When I woke up and looked at my phone on December 4th, I uttered a few of my favorite four letter words and burst out of bed to get dressed. The reason for this outburst being that it was just past 6 in the morning and I needed to be at Hampton High School (in Hampton, AR naturally) by 7:30 to meet the general manager of Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corporation (OECC), Mark Cayce. Our purpose that day was to educate several classes of high school students on how the HELP (Home Energy Lending Program) works and the benefits of better home energy efficiency.
By some miracle, I managed to make it to the high school on time. A few minutes later the bell for first period rang and the students trickled into the room. We were introduced to the class by their teacher and then the floor was turned over to us.
Know that when I say it went poorly, I have an extraordinary gift for understatement.
The presentation that we were using had been built primarily as a tool for educating homeowners, so many of the benefits were presented in terms of how the program would help them save money on their bills. Of course, those kinds of benefits are less interesting to someone who doesn’t pay the bills or own the home i.e. high school students. As a result, the students who attended the first presentation were visibly disengaged from the material we were presenting. By the end of the period, it was apparent to everyone involved that almost nothing we had said sank in.
We quickly realized that the previous event would almost certainly repeat itself if we didn’t change our approach to the presentation. We thought that instead of simply giving the students the canned presentation we had, we would attempt to emphasize the story of the program and its participants. There was an almost palpable change in atmosphere with the remaining presentations that day. By presenting the personal effects and benefits (beyond the financial) of the program, the audience was able to create a kind of personal investment in seeing the program succeed.
Looking back on those presentations, I’m reminded of another event that took place at a conference in Atlanta I attended with one of my supervisors. She was participating in a panel on the use of on-bill financing as a way of making energy efficiency retrofits more accessible. The other members of the panel all had a variety of slides and empirical information prepared for the panel and all presented them in a very concise, clear, and proven way. They were also very cold. So, when my supervisor instead told the audience a story, with just one slide of information to back her story up, she, quite frankly, blew the rest of the panel away.
She simply told them the story of how HELP came to be and did so with such passion and fervor that the rest of the audience couldn’t help but pay attention and get emotionally invested in what she was saying. Obviously empirical evidence that backs up that story is important, but in the past few months I’ve found that it works much better when you use it as an exclamation point to a great story than it does on its own.
Evan Harper graduated from Austin College in Sherman, TX with a BA in Economics (Minor in Mathematics) in 2014, after spending a year at the London School of Economics. Prior to joining Energy Corps, Evan researched how power dynamics affect pollution rates. Evan is serving with the Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corporation (OECC) and the CCI HEAL Office at the Clinton Foundation in a program promoting improved energy efficiency through home energy retrofits and investments.