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Best Practices for Sharing Information on Guided Tours

A Guide to Using Information Productively and Strategically on Tour

By Claire Bown

How & when should we share information on guided tours? How can we do this productively and strategically? In this week’s post I share best practices for sharing your information and content on tour. Plus I share some extra tips on how to think about handling information in a different way. 

Many of us are experts in our field and want to share that incredible knowledge with the groups we lead.

However, as I said last week, we need to think about how we can use the information and knowledge we have in a more productive and strategic way.

As a guide, you need to be engaging, interactive, memorable and interesting – you can’t just memorise the facts, spout out the information and repeat ad infinitum! 

Here are some of the problems I see regularly with information on guided tours:

  • Guides memorising information and transmitting it in a rote fashion. 
  • Guides giving too much information in one big ‘information dump’ 
  • Guides sharing information too fast or, perhaps worse, too slowly…
  • Guides doing all the talking and not allowing interaction from the group or between group members
  • Guides sharing information that is irrelevant to the theme of the tour
  • Guides sharing ALL THEIR KNOWLEDGE about any given subject. 

As Rika Burnham says; ‘Use knowledge carefully and strategically. Don’t be tempted to pour out information too soon, too fast or too abundantly. Let the group discover it for themselves’ 

So, how can I share information in a strategic way?

Less is More
  • Don’t try and cram everything into your guided tour. I know you only have a certain amount of time with this group and you want to deliver maximum value, but that doesn’t mean you need to cram as much information into their heads as possible. 
  • A lecture or monologue is the worst possible way to deliver lots of information to your group. Your audience has no control over the pace of delivery, and they can’t pause you so they can process and think. Remember people will only remember less than 5% of a lecture. Look for clues that your audience have lost interest – are they looking elsewhere, are they fidgeting?
  • Think of the information you hold as a fully-stocked larder. You might have a lot of ingredients but you only use certain ingredients to make a specific recipe.
  • Three is the magic number: as a general rule of thumb, have 3 pieces of information that you would aim to get across at a particular stop or object. Any extra is a bonus, but not always necessary. Less is more.
Avoid Fact Regurgitation
  • Don’t regurgitate facts. People remember what they understand, and they understand concepts and ideas, not a huge volume of dates and numbers. 
  • Instead share your information as a narrative. Maybe you have a personal story that is relevant to your theme or you can tell a story about a person relevant to it? 
Kill your Darlings!
  • Eliminate non-essential information: work on what needs to be removed rather than what you need to add. Ask the questions: ‘Is this essential to the theme of the tour? Does this need to be said here and now?’  Think also about relevance to different audience groups: Is it relevant to today’s audience? What might be relevant to an adult might not be so interesting to a teenager. If it’s not relevant to your theme or today’s group, kill your darlings!
Be Clear and Accessible
  • Don’t make assumptions about what people ALREADY know – present any information you offer without jargon or academic terminology. Make it clear and accessible.

When can I share information productively?

Weave Info at Key Points
  • If you offer information too early at a stop, it can shut down your group’s ideas. If you give it all at the end, it can have a “here’s the real story” tone, which either invalidates everything your group has said or tells they “got it right:’ You should be aiming for little and often. 
In small ‘chunks’
  • For every few minutes of new information, your participants will need a minute to process what they’ve learned. So, present any new information in a small chunk to make it easier to absorb. Avoid the big ‘info dump’ like the plague – you don’t want to kill their curiosity!
When the Discussion Starts to Dry Up
  • When there is a gap in the conversation or the discussion starts to dry up. You can add new lines of inquiry to get the conversation going again. Use ‘ What if I was to tell you…’
    • “What if I was to tell you that the title of this artwork is…XYZ, does that change things?”
When Answers can’t be Found through Observation Alone
  • As we’ve mentioned before, we should also be actively teaching skills on tour and one of them is observation. A lot of answers can be found by looking and asking questions. Get your group to slow down and notice all the details. However, if a question can’t be answered by looking, please provide the information.

How to Share Information Differently

Activate curiosity! 
  • When you mention something about a subject that an audience member is already interested in or you spark a new interest, your participants will instinctively want to know more. They will often ask a question to find out more from you. So, don’t give all your information at once.
  • You can also model curiosity yourself – be open and inquisitive attitude to new and familiar ideas, people, and cultures. Curiosity is contagious and the rest of the group will catch on!
  • Use visual aids to stimulate curiosity – Show photographs, maps or objects to increase their interest in a subject or theme. 
Talk Less: Get your Group Talking & Asking More
  • Think of your tour like a conversation rather than a presentation. You are there to answer your audience’s spoken (and unspoken) questions.
  • To draw people in, ask plenty of open-ended questions that encourage them to seek out their own answers— these are questions that cannot be answered with a yes or a no or a simple shrug of the shoulders. 
  • Ask people what they are wondering about, what they would like to find out more about or what questions they still have. 
  • If participants are struggling to answer your question, first wait. Allow thinking time. If you are still met with silence, you can then re-phrase the question in a more open-ended way. For tips on trouble-shooting questions, read our post on ‘9 Common Mistakes When Asking Questions
Look for the hook!
  • Try to connect “uninteresting” or difficult subjects directly to your group’s interests or their daily lives. Every tour should be a personalised experience customised to your group’s interests. Draw helpful information from your audience – they might be holding all sorts of hidden gems.
  • With the right hook, you can completely transform almost any subject into a fascinating source of information.

Use a thinking routine!

You can easily use a thinking routine to add information at key points. The routine See-Think-Wonder allows for participants questions during the ‘wondering’ part. You can answer these questions at any point during the discussion or you can flip the routine as Wonder-See-Think to get a list of things that participants are curious about right from the start. Think-Puzzle-Explore, The Explanation Game and Layers, would also work well as routines through which you could selectively add information at key points.

Final Thoughts

Find your own way. Experiment and try out different approaches with different groups. Add information at different times, in different amounts and see what happens. Was the group more or less interested? Monitor your group discretely to see when they are most engaged with what you are sharing. At the very least, it will inject new life into your tour and reinvigorate your way of working; at the most, it will help to build an experience that is not only rich and rewarding for everyone, but a memorable one too.