Guided tours mean that an employee or a volunteer accompanies the visitors and conducts the interpretive program. It is personal and direct, giving the visitor a richer and more valuable experience. Having guides can help protect the visitor and your resources. High quality interpretive programs take time to prepare, and several hours to conduct for each visitor group. Consider these points:

  • Develop interpretive programs based on themes identified in the interpretive planning process where your story is developed.
  • Organize the presentation to include these components:
    • Grabber: Say or do something provocative or evocative to grab the audience’s attention. Surprise, challenge, or sing a song – whatever it takes without being silly or contrived.
    • Bridge: Link your grabber to the body of the presentation. If you sing a song about a local character as your grabber, relate it to things the group will see and experience on the tour.
    • Body of the presentation: Always keep in mind that the theme is the framework. State your theme clearly and fill it in with facts that are relevant to the audience’s interests. The facts should help to develop the theme. People will forget the specific facts, but will remember the theme if it is developed properly.
    • Keep it simple: Don’t use more than seven points – five or less is better.
    • Use sensory aids: Utilize things people can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. Allow the audience to have an experience. For example, participants could lie down at the base of at tree and look up, close their eyes and describe a piece of sculpture by touch, etc.
    • Be active: Use active verbs to create good mental images.
    • Conclusion: Repeat the theme and summarize the highlights that have developed the theme.
  • Size up the audience:
    • Take a mental inventory of the audience and gear the presentation to them.
    • Inventory the gender of the audience and make adjustments as necessary.
    • Ask the audience where they are from.
    • Find out if your group has previous experience with the place or area you are visiting.
    • Determine why they are visiting.
  • Tailor the presentation to the audience:
    • Incorporate their interests into the storyline.
    • Figure out ways to relate the story to the places the participants come from.
    • As much as possible, relate the storyline to their experiences.
  • Do’s and Don’ts:


    • Be enthusiastic
    • Use the senses to increase the experience level – sight, sound, smell, touch, taste
    • Use appropriate humor (best if spontaneous)
    • Give the visitors new ideas and knowledge in a way that they can understand
    • Lecture
    • Use technical terms or complex information
    • Talk too much
  • Don’ts:

  • Make your presentation interesting. Your narrative should not describe what the participants are looking at. It should explain the meaning and importance of what they are seeing (“The sculpture is made of bronze. Historically, bronze has been the metal of choice as a medium for casting three-dimensional art. This tradition of pouring molten metal into molds, then retrieving an object, in bronze extends back almost 5000 years.”). Make smooth transitions between story parts by introducing something before it is in view. Vary the tone, inflection, and tempo to provide liveliness to the presentation.
  • Learn how to employ techniques that will make you an excellent tour guide.  Be the host for the tour.  It is a good practice to arrive at the meeting place at least 15 minutes early. Spend that time talking to the people as they gather. Find out all you can about them. Provide a warm, friendly, positive welcome. Be clear and specific about the length of the trip, any possible physical challenges, breaks, potty stops, safety and behavioral issues, and what the visitor should have with them – water, sun block, binoculars, etc. Conduct the trip in a manner appropriate for the group. It is up to you to set the pacing, time rest stops, select topics that are tailored for the group.
  • Interpret the places you visit on the tour. Help the visitors understand the full story of the place.  Some tours may be narrowly focused (public art), but most should help the visitor understand how the place “works.” Include physical and cultural factors in the story.  Help the place tell its own story.  Use what the visitor can see, hear, smell, and feel to tell the story.  Don’t just tell them the names of things; try to help the participants understand what those things do. Be flexible and seize on opportunities as they come along.
  • Involve the participants. Relate the place to their interests.  Ask them what they think about things.  When they ask a question, help them discover the answer, rather than simply telling them.
  • Know where to stop.  All tours are planned to include specific stops.  Use these as you tell your story.
  • Speak so everyone can hear. Arrange the group into a circle at stops or find a particularly visible place for yourself.  Divide the group if necessary.  Give one half of the group a task while you talk to the other half. Wear something distinctive so you are recognizable.
  • Learn how to handle obnoxious people.  Fortunately, most culture and heritage visitors are nice people. However, some may be “know-it-alls.”  Respond positively to these people, and incorporate what they have to say into the interpretation.  Often they do know a lot. Never contradict them, even if they are clearly wrong – many of them are looking for an argument. Instead, positively turn what they say into the springboard to provide an alternative view.  Never get pulled into an altercation with a visitor.  If they become abusive, smile and apologize.  The tour will be over before too long, and this fine person will go home, never to be seen again.

Adapted from
Texas State University’s Dept. of Geography Developing Interpretation