Shaping stories to save the world: The movie

Story shapes header

How do we get our messages out? How do we stop preaching to the converted?

These questions are asked at lots of workshops on conservation and science communication. We can send our messages across the world using Facebook and Twitter, but most struggle to be seen in the flood of competing stories.

Last month I gave the opening talk at the wonderful Biodiversity Across The Borders conference, hosted by Federation University in Ballarat. My talk was called Shaping Stories to Save the World and suggested ways to make our messages more engaging.

The video of the talk is available online thanks to the great work by Federation University staff. I have embedded a copy above. It is hosted on the university’s video page, which also includes a great talk on conservation in urban areas by Associate Professor Sarah Bekessy. More conference talks will be posted on the video page in coming weeks. You can find all of the Ballarat conference talks by searching for “biodiversity” in their video keyword list.

Get yourself a cuppa and some popcorn, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. I hope you find it fun and informative. Best wishes Ian

15 thoughts

  1. Ian, an excellent way to start an ecology conference. I could justify watching your talk in work time – hence no popcorn – since it will help my work. Well done!

  2. A lot of fantastic food for thought there Ian – thanks for sharing on your blog. Now we can go and change the world!

  3. Two great video’s Ian & Sarah, thanks for making them public. Story: last week I took a 100x scale “Brush-tailed Phascogale” (made from cardboard packing cartons + with elder permission) to Naidoc celebrations, Barmah Forest. Almost no-one had heard of Tuan. I spent most of my day trying to explain what I knew about them, and I’m no ecologist. My point is average Aussies at Coles (esp. city) check-outs have no way of relating to ‘grasslands’ or other endangered system/species. We have cryptic, nocturnal and subtle, not in your face African or American full-on-prime-TV species (your competition). I would hate to have to explain legless lizard importance to a young couple about to embark on their dream home in Werribee. Maybe what I’m suggesting is, science SHOULD continue to preach to the converted like me(and keep the information coming) There are passionate, creative people out there willing to convey your message.

    1. Hi Artlikker, thanks for writing in and for your great work in getting the word out there. I couldn’t agree more that we have to keep on “preaching to the converted”. Otherwise, to continue the religious analogy, “the converted lapse”. I tried to stress this point late in the video. I was mostly concerned with pointing out that we need to do more than this, and we need to shape our stories better when we try to reach beyond the converted – as you did with your gigantic Tuan! Thanks again and best wishes Ian

  4. This has been on my mind for some time. A critical mass of “preaching” is necessary before the ideas flood out to the whole of a society. It seems things have to turn to poo before people look for those answers. If we have a body of answers ready to go then there might be cause for hope.

    1. Hello Jon, thanks for sharing your thoughts. We can only provide “answers” to the questions that people ask. We could frame our challenge in a slightly different way as, “what can we do now so that, when things turn to poo, many people ask the type of questions for which our ‘answers’ are appropriate?” Unfortunately that is an even bigger challenge for us all. Best wishes, and thank you for linking the blog to your site. Best wishes Ian

  5. Thanks Ian for an illuminating talk, I particularly liked how you demonstrated that negative stories are mostly read by the converted. At this stage I am so sick and tired of hammers that I use mostly hooks in my stories – as you might have gathered from my blog. I’m trying to turn people onto nature – and probably give myself a bit of a break too – by omitting the hammers altogether. Mostly because I am wondering, if people start to care, will the hammers become obvious anyway? What do you think? I suspect hammers make many readers / viewers turn off at any stage of a story, especially if they feel that entertainment is being turned into a sermon. I think we need to somehow get under people’s skin, without them knowing it. Cheers, Paula

    1. Hi Paula, thanks for a great comment. I think you’re dead right. Ultimately it probably all comes down to shared values: as soon as our values clash, we instantly turn off, no matter how “important” the message might be. Your comment reminded me of a question I posed in blog post a couple of years ago: “The greater challenge is: how do we impart a corpus of knowledge, an entire discipline, in short, sharp clips? How do we teach ‘Plant Ecology 101’ in 500 word grabs, 2-minute videos and podcasts? More importantly, how do we do this so readers don’t realize what we just did?”
      I guess we need to keep trying in lots of different ways as there’s no one right way that attracts everyone. Thanks again, and thanks too for all your great blog posts. Best wishes Ian

  6. Hi Ian, This is a very well structured, clear and informative talk on an enormously important topic. There is little point in scientists and environmentalists doing what they do if the general population and those with money and power cannot engage with or understand the issues at play!
    I am an oral storyteller and have recently added to my storytelling teaching “Green Storytelling”. One impediment is the constant assumption that storytelling is just for kids.
    If you have time, I have written Linked In posts on the topic: ‘Green Stories & The Hero’s Journey ‘
    and a video interview was also made of me explaining the main concepts in the post
    ‘Green Storytelling for the igeneration.’
    Thanks for your work.

    1. Hello Jenni, thanks for writing in, I’m glad you liked the video. Thanks for mentioning your LinkedIn resources too, I look forward to reading them and watching your interview. The work you and others do in this field is fantastically important, I hope it continues to go well. Thanks again and best wishes Ian

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