My first attempt at performing spoken word poetry was a 'eureka' moment that demonstrated this fact. In 2010 I was working for an environmental NGO in Canada on a programme which involved encouraging people to conserve water in their homes. I went about my job armed with an arsenal of environmental and economic reasoning for using less water, a slickly produced booklet and a PowerPoint presentation full of fun facts and tips.
Sometimes my presentations were well received; people were polite and took home a copy of the booklet ready to get to work saving water in their homes. But many appeared bored, and I felt uneasy about claims I had read about the failure of many recent government campaigns that sought to change behaviour.
In his book Fostering Sustainable Behaviour: An Introduction to Community Based Social Marketing, Canadian environmental psychologist Dr Doug McKenzie-Mohr explores how information-heavy campaigns rooted in fact and reason often fall flat and do not achieve positive change. He attributes these failures to the fact that campaigns often ignore the realities of psychology and social interaction. He talks about how people are more likely to change their behaviour to live in a more sustainable manner, if friends, family or colleagues are already doing so. He also emphasizes the importance of using captivating information to appeal to your audience.
Having recently read his book, I thought I would try some of these techniques to get my water conservation message out there in a different way. The result is the poem linked above.
Firstly I told story about my own personal experience in putting myself on a month-long water diet: 25 litres a day for everything. I mean EVERYTHING. Cooking, cleaning, drinking, laundry, bathing, flushing... By way of contrast, where I live in Wellington, the average person uses 230 litres of water per day. American's average over 400 litres of water per day.
Secondly, I used captivating imagery to encourage people to think about what it would be like to have severely limited access to water - emotively explaining my frustrations at accidentally spilling my heated bathing water and painting a picture of a woman in a developing country who has to walk huge distances each day to gather water for her family.
It is in these elements of storytelling that the true power lies. After I performed this poem to a crowded bar, I had people in the community coming up to me months later telling me how they had changed their habits to be more water-wise. People would tell me of their own innovative stories - catching water in a bucket as the shower heated up in order to water their plants later, turning the tap off when they brushed their teeth and having shorter showers (it was amazing and a little weird how many people told me that they had been thinking of me and my poem in the shower that morning...)
I had managed to achieve in a personal, vivid and entertaining performance, that which I had been struggling to do in my every day job - that is to capture an audience, deliver a message and have them remember it days, weeks, even months later.
I attribute this to the power of effective storytelling.
What's your story?