I have heard that when athletes visualize their activity-what the ideal sprint or dive or jump looks like-that it is as effective as physically practicing it. The same cannot be said for giving a tour. I always visualize the ideal audience; engaged, interested, and knowledgeable. This is not realistic. Therefore no matter how well I finesse my tour on the page, nothing compares to road testing it. I have also never given an adult tour before, therefore experience is not on my side.
Fortunately my beta test went well. The odds, however, were in my favor. I co-delivered the tour with Lora Voght, Curator of Education and seasoned expert at giving tours. I also had the pleasure of giving the tour to the ideal group of people, the Young Friends of the museum The Modernists. They were engaged, excited, and forgiving. I had also done my homework. This tour has been in development for a month and a half and I have most of it memorized. I am also comfortable speaking to people, a factor which cannot be taken for granted.
Regardless of the points in my favor, I was still nervous, tripped over my tongue, and played the fool; a definite no. Not playing the fool goes back to setting the guest up for success. The visitor should always be at ease in the fact that you, as tour guide, are the leader and that they will not be made uncomfortable. This means no question should make them feel ignorant and no response should belittle them. When nervous, I revert to self-deprecating or dead-pan humor, both of which are not ideal for a tour. They are simply too risky with a group of strangers and could alienate the audience.
While humor is a fine balance, it is also an essential part of a successful tour-depending on the content you are covering. Making people laugh is the best way to keep them engaged. Banter with them, make it a game (where they are the winner), and keep it intimate and personal. These are points that I cannot always write into a tour but am learning with each delivery. Practice, therefore, is crucial. The next time I give a tour, it will be better. The next time I write a tour, it will be smoother because the “firsts” are out of the way, and the odds will be ever more in my favor.