10 EASY WAYS TO MAKE YOUR GUIDED TOURS MORE INTERACTIVE

INTRODUCTION

The traditional lecture-style guided tour is dead, long live the interactive tour!
Well, it’s not actually, it’s still alive and kicking in some quarters but in my opinion it shouldn’t be. 
Traditional lecture-style ‘walk and talk ‘ guided tours with an expert guide are still fairly common and in some places are still a standard way of ‘presenting’ an historic site, a city or a museum to the public.
Things have definitely changed in the last 10 years since I started this journey of teaching others how to transition to a more discussion-based approach, but there is still work to be done.
If you feel you talk too much on your tours or you overshare information, this podcast episode is for you. If you would like to have more interaction with your participants then today I’m sharing 10 easy ways you can implement NOW to make your tours more interactive – that means more of a two-way conversation rather than a one-way lecture.
So, here are 10 easy ways to make your guided tours more interactive.

#1 ASK QUESTIONS

When you ask guides how they can create more interaction on their guided tours, the first thing they always say is that you need to ask more questions.
BUT asking more questions doesn’t guarantee interaction, especially if those questions are the wrong questions. We’ve talked often on this blog about questions – you could say that it was a pet-subject of mine, but there is a reason for this.
Getting good at asking the right questions is key to making your programmes more interactive. And this takes work and practice.
You need to know the difference between open and closed questions and when to use them.
You need to know how to use follow-up questions, clarifying or reframing questions.
You need to study questions. And do this regularly.
Be a student of questions and get really good at it because asking great questions is key to interactivity. You could even keep a question journal with your favourite questions and new ones that you’ve heard.
You will need to ask open-ended questions or use thinking routines to improve interaction, jump-start discussions and make everyone feel part of the discovery process in your guided tours.
Go back to these posts to study questions in more detail – The 5 Golden Rules for Asking Brilliant Questions, 10 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Asking Questions and How to Use Artworks to Improve your Questioning Skills. And make a commitment to yourself to work on your questions.

#2 USE YOUR INTRODUCTION TO SET EXPECTATIONS FOR INTERACTION

Use your introduction at the start of your tour to set expectations for interaction.
You should:
  1. introduce yourself
  2. the organisation you’re working for (if appropriate)
  3. introduce the programme (what you’re going to do)
  4. and ask questions of the visitors to get to know them
All of these 4 elements can be utilised as a way of getting more interaction into your programme.
In your introduction to yourself – don’t forget to mention your role. For interaction and participation, you don’t want to position yourself as the expert (even if you are an expert in your field), you need to think of yourself as the orchestrator or facilitator or the guide-on-the-side.
Once you’re introduced yourself, you can then introduce the organisation if you’re working as part of a team in a museum or cultural organisation and the programme. You can share the theme of the tour, what they might be seeing/exploring and how long it’s going to take.
You should also add some statements about the type of programme it is going to be:
  • State that it’s going to be an interactive experience and that you are discovering things together.
  • Say that all comments and questions are welcome and that there are no right or wrong answers.
  • Tell them what to expect during their time with you. Set them up for active participation not a passive experience of listening
By stating this up front, you are setting the tone for interaction.
Finally you need to ask your participants questions – these can be closed questions because you are keen on finding out information about them. Remember, not too many of these types of questions in a row or your participants will feel like they are being grilled. Find out their prior knowledge and attitudes. These valuable insights into their backgrounds will help you personalise and structure your tour and in turn, create more interaction.

#3 OBSERVE YOUR GROUP

Pay close attention to the participants in your group. You need to be regularly assessing how people are responding to you.
There is a skill to being able to pick up on discrete and subtle clues in your participants’ behaviour. Look for verbal & non-verbal clues and pay attention to body language
Do a quick scan of your group and look out for who is smiling (and who is not), how people are standing and how much space there is between people. Now look for other clues, facial expressions, posture and body language too.
Once you’ve observed you can try to make sense of what you’ve been ‘reading’.
Don’t jump to conclusions – for example arms folded or crossed could mean someone is fed up or bored or simply don’t know what to do with their arms whilst they are standing in front of a painting. Continue to gather further information throughout and pay close attention to your group. Become an observer of behaviour.

#4 CREATE A WARM AND WELCOMING ENVIRONMENT

On a guided tour, you want to make sure that all participants feel happy to interact with you – you want to create a welcoming and friendly atmosphere that encourages participation and involvement from the start. You want to make sure that all participants feel that their contributions are valued and understood by the facilitator – ie you.
Use your facilitation skills and good questioning techniques throughout to make sure everyone feels comfortable about participating and sharing.
Don’t forget to welcome everyone to the session and make sure you find out something about the participants.
Not just who they are and where they come from, but what they already know about the subject at hand. it’s good to know where everyone is coming from so that you can tailor content accordingly.
Likewise, check in with participants throughout, observe them and ‘check the temperature’ of the group from time to time.
Continue to pay attention to what’s not being said but you can observe from them. Use humour or gentle questions to encourage participation from even the most reticent of participants.
But don’t force, interaction and participation is encouraged but never required.

