• Guided tours of any kind function best when the tour provider offers a sound system that allows everyone to hear the narration clearly.
• Tour guides must be ultra-familiar with their material and be willing to engage participants in an immersive way.
• Knowing the particulars of one’s audience is essential to a quality tour that’s geared for a particular demographic.
If you’ve ever been charged with the task of providing tours of busy, noisy facilities – like crowded factories or huge warehouses – you understand how frustrating the process can be for both you and those who are your guests.
Or if you’ve ever been one of those guests, you also know how aggravating it is to struggle to hear and understand the important information the guide is dispensing as you scramble through rows of hectic activity. Sometimes you get to the end of the tour and have no idea what you’ve seen or heard.
Being the guide on a facility tour can be fun and interesting, but no one benefits if the tour doesn’t tick all the boxes and accomplish its purpose. Just as with a traditional tour guide in a travel setting – such as someone who’s taking a group of tourists to experience the history of the Parthenon – there are several ways you must prepare for your tour so that it goes off without a hitch.
Here are a few tips the pros offer that can help you present a tour that’s not only informative but also enjoyable.
1. Know your audience – This is probably the most essential aspect of any tour, be it in an enclosed facility or out of the streets of an historic city. It’s important to learn about your tour participants before they arrive. What do they know about your facility? Are they familiar with what’s done there? Have they worked in this field? Are they young? Older? Why are they touring? Do your homework so that you can craft your tour to fit the parameters of your group. For example, if your tour group knows nothing about your facility, you’ll need to keep the language simple and explanations succinct. Technology-savvy younger visitors might get different lingo from you than would older, less tech-knowledgeable guests. And if your visitors are investors, for example, you’ll need to talk about things like profitability. So, do a little digging first so that you can craft your tour to the right demographic.
If I offered you $1000 to learn the names of everyone on your tour within 2 hours, I guarantee that you would have them all locked in your mind within the first half hour! The sign of a great guide is one that shows interest in their group! It makes a huge difference to feedback and the whole vibe of the tour if you can make them feel like they are a valued participant.
2. Know your material – It’s awkward to be peering at your notes while you’re leading your tour, so commit the information to memory before that first tour happens. If you need a little help, bring along a map of the facility and write some bullet points for each stop you plan to make – just a few words at which you can casually glance before speaking. If possible, do a sample tour for some willing co-workers so that you can make sure you’re ready. Always have your face to the group and back to what you are presenting so that they see what you’re talking about as you’re talking about it.
3. Once learnt, throw out the script! – Having an outline and revising what you are going to say and how you are going to say it is obviously extremely important, however remember you’re not a robot and you’re not on Broadway (although if you want to take your story telling to this level, knock yourself out!). Your tour group isn’t after a perfectly manufactured script. They want to feel like they are getting a unique experience and trust me, they aren’t there to watch you recall a memorized script. Not to mention that every group is different! They laugh at different things and will pick up on different aspects of what you are saying. It is key to gauge your audience and adapt what you are saying to suit them! For example, I’m not going to talk about the Eiffel Tower to a group of architects the same way I am to a group of primary school students.
If you can do as many practice run throughs as possible, taking your friends or colleagues around your routes, let them interrupt you, as this will happen on tour, encourage them to ask you random questions to train you on how to be flexible with the angle in which you deliver your information.
4. Tell them something about YOU – You might be surprised to find out that others want to know something about you. So, provide your guests with some memorable info about yourself. While you don’t want to eat up lots of time providing personal information, give them more than just your name and relationship to the company for which you work. Provide them with a tidbit or two about your life. How about mentioning that time you biked across the country? Or that goof-up you made on your first day on the job? Or when your co-worker dropped that bucket of paint on your head? Just a little personal information makes you more relatable and makes them more comfortable.
5. Assign yourself an Ass Man! – One of our biggest fears as a tour guide getting back to base camp only to discover that little Jimmy is no longer there with you! This is where an Ass Man comes in handy! This doesn’t (only) mean assigning someone to check how your behind look in your jeans but somebody who can stay at the back ensuring that the rest of the group is sandwiched between you and them.
I have found this to be the most simple, effective and efficient way to keep the group together in a non-militant fashion as all you need to do is look back to check if you can see your ass man! If they are in sight your whole group is together. I like to assign my ass man at the end of the first stop as this gives me time so scope out who lingers at the back naturally and who seems like they would enjoy a touch of responsibility. Ask for volunteers for an assistant manager; ass man for short. I have never not had a volunteer and nine times out of ten it creates a team bond between you and them.
