Today Peter is in Sheffield talking to the Chartered Institute of Ecologists and Environmental Managers. He will say that communication skills should be seen as essential to the environmental profession. I wish I could be there; he was great in rehersal.
This is the blog of the talk.
He is talking to a group of professionals who care, usually passionately, about the value of ecology. He will make the case that we need to engage more people with that care and ideally, that passion. This is a communication issue. In this Age of Communication ecologists need to harness the tools of persuasive and compelling communication.
There are plenty of very savvy communicators around. Nature conservation needs to use their skills and insights to communicate with a wider public. Peter’s talk and this blog will focus on that.
Note that he is NOT talking about communicating with volunteers, members, supporters, recorders, campaigners – vital though they are. He could, but he won’t, because they need different communication. (There is a blog about that in the pipeline.)
He is also NOT talking about communicating with decision-makers, politicians and strategists – vital though they are too. He could, but he won’t, because they need different communication again.
He is talking about this triangle and the importance of:
People focus – keeping your eyes and mind on your audience
Good messages – being strong, clear, relevant and resonant
First hand experience – because the most powerful things are up close and personal
Together, these can lead to increased understanding and support for ecology and wildlife conservation
Focus on people
Communication is about People. Obviously. All great communicators (from actors to storytellers to advertisers to teachers to preachers) focus on them. They get to know them and what they like. They adapt what they say and how they say it.
The easiest people to communicate with are people like us. That takes little effort. Ecologists and environmental managers, the nature conservation movement as a whole has probably done that. Now comes the challenge of communicating with people who are not like us.
Happily, we are now better equipped to know what they are like. Not least because of the work that some leading conservation bodies (e.g. RSPB, National Trust and WWT) have done. This has shown that not only are these people not like us, they are not like each other either.
People are diverse and have different reasons for wanting contact with nature. These include: wanting to find out more about something they are already interested in, having enjoyable memorable times with other people, experiencing beauty, and having new experiences.
This means that straight information and scientific explanations are not sufficient. We need a range of approaches to communicate successfully with different people.
If so many people have agendas that are not primarily about what you want to tell them, they are likely to have limited time and attention for it. Having a good message that you (that means everyone in your organisation!) are absolutely clear about means you use that finite time and attention well.
So work on your messages. Make them simple, resonant and worthwhile.
Then communicate them well.
Look around you at advertisements on the web to see examples of clever people grabbing and stretching the interest and attention of people with low motivation. It can be done. We can use their tricks and techniques. We can communicate with:
- powerful images
- experiential references
- humanity (including people stories).
Our leading environmental organisations have begun using these approaches.
Positive messages, linked to calls to action are vital.
Experiences matter. They move people and change perspectives. Watch people in nature. Ask them about what they like doing and why. Share their experiences. This is a two way street – in a natural world that is (yes, still) full of life-enhancing wonders.
Encourage, value and harness different aspects of experience – including emotional responses, aesthetic sense, creativity and spirituality.
It sounds simple. You may well have heard it before. Focussing long enough and hard enough on these things and, maybe even more importantly the relationship between them can be transformative.
Remember if we want majority support, we must speak the language of the majority.
Effective communication about ecology is a strategically important issue for securing the future life on our planet. Learning and adopting better communication skills should become an important priority for professional ecologists and environmental managers