Had the most fascinating conversation with an expert in audience segmentation who is an oceanographer and thinks deeply about climate change communications. For our climate message to reach someone in a way that impacts their behavior, he said we need to be entrenched in the minds of the audience member we want to reach and be willing to change our story and language so it is created in that audience member’s mind in the way we want and need it to be. In this way, our story is not our story in the traditional sense. Our story is the imprint we want the audience member to experience and visualize when they hear our story.
He gave me this analogy: if someone wants to send a microwave signal across the city of Los Angeles, that signal will be distorted and filtered between the start and end points. Therefore, the person sending the signal needs to re-engineer the signal they send so the signal at the end point is what they want it to be.
Our stories are no different. They are filtered through an audience member’s language, prior life experience, biases, hopes, wants, needs, and fears. This is information that isn’t and can’t be aligned with an audience member’s base demographics that are easy to collect. Understanding an audience member on this level requires deep, intense, curious, and radically empathetic listening, a skill that is sadly in short supply in today’s world.
We also need to let go of the idea that there is one story to communicate one goal or one experience to a general audience. This understanding of the audience requires us as storytellers in any form to develop a library of stories that will reach audiences that are more thoroughly and thoughtfully segmented.
How to do this is the crux of my dissertation for University of Cambridge. I don’t know the answers yet, but I’m excited to find out as this dissertation unfolds. My hope is that my research will move the ball forward for the climate community in a way that benefits all beings.