Keep in mind what you want visitors to know, feel, and do during their tour experience. Identify questions, themes, and visual and other sensory cues for each stop that are organized to achieve these desired outcomes.
Plan out an accessible route that avoids physical barriers or obstacles to paths of travel, including steps, uneven ground and narrow paths. This should also include opportunities for visitors to sit down and get protection from the elements. Walk the route before the tour to check for any changes, obstacles, or unforeseen challenges for your tour. Avoid steps or other inaccessible paths whenever possible, and if a visitor requires an accessible path, take the whole group along that path; do not separate that visitor from the group.
Incorporate multisensory elements to stimulate connections and embed memories. Consider how you can invite visitors to look closely and make observations based on what they see, smell, taste, or hear, and use these observations as a leaping off point for your interpretation.
Know the locations of visitor services and accommodations, such as accessible restrooms and drinking fountains, and where to direct visitors for accessible services, such as wheelchairs and assistive technology.
Prepare your visual aids, handling objects, and any other materials you will need for the tour. Consider carefully how and when you plan to use each of these materials.
Create a visual schedule that communicates the sequence of stops for the program in words and pictures that you can share before and/or at the beginning of their visit to manage expectations about how you will spend your time together.
Storytelling and Engagement
It all starts with the introduction. A good introduction sets the stage for the visitor both thematically and logistically. Clearly communicate expectations, including the route, timing, accommodations, and guidelines for the tour, and introduce the overarching themes. It is hard for visitors to enjoy and engage if they don’t know where they’re going, for how long, and what they can expect to see and learn.
Introduce yourself, your preferred pronouns, and your connection to the experience. By sharing your background and interests, you help participants understand your point of view and areas of expertise, and why you are uniquely positioned to lead the tour or activity.
Invite participants to introduce themselves and why they are visiting. This allows you to establish a rapport with and among the participants and assess their needs and interests.
Provide clear and engaging transitions between stops by using foreshadowing and callbacks, and linking together themes. Introduce where the group will be going next, how it connects thematically or geographically, and provide detailed directions using directional language (right and left) and visual cues from the perspective of the visitor rather than yourself. Also describe visual and physical markers of the intended destination, including where you will gather, and what visitors will see and experience.
Practice good verbal description, which is the skill of describing what you see as objectively as possible. A good verbal description starts with a general observation and then highlights relevant and more specific details. Include basic elements, such as color, shape, and pattern, and use references and comparisons to commonplace objects. Verbal description enhances storytelling and helps visitors identify, visualize, and remember key elements of the tour, and it is a best practice for making tours accessible to all visitors, getting all visitors more into the experience.
Verbal description takes practice to do well. As you’re practicing, it may help to take the time to reflect on visual details and write down a description as if you were going to describe it on a radio show. Then practice integrating your descriptive language into your interpretation so that visual elements, broad and specific, draw visitors into the story that you’re sharing.
Encourage visitors to share their own observations and stories. Ask open-ended questions and share your own observations, then pause to elicit participation. These methods will help you respond to visitors’ specific interests and scaffold the content you deliver according to their level of interest and engagement. Here are some techniques for asking good open-ended questions:
- Ask questions about the participants’ own experiences
- Elicit impressions and feelings as a jumping off point at each stop
- Avoid fact-based questions, but invite visitors to share knowledge if they offer to do so
Practice good group management. At the beginning of each stop, invite visitors to move in closer to you and configure in a U-shape or semicircle so that everyone can see and hear you.
Make sure that your face is clearly visible to all tour attendees when you are speaking. It is essential that attendees have a clear view of your mouth to read your lips and your face to read facial expressions. This will increase accessibility for all visitors, including visitors who are hard of hearing or deaf, whose first language is not English, and visitors who might get distracted by ambient sound.
Consider your body positioning. Do not stand with your back to a window or with the sun behind you. Backlighting can make it difficult for people to see your face and mouth clearly. Stand to the side of or with your back to the feature you are interpreting.
When pointing to an artifact or object of interest, do not turn your body away from the group while speaking, as your voice will travel away from the group and your words will not be heard. Be sure that your voice is traveling towards the visitors and not the object of interest.
Invite visitors to use a gesture if they can’t hear you, such as holding their hand behind their ear. You can then make adjustments such as elevating your voice, reposition yourself and/or the group, or repeat any information that was not heard.
Speak in a moderate tone of voice. Do not shout, as this will distort your speech, make it harder for visitors to understand you, and strain your voice.
Walk at a slow pace, check in with your visitors between stops, and reassess their needs. You may have to adapt your route based on the group’s needs during the tour.
Be sure to identify physical markers or obstacles during your transitions between stops. Inform visitors about ramps, railings, and whether the path will be paved, rocky, grassy, steep, narrow, wide, wet, uneven, etc. Also inform them where they should gather when they arrive; if the next stop is on a narrow path, direct visitors where they should position themselves so they can see and hear, and so they are not obstructing paths of travel for other visitors.
Do not walk and talk. It is unsafe to try and deliver your tour while walking, and it forces the visitor to try and listen while they are walking in an unfamiliar space. It is also important to create down time on the tour and let visitors reflect on the previous stop and what is around them, or socialize with one another. Never try to walk backwards and address the group, as this is unsafe, ineffective communication, and distracting and worrying to the visitors.
Pause so that your audience has time to make and share observations. If you point out a detail or ask the tour participants a question, pause long enough to let them look closely and get their thoughts together. Continue speaking only after members of your audience have responded with their questions or observations, and have turned their faces back in your direction.
Invite visitors to speak one at a time and repeat back or summarize their questions and comments so that everyone can understand what is being said.
Updated March 8, 2023
Inclusive Best Practices for Guided Tours by Turnstile Studio is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.