© Rod Abson

Do you have a love story to tell?

World Heritage sites represent some of the most amazing places in the world, both, for their natural and cultural values. So how would you help someone experience your favourite World Heritage site if they’ve never been there before? What would you want to communicate and how would you get your message across? How do you want them to feel about this World Heritage site?

It’s important to be able to communicate effectively in order to share feelings, experiences, ideas or goals with others. Too often, when we want to communicate about biodiversity, nature or the environment in general, we get caught up with the negative issues, the problems, what is being lost, all of the difficulties that are facing the world and the storm on the horizon. Let’s flip that around and start to describe the positive issues, match challenges with solutions, show people what is so amazing about nature and help paint a positive future that includes what you want to see; after all, the future is still to be created.

The essence of this was captured in a short film, ‘Love. Not Loss.’ (available from the IUCN YouTube channel), that was developed by the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication (IUCN CEC) in collaboration with the Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat, Futerra, Wild-Screen and award winning producer Jeremy Bristow. It contrasts the ‘doom and gloom’ messages about ecological destruction with the awe and wonder that can be found locally in natural places all over the world. It is this meaningful connection with nature that we develop as children which is so important in shaping our attitudes as adults. We need to be able to help more people create that connection with and love of nature. We need love stories about nature that are captivating, inspiring, and that people can relate to.

So, how will you tell your love story about nature? Start with yourself, and imagine you are at your World Heritage site. Where exactly are you? What can you see, feel, smell, touch or even taste? What are the colours, the temperature, the time of the year, the time of the day? Who is with you and why are you there? What are the animals, plants and natural features that surround you? Have you discovered something, learned something new or helped someone else to explore the place? Is there a particular event or occasion that is special to this place?

Now that you have the place clearly in your mind, you can start to play with the elements of a good love story about nature.

You can bring in characters, such as describing in more detail the people you are with, or the animals you see and the kinds of characters they have – are they cheeky, sleepy, or perhaps curious? What are they doing and why?

Now, every good story has a change, a climax or a moment when something big happens. What’s the big moment you have in your story? If there was a challenge to the place you’re describing, how was it overcome? Were there ‘good guys’ or heroes (people or creatures)? What happened as a result?

Now think about what will happen next. What are you inviting people to do in the future? Is there a particular action that people can take, is there something they can change, something they can do? People want to feel like they’re a part of something successful, helpful and inspirational.

So, now that you have a story in mind, you need to be clear about who you’re communicating to and what approaches you’ll take. Try to get an idea of who your audience is and tailor your story to their needs. For example, communicating to young children can require particular skills. Are you communicating in writing, will you be making a poster, video, show photographs, can you take someone to the place, or can you evoke their senses by inviting them to see, touch, hear, smell and taste things from your World Heritage site. How much time will you have to tell your story? Try creating an elevator pitch version of your story, where you can tell the substance of your story in 30 seconds (about the amount of time it would take to meet someone in an elevator and ride to the top
floor of a building). Or write it down so that it fits into a 140 character tweet on Twitter. This will help you to narrow down the focus of your story so that you can describe the plot in a short amount of time and then invite people to learn more.

Finally, how will you spread your story so that your message reaches out to many people? Can you use social media,such as Facebook and Twitter? Can you get into the media with a newspaper article, a radio interview or onto a website (or many)? Are there community events that you can join in, or groups of people that may be interested for you to come and talk to them about your captivating stories?

Your World Heritage Site has many amazing stories to be told. Be positive, help people to
explore and discover the place that you love, be creative in your communication, clear in
your message and invite people to share in the awe and wonder of nature. It’s your turn
to tell your love story about nature.

For more information about the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication, visit: www.iucn.org/cec or email Rod Abson: cec@iucn.org

Rod Abson is Knowledge Management Officer in the Science and Knowledge Management team of IUCN, based in its global Headquarters in Switzerland. This team provides the Secretariat support for the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication (CEC), for which Rod is the Focal Point. The CEC is a global volunteer network of over 1,000 people with expertise in communication, education, capacity development amongst many other skills that are applied in support of the IUCN programme.