Giving A Great Guided! Tour MAA Conference 2010
June 4, 2010 Nikki Lober and Kathy Farretta, Riordan Mansion State Park
1. What is Interpretation “Interpretation facilitates a connection between the meanings of the
resource and the interests of the visitor.” -- Freeman Tilden
2. Taking Care of the Visitors’ Needs
a. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
---“Change my life!”
---“Show me the beauty.”
---“Connect the facts: How does
this relate to my life?”
-“Give me positive reinforcement”
---“Get to know me.”
---“Treat me with respect, don’t
---“How long is the tour?”
“Where are the restrooms?”
b. Active Listening: Learn to listen for the question the visitor is actually asking….i.e. Q: “Did the
Riordans have an electrical generator on the property?” A: The visitor really wants to know
where the electricity came from, so the answer is, “They were connected to the city system.”
c. Good Customer Service Habits
3. Building your Tour: Tour Guide Preparation
A. POETRY keep these ideas in mind as you create your tour
i. P – Purposeful
ii. O – Organized
iii. E – Enjoyable
iv. T – Thematic
v. R – Relevant
vi. Y – You
i. Interpreting Our Heritage by Freeman Tilden
ii. Interpreting for Park Visitors by William J. Lewis
iii. The Good Guide: A Sourcebook for Interpreters, Docents, and Tour Guides by Alison L.
Grinder and E. Sue McCoy
iv. The Interpreter’s Guidebook: Techniques for Programs and Presentations by Kathleen
Regnier, Michael Gross, and Ron Zimmerman
v. Great Tours! Thematic Tour and Guide Training for Historic Sites by Barbara Abramoff
Levy, Sandra Mackenzie Lloyd, Susan Porter Schreiber
vi. Interpretation of Historic Sites by William T. Alderson and Shirley Payne Low
C. Follow experienced tour guides
4. Creating Your Own Theme “The Nugget”
a. Goals - what do you want the program accomplish
b. Objectives - what the visitor will do as a result of your interpretive efforts
c. Theme - the purpose of the presentation (the important ideas found in your Museum/Park)
i. The theme of your tour weaves together the facts to convey the important messages
you want the visitors to remember.
ii. Checklist for your theme:
1. Is my theme a complete sentence?
2. Does my theme tell an important story about this site that will enrich the visitor’s
3. Is this a theme that my audience can relate to?
4. Is this a theme I personally care about?
5. Finally, if visitors were asked what my talk was about, would they be able to
identify my theme?
“There are several advantages to using a theme. One of the most important of these is that it
limits the subject being covered, and thus encourages unified, in-depth interpretation. The use
of a theme can steer you away from such things as: mere ticking off of dates, giving lists of
happenings, making identifications with no reference to context. By wording a theme you
narrow and refine your topic.” -- Interpreting for Park Visitors William J. Lewis
5. Taking Your Tour To the Next Level
“Artifacts and useful objects are a part of all recorded history. They are devised,
invented, and made as adjuncts to the human being’s ability to accomplish work or
enjoy pleasure. A close examination of any object is a graphic description of the
level of intelligence, manual dexterity, and artistic comprehension of the civilization
that produced it. It can reflect, as well, the climate, religious beliefs, form of
government, the natural materials at hand, the structure of commerce, and the extent
of man’s scientific and emotional sophistication.” --R. Latham, “The Artifact as
Cultural Cipher, “ in Who Designs America? quoted in Thomas J. Schlereth,
Artifacts and the American Past
6. Keeping Your Tour Fresh
a. Follow up: After you have given several tours follow on another tour to get new ideas to freshen
up your tour
i. Participate in other interpretive programming opportunities to gain knowledge, ideas,
techniques and enthusiasm from your peers.
b. Keep doing research--new information keeps your tour fresh
i. New info enhances your tour Accuracy
ii. Constant research helps prevent “Information Drift”
c. Do whatever it takes for you to stay excited about your tour
d. Ask Questions
i. …but don’t ask questions if they won’t know the answer.
ii. Do ask non-threatening questions:
1. Observation “What do you think this room was used for?”
2. Experience “What would it be like to mash potatoes with this?”
3. Compare “Does this look like your refrigerator at home?”
4. Evaluate “How effective is this air circulation system?”
5. Opinion “What is your favorite room, and why?”
6. Imagine “Can you imagine the sounds of the neighborhood in 1904? Would there
be cars? What noises do horses make? How about the mill whistle?”
e. Use the senses
i. “Imagine this home full of piano music and singing”
ii. “Taste this blade of grass”
iii. “Smell the Ponderosa Pine, does it smell like vanilla or butterscotch”
iv. “Touch this pine cone, is it surprising how light it is?”
7. Tour Logistics
a. Assessing a Group for a tour
i. Determining ability to do the tour (Talk to individuals directly that may have difficulty on
1. Make sure all visitors are aware of the length and challenges of the tour.
2. Identify individuals who may have difficulty with the physical requirements of
3. Look for canes, limps, slow unsteady walking
4. Trouble standing for the length of the tour
ii. Difficulty Hearing
1. Note behavior which might indicate hearing difficulty, such as their friend
speaking loudly to them, asking you to repeat, hearing aids.
2. Speak directly to person, keep them near you if you can, don’t “walk and talk”
3. Electro Voice
iii. Make sure people get the opportunity to go to the restroom and get a drink. (Watch for
dehydration—all year round.)
b. Staying on Schedule
i. Start on Time!
ii. Keep on Schedule without pressuring the group
1. Pace yourself (Don’t tell the visitors you are giving them a “quick” tour)
2. Picking only two or three things per room to talk about.
3. Don’t “walk and talk
iii. Beware of Indulgence
“Take charge in a positive manner. The people expect you to be the leader,
and a listless, uncertain beginning will weaken your creditability.”
-- William J. Lewis, Interpreting for Park Visitors
8. Concluding Your Tour
a. Wrap up with a summary statement
b. Orient the group to where they are located versus where you started
c. Thank your group
i. You may announce that you will be available for further questions
1. This lets people know they can now leave
2. It also allows more interested people to get you undivided attention
9. Some Tips About Visitors from Lewis, Interpreting for Park Visitors
a. Most visitors…will have visited one or more other historic areas, and they’ll want to know what
makes you special to them [ie. how is this story a common one the visitor can relate to??]
b. Most visitors…will be more interested in people than in things, and will be bored by mere
identification of objects or too many facts or dates.
c. Most visitors…aren’t interested in knowing who donated what.
d. Most visitors…will be turned off if your presentation is in bad taste, if you’re cheap,
sensational, or vulgar. You must avoid the temptation to exaggerate for effect.
e. Most visitors…won’t be interested in your personal opinion on controversial matters [This is
especially not appropriate in a State Park] …. or your personal story.
f. Most visitors…won’t want to hear all you know. Be Selective.
g. Visitors will want you to adapt your presentation to them. [i.e. what are they interested in