commercial, being too salesy, too corporate, and frankly, unbelievable. Also, gimmicky often equals a short shelf life. What’s trendy today may look outdated in five years. Sure, trendy may be entertaining at first look. But you really want to be able to use a video for years to market your conservation organization. That’s good value over the long run.

You don’t have a story

All right, maybe I should clarify that. You don’t have one story. You have thousands and thousands of stories about your organization and its work. Your organization and causes do not revolve around one story. Storytelling is ongoing. It doesn’t live and die with one story. So, you don’t need a story. You need stories (note, emphasis on the plural!). And you already have those stories. You just need to share them. Over and over. This gets to the heart of the matter that we all, videographers included, need to correct: We all need to stop telling people “You have a story!” Wrong. You have thousands of story. And if you’re really going to succeed at using storytelling to create change and inspire a call to action, you’ll need to keep telling different stories for the long run.

Facts and figures suck. Well, most do

Facts and figures are not the focus of stories. Facts and figures can help support a story, though. For example, a non-profit may provide 10,000 meals to needy families. But you’ll never create a memorable and powerful emotional engagement with an audience using just that. It’s a statistic. And our brains are not hardwired to store statistics in the same way as our brains store powerful stories. If you tell the personal stories of how those 10,000 meals are changing lives, you’ll create an emotional reaction. And that’s what drives people to want to be part of supporting that change. One of the still ongoing fails we still see every year are fundraising campaigns built around Give Give Give and graphics of thermometers with ever-rising dollar totals. So many of these campaigns are storyless. They rarely show why it matters and how your donation helps.

Stop speaking for others

Hey, congrats! Perhaps you are the head honcho of an awesome conservation nonprofit. But when you, as the organization, start to become the only face and voice, you are hiding the faces and voices of people who can help you the most: Your supporters and partners! You must allow and/or encourage your staff, supporters and partners to be voices in your stories. To speak for themselves.

Everyone has to believe that storytelling is important

I’ve heard it many many times over the years when it comes to storytelling. Someone will shout “We just want to do a promotional video!” Groan. Stories do matter. That’s why they’re used everyday to tell stories ranging from why a few dollars from you per month can help starving children in a Third World country, or why you not having life-saving training costs loved ones their lives each year. You need your entire organization on board, from staff, to board members, to executive directors. Conservation is a competitive space. Stories told every day win supporters and champions.

What do you want your audience to feel?

This is one of the essential questions you have to answer when planning your story. Stories can evoke a range of emotions: anger, sadness, compassion, empathy, joy, hope, or a feeling of “Yes, I want to do this!” Whatever it is, you must identify the desired emotion you seek. That will help you stay focused on crafting the story to achieve its goal, and cut out the fluff that doesn’t. If you don’t identify the desired emotion, how can you plan the outcome?

What are you going to do with the video?

To be honest, it’s downright sad to see a video get created, money spent, and then it’s posted once and that’s the end of the story (or at least using that particular video). You need a plan and strategy for leveraging that video. Or else it is wasted money. You need to figure out: Which platforms will be used and why? YouTube? Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Could you tweak it for different platforms? (Hint: You probably should!) What’s your marketing plan? Oh, and don’t forget about building suspense too. How can you increase interest and tweak excitement before your story actually rolls out? Creating a sense of anticipation is part of marketing. I love having enough footage of customers so that I can carve up that footage into many smaller videos as time goes on. I call that evergreen footage because it can be used in so many different ways and it’s super economical for my clients.

How will you measure the success of your storytelling videos?

Can we all just please stop saying Likes are a measure of success. Ugh. They might help but there’s more. There are website clicks. Retweets. Paid advertising. Watch time statistics galore. Shares. Subscribers vs non subscribers. Tracking your call-to-action, whatever it is. Never forget that a great story should help make people do an action. You need to plan for that action. And then measure, measure, measure!

Gregg McLachlan
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