6. Infuse some humor – No one likes a dry, boring tour, even if the facility they’re touring isn’t really all that exciting. But you – the guide – can certainly figure out how to elicit some smiles and chuckles. If you’re not naturally funny, you might have to work a little at coming up with some jokes. Or perhaps you can speak to employees beforehand and seek out some humorous stories of work-related adventures or incidents that you can re-tell as part of your spiel, where appropriate. Even the most somber-looking group enjoys a chance to laugh, and humor is a good icebreaker as well. Most of all, be yourself. It’s not likely you’d have been chosen for this task if you were dull and boring!
7. Work on how to tell a good story and get the group involved – Being a good storyteller is a skill that can get you far in this job! The people on your tour haven’t paid for you to bombard them with a bunch of stale dates and facts that they could have found after a 30 second Google search! They have come to be enlightened and to feel a connection with what they are seeing.
A story includes 3 basic elements: a main character, conflict or tension, and a plot.
The characters in your story need to be relatable and humanized so that your clients can connect and empathize with them. Create a nickname for them or a recurring joke about them. The main character doesn’t even have to be human for you to do this! Disney has been using this trick for years!
The plot of your story needs to engage your group’s curiosity, throwing up a lot of intriguing questions. As you’re telling the story, move around the group. Get the group to take on roles or use them as props. Change your voice. Ask them questions. Keeping your story dynamic, animated and interactive to engage your audience.
8. Use visuals – There was a great tour guide, well known in the city of Cologne, Germany, who literally used to bring two bottles of cologne with him on all his tours – cheap and expensive – which he would spritz on the guests in his tour groups. It made the history of the city come alive and they loved it! Visuals are a great way for guests to get “up close and personal” with what’s going on rather than viewing things from afar. People love to touch, hold, and smell things associated with your tour and such visuals serve to break the monotony.
9. Enthusiasm is contagious! If you’re passionate, they will be too! – Think about a subject you are interested in for a minute. Chances are you were inspired by someone just as, if not more, passionate than you are now. You are the one who sets the tone of your tour. If what you’re talking about bores you silly, they will be just as bored as you. However, if you pick the stories and titbits that genuinely get you excited, I promise they will be as buzzing as you are!
10. Ask questions of your guests – One of the mistakes tour guides make is to assume that their audience knows nothing about what they’re about to see…but that’s not always the case. So, before you get on your way, ask questions that allow you to gauge their knowledge of what you’re about to show them. If you do that, you can avoid making your explanations too elementary or too difficult. It’s also okay to make questions part of your tour narration as well. This helps you to make sure they’re understanding what you’re telling them and engages them by giving them an opportunity to speak as well as listen.
11. Make time for their questions – Some guides are so worried about sticking to their schedule and to their narrative that they don’t allow time for their visitors to ask questions. Nobody wants to feel like they are being frog marched around by a coldhearted tyrant. You want your tour to feel like a safe space where people can relax, have fun and ask you anything, no matter how stupid they may feel asking it. Experienced tour guides always plan for specific places within their narrative to answer questions. However, if you haven’t asked for questions yet and someone raises their hand, don’t ignore them. If it’s off-topic, give as brief an answer as possible and tell them you’ll expand on your answer later. You can always take them aside at the end of the tour and address them personally.
12. Be sure you can be heard – How many times have you been on a tour where the guide is using just their unenhanced voice to speak? Unless you’re at the front of the pack, it’s hard to hear and extremely frustrating, especially when you’re excited about the presentation. There’s nothing worse than missing all the info because the guide isn’t wearing any sort of sound device that amplifies his/her voice or sends it directly to you via headphones. So be sure you employ the use of a sound system that works for all your guests, whether they’re ten feet or ten inches away from you. Investing in a solid sound system is money well-spent and will also be a time-saver in the long run as your guests will be able to hear you the first time, eliminating the need for extra questions and for you to repeat information you’ve already given. Carefully check that the system is working before you enter the noisy space and check it again once you’re dealing with lots of background noise to be sure it’s still functioning properly.
13. Be willing to help even after the tour has finished –The tour doesn’t end the second you arrive back at tour base camp. Clients often wait until this time to talk to you directly without having the whole group listening in. Be ready to set out time for yourself at the end to chat to the people with whom you have just been on tour. Thank them for coming and offer to help them with any extra questions or doubts and mean it! Giving practical advice, if solicited, as to how to obtain tickets for a venue or restaurant recommendations may also go down well at this stage.
14. Be yourself! – Cheesy as it may sound, the secret to be a marvelous tour guide is to play to your strengths. There is nothing more painful than watching someone who doesn’t have a single funny bone in their body spending three hours failing to become the next Kevin Hart. If you are sarcastic be sarcastic, if you’re calm and soothing be calm and soothing, if you’re not, don’t be!!