Part of my role at Wellington Zoo is to train interpreters on how to deliver experiences, such as guided tours. Looking at the feedback I give out most often, I found it could easily be summarised into these five tips for success. I’d like to share these with you… consider it an early Christmas gift!
- Have a theme and stick with it
When faced with so many potential topics to fit into a guided tour, having a strong theme will keep it in line. A good theme anchors the tour and keeps you from listing facts, which can make it feel disjointed. Stories keep people connected and the experience will continue upon itself until it culminates at the end.
- Engage with everyone in your group
There tends to be one or two people who are more dominant in a guided tour than the rest of their group. We are naturally inclined to focus our energy on the people who are giving energy back. However, if too much singular focus is given to these enthusiastic participants, the rest of the group will start to disengage because they don’t feel welcome to these one-on-one conversations. Don’t let these two people be the only ones who have a great guided tour. I encourage interpreters to speak to the whole group from the front to the very back and answer one person’s questions as if they were asked by the whole group. I also encourage them to only continue once the whole group has caught up to the next stopping point. You want to avoid kicking off at the next spot until everyone is able to listen. Having informal conversations with the front people until the group reforms is the nice way to keep the energy up. Focus on keeping the group together and move at a speed that slower members can keep up with so that no one misses out.
- Avoid reading off a script
The way we write and the way we speak often don’t go hand in hand. When interpreters read off cards, it is hard to be dynamic, present, and make eye contact. Reading downward toward your hand appears like an introverted action i.e. the energy is going inward instead of out to the group. People don’t feel welcome into sharing this experience. It feels more organic to have learned the content to be shared beforehand and then speak conversationally. Remember that practice makes perfect! Practise with your notes in your back pocket to give you confidence until you don’t need them there anymore. The most successful tours are the ones that are well-prepared: know what you want to say, how you want to say it, and how you want it to be received.
- Listen to your group
Knowing when the group wants to pause and take something in and when they want to move on is an underrated skill. Sometimes the tour group enthusiastically wants to go see something that the guide wasn’t intending to include, or wants to spend time in one exhibit longer than had been planned. Listen to the wants and needs of the group. If the whole group is keen to spend more time in one area, make other areas a bit shorter to accommodate the delay. Don’t feel so stuck into a scripted tour that you can’t engage the group with their own interests. Try to take that enthusiasm for the topic they’re interested in and weave it back into your theme. A tour feels really solid when the guide can make the detours link into their theme just as strongly as the intended stops.
- Keep Momentum
We’ve all been on tours or seen tours where half of the group is yawning and perching on the closest flat surface waiting to move on. Adults try to hide their boredom out of politeness, but children aren’t embarrassed to yawn or wander off or even lie down in the middle of a pathway (yes, I have seen this happen!). That sleepy energy is contagious. Keeping the momentum of the tour and having lots of dynamic engagement strategies is the best way to prevent a group from fading. When in doubt, err on the side of pace. By “pace” I mean keep it short and sweet. Avoid rambling speeches. Speak with clear intentions. It is never too late to regain your group’s interest.