How to Lead a Guided Tour
The Public Speaker has the do's and don'ts of leading a guided tour. Learn how to engage your group and make them want to come back for more.
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Recently our family decided we’d like to explore our local flora and fauna. Lucky for us, our county environmental center regularly leads guided tours of various preserved areas. On our first hike, our guide tore a sassafras leaf so we could smell it (smells like root beer). He pointed out a mature American Chestnut tree which is rare (most were killed off by a virus). And he proudly showed us a rain garden which he and his team built to reduce the amount of pollution reaching our creeks and streams.
We enjoyed our tour, but the communication expert in me couldn’t resist evaluating our guide’s communication skills. I’m sure many of you are asked to give tours as part of your work or community service. So I decided to write this episode to help you be a better tour guide!
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The Do's of a Great Tour Guide
Tip #1: Do your research. If you’re not already on expert on the topics you’ll be covering, get comfortable with them in advance. There’s nothing worse than guiding a tour group of people who know more about a topic than you do. On the flip side, it’s also important not to overwhelm your audience with too much information. Instead focus on one main message per stop on your tour.
Tip #2: Know your audience. How much do they already know about the subject matter? If you don’t know, do a quick poll before getting started. What would be a good level for this particular audience? Are they primarily in one age group? Are they traveling together from another region or country? Are there any experts in the audience?
Tip #3: Rehearse what you’re going to say. Write notes on a tour map to help you remember what to point out when. You should be prepared with at least two supporting stories. Stories are what will help you make an emotional connection with your group. If you have the opportunity, walk the tour route with a couple of co-workers and talk through your notes with them. Be familiar enough with your material that you don’t need to use your notes during the tour.
A tour is not just about the facts communicated, it’s about the person delivering the facts, too!
Tip #4: Introduce yourself. Give your credentials without sounding like you’re quoting your resume. You can include a personal story of how you became interested in art or history or zoo animals. If you’re touring your workplace, give some personal examples of what it’s like to work there. Adding a personal element is always important. A tour is not just about the facts communicated, it’s about the person delivering the facts, too!
Tip #5: Give a brief overview of the tour route, along with some of the major highlights guests can expect to see. Tell them how long the tour will run, and let them know whether you’ll accept questions along the route, or wait till the end to answer them.
Tip #6: Have you ever tried carrying on a casual conversation while walking with a friend or exercising in the gym? Avoid talking while you’re walking so you don’t sound winded. It’s ok to have some silence when you and your group are on the move. If you absolutely need to talk while you’re moving, walk slowly backward so your audience can hear you. You might want to practice doing this a few times.
Tip #7: Make sure everyone can hear you. Wait to start talking until the full group has caught up with you. Periodically check to see if those in the back can hear you. If you’re guiding a large group, consider using a wireless microphone or a group system with handheld devices. Just be sure they work in every room of your tour, and leave time to hand out and collect the units.
Tip #8: Show your sense of humor, but don’t be too corny. Last weekend my kids and I watched Night at the Museum 2. In one scene, the main character asked a Smithsonian tour guide how to get to the federal archives. She told him that he would have to be “A historical document worthy of storing for all eternity.” I thought that was a good response – a nice mix of humor and information. But then she added “Just kidding, he’s not a document!” and then laughed at her own joke. That’s a quick way to lose your audience!
Tip #9: Use questions to keep the group engaged. Instead of jumping right into a topic, poll your audience to see what they already know about it.
Tip #10: Give your guests a chance to ask questions at the end of the tour. Repeat questions after they’re asked to be sure everyone hears them.
I would be remiss if I didn't include a few things you should avoid doing or saying on your guided tour: