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The 5 C’s of Powerful Conservation Storytelling

How to tell better conservation stories

The 5 C’s of Powerful Conservation Storytelling

Everyone loves an inspiring story. The best ones all have something in common: They pull at our emotions. It might be a story in a book, magazine, a movie, or a documentary.

An inspiring story is memorable because it achieves three things:

It makes us feel something.

It connects to us.

And we relate to it.

When your conservation organization consistently uses these key ingredients of great storytelling, it helps build your brand, and most importantly, your brand personality and ethos among your target audience. That’s a key part of building connection.

If you want to win over donors, supporters, attract employees and volunteers, champions on social media, etc., you need to use these unique characteristics of what makes awesome stories.

The secret sauce to powerful storytelling is the Five C’s.

Characters. Are they relatable?

People are humans. Really? Tell me something else that’s obvious! You usually need the human element in your story for one gigantic reason: Humans want to feel a connection to other humans. Those emotions can be varied. They can be love. They might even make people want to be more like you. And that’s why I love seeing organizations use their own people — real people! — in videos. It’s way more believable than hiring actors to ‘act’ like you. Ask yourself this – Are the characters in your conservation story relatable? But wait a minute, what about the animals! Bingo! That brings us to another massively important character: Wildlife. Nature-loving audiences love, love, love stories about wildlife. Have you ever watched a nature documentary about the epic wildbeest migration in Africa and cheered when the main character — one specific wildebeest — completes the epic journey and overcomes obstacles after obstacles (think: floods, lions, crocodiles, cheetahs!) to do so? It’s one example of a character-driven story that uses an animal as the main character.

Circumstance. Do you have context?

Circumstance is one of the most vital parts of good storytelling. In fact, it’s critical. Without circumstance, you run the risk of losing viewers fast. That’s because circumstance provides the context of your story. It sets the scene. It tells your audience the where, when, who and why of your story. If you leave out circumstance, there’s a very good chance that viewers will not understand your story. When viewers feel lost as they watch a story, they often abandon watching or listening to the story. How many times have you started watching a movie and gave up because you felt lost?

Conversations. Will people be talking about it?

OK, so what’s the big deal about creating an emotional reaction anyways? A lot! When people watch or listen to something that evokes emotion, stuff happens. They talk about it. They share it. Every great story is a great story because of the feelings it created within us. Every time you make someone feel something the odds skyrocket that they will repeat your story to someone else.

Conflict. Think problem and solution!

Every time I suggest that conflict is a big key to storytelling, I get strange looks. “Ooh, that’s too controversial!” people will say. “There’s no conflict to this story!” others muse. Conflict is that one element that organizations think they need to avoid at all cost. But the cold truth is that without conflict, many stories would not exist. Conflict is the problem. It’s the reason for the story. If you tell your story right, your conflict problem will also be a problem that others can identify with. Is that conflict problem something that a person needs a solution for? The conflict element in your story is also your answer to the problem. It might also be an ah ha moment for your audience. Pssst! That’s an emotional reaction too! But always tread carefully here with the element of conflict or problem when it comes to conservation messaging. Has your audience already been overwhelmed with this same type of message in previous stories about your topic? You may want to rearrange your story flow and place conflict further into your story line, and instead open with hope.

Curiosity. How are you keeping the audience interested?

And lastly we have the most important of the five C’s of conservation storytelling. People are impatient today. If you’re not holding their attention, they say bye-bye. Don’t believe me? Look at your video analytics on Facebook or YouTube. Don’t be surprised if audiences on average watch less than 30 seconds of your videos. That’s bad news if your videos are typically five minutes. If you’re using curiosity as an element in your videos, you will draw audiences in and keep them interested. Curiosity is best explained this way: We get curious when there is a gap between what we know and what we want to know. A great example is a Brown-headed cowbird. “Did you know that Canada has a bird that fools other birds into raising its babies?” What!? Uh!? That one sentence piques the interest of an audience. People want to know more about this bird that apparently is so uninterested in being a parent that it fluffs off parenthood to other unsuspecting birds! You’ve instantly established the element of curiosity. People now feel compelled to listen or watch to learn the answer.

The next time you start the process of planning a story, or creating a video or podcast, begin by integrating the five C’s of conservation storyrtelling. You will greatly increase the odds of your story being memorable, making people feel something, and inspiring people to share it!

Gregg McLachlan
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