New interpretive module: Giving Great Guided Tours

It’s interesting that some of our best modules come out of museum’s specific requests. In this case, Barbara’s new workplace, the Kauri Museum had a specific need. They only had two staff-members who knew how to give an introductory tour to the frankly massive facility, yet demand was only increasing.

Tom sat down with Barbara and discussed their situation. They had multiple staff, many with no public speaking or tour-guiding experience. Everyone was interested in learning, but weren’t sure where to start. A previous attempt at providing a tour script focused on a list of facts and demanded each person stick strictly to the script.

We came up with a four part training plan. We decided first to start with Interpretation 101, a one hour module to give the staff the basics. In that presentation, we focus on interpretation as revelation and on ensuring that your interpretation reflects your visitor’s experience. This is designed for newcomers to the field of heritage interpetation, and uses personal examples and exercises.

Then we took a few other exercises we had and combined them into a new module, GIVING GREAT GUIDED TOURS, which was delivered to the staff last week.

We started by discussing the myriad of interpretive opportunities, from unstructured “docent-style” interpretation, demonstrations, and tours. What are the strengths of a tour, and when should you use it over other interpretive methods? What are the elements of good tours and what are the things to avoid?

Then using Sam Ham and NAI’s POETRY (Purposeful, Organized, Enjoyable, Thematic, Relevant, and You) evaluation tool, we watched some recorded tours and practiced evaluating them as a group. We discussed how purposeful tours can be and how effectively they can accomplish a museum’s mission. But also that each tour had to fit the guide’s strengths and passions (the Y or You part of POETRY).

As with all North Wind modules, we gave them a number of worksheets, tools, videos, and other materials to take their learning to the next level.

A few days after the module, the staff shadowed an Introductory tour that Tom had written for the Kauri Museum based on the information they gave him. It reflected all the elements they had learned about: revelation; POETRY; making interpretation purposeful; and flexibility.

Next week they’ll complete the training by giving their own tours. The participants are encouraged to embrace their newness to the world of interpretation. Visitors don’t mind it when you say “I don’t know.” And they understand if you want to tell them that this is your first tour. Notes on index cards are completely fine!

We’re confident that these neophyte guides are ready to give great guided tours and have all the tools they need to start strong and keep getting better.

If you want to improve your institution’s guided tours, this is the module for you. Contact us to discuss this module, another prepared one, or any custom training you desire.


Length: 1 hour

Recommended audience: 3-15 persons

Delivered via: Zoom, Google Meets, in Person

Tours are one of the standard tools in your interpretive repertoire. But heritage tours have the perilous potential to be boring, bad, and/or ineffective. In one hour, we can give you tools to turn your tour dial up to 11. We’ll discuss what makes tours rock, what makes them suck, and when to use them. Then we’ll use NAI’s POETRY model of program evaluation to drive the point home with practical examples. This is a perfect complement to Interpretation 101 (above).

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