7 Questions for a Conservation Storyteller: Ben Cecil

In a digital era where humans process a staggering 74 gigabytes of information daily—equivalent to reading JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” each day—the challenge lies in cutting through the noise. The ability to convey vital conservation messages in a way that resonates with audiences is a nuanced art.
We sat down with Ben Cecil, the seasoned Conservation Storyteller and founder of UPG Video, the creative force behind Texan by Nature’s Conservation Wrangler videos. Ben shared the emotional aspects of storytelling and shed light on often-overlooked details from his experiences at the forefront of conservation communication.

In a world saturated with information, what strategies do you find most effective in capturing and maintaining the audience’s attention when communicating conservation messages?
Emotion. I use it whenever possible. Stories are about characters. Characters are people. People are emotional creatures. This includes the audience. The science and process behind every conservation success are important, but for it to connect with an audience on a human level, it needs emotion—in the soundbites, in the music, in the b-roll. That’s why most Conservation Wrangler videos begin with a character speaking about how she/he feels.

Video produced by UPG Video for 2019 Conservation Wrangler, RGV Reef Restoration.

How do you approach communicating with audiences who may not initially see the relevance of environmental issues to their daily lives?
We try to make them feel like they’re a part of the story. Good storytelling accomplishes this, in my opinion. I like to find common ground with the audience and make the story about that thing. This is where a good main character helps. A good main character is a true audience surrogate. The audience will see things through their eyes—the high stakes, the solutions, the impact, the legacy.When the audience feels like they are a part of the solution… you get buy-in. Who doesn’t love buy-in?

Video produced by UPG Video for 2023 Conservation Wrangler, Hill Country Night Sky Program.

What is an important part of the storytelling process that is often overlooked?
Character Research. (“character” refers to anyone who provides any kind of personal perspective in a story.) Most people we interview on-camera are speaking to us for the third, fourth or even fifth time. This helps us get a good feel for our video participants before we even think about a video shoot. What do they care about? Why? Where did they grow up? How would they describe their world? What do they want their legacy to be? By spending time with them (even if via phone call), you also make them comfortable with you. Afterall, authenticity is an important aspect of any video interview. It’s tough to be authentic and speak from the heart when you’re uncomfortable.

Can you share a lesson learned in your journey as a conservation storyteller?
Never wear shorts to a duck hunt. Haha. My team and I did this on a Conservation Wrangler video shoot in 2019. Huge mosquitos. Big mistake. And I knew better.

For anyone who might want to use conservation storytelling in the future, what can they do now to prepare?
Take lots of pictures. Shoot a lot of cell phone videos (shoot landscape, please). Don’t try to be perfect. Just gather visuals. Some of our favorite conservation storytelling videos use photos and video from somebody’s cell phone.

When you reflect on more than five years of Conservation Wrangler storytelling, what are some thoughts that stand out?
There are more amazing people out there than I ever imagined. And they are busy!
Good people doing great things will always make for a great story.

Video produced by UPG Video for 2023 Conservation Wrangler, Caddo Lake Institute.

Are there any emerging communication trends that you find particularly promising for the future?
Everyone is a creator. This is awesome. And it’s just the beginning. It’s never been easier for an individual to amplify a message (via social media). In recent years, I’ve been able to connect with storytellers and do-gooders from all over the world. I follow their work. I watch their stories. Again, there are so many good people out there doing great things. I think the more we all feel connected, the better off we are.

Texan by Nature’s vision is for every business, every Texan to participate in conservation and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation for the world.
We’re grateful to Ben Cecil, UPG Video, and the many storytelling professionals that help connect people to conservation. Learn more about Conservation Wrangler, TxN’s 18 month conservation accelerator program featured in Ben’s videos, here. And keep an eye out for more insight from other conservation storytelling professionals to come.

More About Ben Cecil
Ben is the owner and lead storyteller at UPG Video. UPG has been creating video content since 2008. Whether it’s cinematic storytelling, commercials or B2B content, UPG’s fidelity to process has always helped clients connect with their audience.