A Three Hour Tour? More Like Thirty Minutes: The Tour Writing Process

This is my first experience writing a tour and the process has been both fascinating and frustrating. The description is: a thirty minute, free, outdoor, walking, architectural tour of the National World War One Museum and Memorial. In the hope that my experience as a novice tour writer will help someone else, let me pass along a few tips. Before writing a tour have a list of parameters such as length, number of stops, time allotted at those stops, route, theme and questions. Because I did not have these spelled out, I did a lot of unnecessary research and writing. While this was frustrating, I find subtracting much easier than adding.

Let “less is more” become your mantra. Chris Anderson from Ted Talks relates, “The biggest problem I see in first drafts of presentations is that they try to cover too much ground.” This was also my biggest problem. As much as you might care about a year-by-year historical account, most people will not. Give them a framework, a few in-depth facts or details, some impressive figures, and anecdotes. This is not an essay or a lecture, it is story time.

It is also a conversation which means both parties talk. Make sure that there are questions at each stop and those questions set the guest up for success. Alan Gartenhaus describes, “Questions should invite, rather than limit, participation…most visitors do not attend museums to test prior knowledge.” Questions that can be answered by observation or the content of the tour itself are the better choice.

When it comes to research, mine your colleagues for resources. Someone might already have written a historical synopsis or fact booklet which will save you a lot of time. When you have that preliminary draft done take it to a colleague as soon as possible for review especially if that colleague has given a similar tour in the past. Even better, watch them give that tour or ask for any notes they might have made. Afterward, perform the tour for them or another sample person or group. The only way to test a tour is to give it, which is my next step. Hopefully I will be able to keep it from being a three hour tour.

Anderson, Chris. “How to Give a Killer Presentation.” Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Review, June 2013. Web. 30 May, 2013.
Gartenhaus, Alan. “Asking Good Questions (from Minds in Motion: The Docent Educator).” Center for Urban Education. DePaul University, n.d. Web. 30 May, 201.

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