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Verbal Facilitation Tools to Make Your Guided Tours More Interactive

About Thinking Museum

In my previous post on facilitation skills, ‘A Quick Guide to Facilitation Skills on Guided Tours, I talked about the many skills required to being an effective facilitator and the 4 areas that I focus on and offer coaching around for my ‘Visible Thinking in the Museum‘ trainings.

Today I’m going to focus on the verbal facilitation tools that you can use to help to engage participants and make sure everyone is involved on a guided tour.

  • Encourage & Guide Looking
  • Pointing & Paraphrasing
  • Clarifying 
  • Linking or bridging
  • Summarising
  • Encourage quiet group members
  • Giving balanced feedback
Encourage & Guide Looking

Looking is an essential part of using the ‘Visible Thinking in the Museum‘ methodology. Do not be tempted to skip this step. As we know, the more you look, the more you see and the more interesting something becomes. After a small amount of time looking at the object in question, ask the group to describe what they see. This is a great way of getting everyone involved in the discussion – you do not need to have any prior information or knowledge and it’s just a case of using your eyes. This is essentially the ‘warm-up’ before you open up the discussion to more interpretive questions. Giving participants the chance to fully observe and describe an object or artwork before interpretations are offered, reduces the chance of hasty reactions. Focusing on close looking followed up by careful describing allows participants to see the “whole picture” and to notice parts they would ordinarily have missed too. 

Pointing and Paraphrasing

Pointing encourages active looking – as participants are speaking to you, point to some of the things that the mention. This actively focuses the eyes of the participants back to the object or artwork in question. It also points out the part of the object that the speaker is mentioning – don’t assume that everyone knows which part the speaker is talking about. The pointing helps to springboard new ideas from other participants.

Paraphrasing involves using other words to reflect what the speaker has just said.  Paraphrasing shows not only that you are listening, but that you are attempting to understand what the speaker is saying. It is often the case that people ‘hear what they expect to hear’ due to assumptions, stereotyping or prejudices.  When paraphrasing, it is of utmost importance that you do not introduce your own ideas or question the speakers thoughts, feelings or actions.  Your responses should be non-directive and non-judgemental. Some possible paraphrasing stems include the following:


‘In other words,…’

‘What I’m hearing then,…’

‘What I hear you saying,…’

‘From what I hear you say,…’

‘I’m hearing many things,…’

‘As I listen to you I’m hearing,…’


This involves asking a question to gather more information, get clarity and seek connections (It shows that you have heard what the speaker has said but perhaps do not fully understand or require more information). Some possible clarifying stems could include the following:

‘Would/Could you tell me a little more about…?’

‘Let me see if I understand… ‘

‘I’d be interested in hearing more about..’.

‘It’d help me understand if you’d give me an example of…’

‘So, are you saying/suggesting…?’

‘Tell me what you mean when you…’

You can also ask for more evidence:

‘What do you see that makes you say that?’

‘What evidence can we find in the picture for that idea?’

‘What more can we find in the artwork?’

Linking or Bridging

This helps the group to follow the discussion and to connect ideas that may have been said earlier in the discussion. Make links between different strands of thoughts (i.e. ‘We have a variety of opinions here, Mary mentioned X earlier and Tom now thinks Y’) and note any changes that have happened during the discussion – this could be a change of opinion. With ‘VT in the Museum‘ we use documentation to help us remember earlier ideas or strands of thoughts and use it to bring the discussion further. 


At certain points during the discussion, you can take the opportunity to summarise what has been discussed so far. This helps participants to remember the key points up to this point and understand what has been said. You can outline the emerging common ground as well as any unresolved differences in opinion. You can use your summary to check with everyone that you’ve got it right.This can also be a springboard for new discussion if comments are starting to dry up.

Encourage quiet group members

Don’t allow anyone to dominate the discussion, but equally don’t pressure anyone to respond. People should feel encouraged but not required to participate. Some people take time to warm up and feel comfortable. Others prefer to remain quiet for the duration. Personally I would never point at anyone and ask them for their thoughts as lots of people (myself included!) do not like being put ‘on the spot’. I use subtle hand gestures and eye contact with the quieter group members to encourage contributions. I also position quieter group members closer to me so that they don’t have to raise their voice too much should they wish to take part.

Giving balanced feedback

This is a hotly contested subject whenever it comes up in our trainings. I prefer to give neutral, non-judgemental feedback to anyone that contributes to a group discussion. I treat everyone equally. I will tell you why – if you get overly enthusiastic with one person’s comment and then do not treat another person’s comment with the same enthusiasm, that person might end up wondering why they weren’t valued the same way or might even not bother commenting again. So, judge comments as neither good nor bad as this sets the tone of fairness within the group. All guides should develop their own response system to participant’s comments. Have a few standard neutral phrases that work for you and are ready to use in any situation:

‘Oh, that’s interesting’


I’ve never thought about it that way before.’

Will you elaborate?

I’m listening, tell me more’

Let’s talk about that…’

Using these verbal facilitation tools as part of the ‘Visible Thinking in the Museum‘ method will help you to create enjoyable and inspiring discussions on your interactive guided tours. Have you tried using any of these in the past? What results did you see?

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