#5 MAKE THEM CURIOUS

Provoke curiosity within your group to get them itching to find out more.
You can use thinking routines to explore artworks and objects and to stimulate curiosity, bring up memories and connections and encourage participants to share personal stories.
Making your thoughts about an object visible, bringing your ‘wonderings’ out into the open and having conversations about objects can be an uplifting and sometimes even a transformative experience.
Ask the question ‘what are you wondering about?’ throughout your tour to find out what your participants are really curious about and to share information accordingly.
And model curiosity yourself – the more curious and enthusiastic you are, the more infectious it will be!

#6 USE VISUAL AIDS

You can use a variety of props and visual aids to make your guided tours more interactive. Pencils and notepads are useful for your participants. You may want visitors to sketch an entire object or to write down things they are observing.
Post-it notes are also great for getting people to note down short phrases or words.
Tactile objects are great to pass around (in a safe way according to Covid guidelines) to explore texture.
These kinds of hands-on materials can be really helpful in explaining objects from the past and from different cultures.
For the visually impaired, handling objects is a way of making collections more accessible.
For any visitor incorporating senses other than seeing offers visitors a richer understanding of the objects in the collection.
You could bring in tactile objects for example, marble samples or metal, or sensory objects – bring in spices to smell or you could share tools that were used by artists or workers.
You can use photographs, artist’s letters, video clips, listen to music (you can pass around or show on iPad).
For family groups I used to have a whole box of props and visual aids and this included magnifying glasses, torches, viewfinders and stopwatches.

#7 VARY YOUR ACTIVITIES

Include a variety of multi-modal ways of working. Don’t rely solely on discussion and talking.
You could include movement when looking at objects or artworks – looking at something from far away and close up, doing a 360 look around a sculpture, changing places with someone on the other side, looking from below and above.
You could also get one or all of your group to assume the pose of a figure in a painting or sculpture.
They could step inside a character and act – how would that person move, what might they say? How would they say it?
You could also wear a hat, or some type of clothing or carry a prop to become a character.
Aside from movement and acting, you could incorporate short writing and listening exercises into your tours – do this in small amounts to start with to experiment and explore the possibilities.
Keen an eye on the time though – these activities will take up more time and you may need to plan your route accordingly.
#8 CHANGE THE WAY YOUR GROUP WORKS
Don’t always interact as a large group. Use different devices to encourage more voices to interact with you and with each other.
Use a pair-share to ask participants to turn to their neighbours and discuss something.
Use small groups to work on different questions or activities. You could also assign different roles within the groups – such as notetaker and spokesperson so that you can include everyone to do something.
It changes the group dynamic and changes up the energy in the room – if the group are low on energy, break them up into smaller groups and you will see the interaction fly again!

#9 PAUSE

How can pausing help with interactivity? It sounds a little bit counterintuitive. But, bear with me.
Allow yourself to pause every so often. Don’t feel like you have to fill every space with words.
Pause after you ask a question and allow wait time. Pause after you say something of impact and importance that you want them to remember.
There is more potential for interaction if you pause.
  • It helps give your participants time to process what you’ve been saying and time for them to get their thoughts together.
  • Longer pauses allow time for people to listen to each other too.
  • A longer wait time will signal that you are prepared to value the answers that your participants are about to give.
So, do allow for PAUSES throughout to increase interactivity!

#10 ALLOW AGENCY AND AUTONOMY

Give the group some choice over what they do and see. These don’t have to be big choices (remember you are in control of group management and for ensuring the group has a safe and enjoyable time with you)
But a small amount of agency and autonomy, makes participants feel as though they are part of the process and not just tagging along with your planned route.
It also gives them shared ownership of the tour and a feeling of more control.
And these are all good things that will encourage more interaction. Here are some suggestions:
  • Ask your group to find another painting in the room that connects with one you’ve already been discussing
  • Ask participants to choose between several choices for the next stop
  • Give them 5 mins to explore an artwork or object in the room that they are curious about and then to report back.
  • Or get them to ask you questions. Give your audience a chance to ask you 10 rapid quick-fire questions.
These are all great strategies for increasing a feeling of agency and autonomy within the group and for making them feel like they have more control and as a result they will interact with you more!
So, there you have it – 10 easy ways to make your guided tours more interactive. Simple things that you can apply today to get more 2-way engagement going on in your tours.
I’d love for you to give them a go. If you do, share with me how you get on. 
You can find me on Instagram most days and every Friday I send out a weekly newsletter full of inspiration and ideas – I share one thing to watch, one to read and one to listen to every week and all the upcoming classes and courses too.
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