Being a good storyteller is paramount to creating a good guide. And you need a good guide to make a memorable experience for your guests.
There are lots of ideas about how tell a good story. You can find many resources that break down how a story needs to have a theme, plot, story structure, characters, setting, a defined style and tone, etcetera. While these elements are definitely part of any story, the first thing to do is to think about the bigger picture. Make sure you understand the rationale of your story.
What story is being told? If you are making a guide about an exhibition, the curator may have made the story fairly apparent. But if you have to craft your own narrative, come up with an engaging theme. As Professors Sam Ham and Betty Weiler explain, “A premise of thematic interpretation is that getting a theme (message) across to an audience can ‘persuade’ by producing desired knowing, feeling and doing outcomes. And this is certainly true when the theme is strong and compelling to the audience it is intended to impact.”
Don’t Whitewash History
Recently, a Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast friend set up visits for me with tour guides at a couple of the architect’s houses in Chicago. The friend had been on the tours before and is always eager to find out how much of Wright’s private life is discussed. Wright’s philandering left him with different families and alimony to pay. His finances motivated him to take on new business. Some of the new designs have been criticized for not keeping the same standards and style as other works. While that can all be debated the motivation of the architect to have to work significantly more because of his personal financial situation is well known.
Colonial Williamsburg has certainly learned to be accurate and authentic. They now have street theater for characters of all types — cotton plantation owners, craftspeople, and slaves acting in character in the streets. The Williamsburg foundation’s manager of public history development, Bill Weldon, said, “We never found anything we aren’t willing to portray.” “If you are responsible and if you portray things responsibly and realistically, it’s the best teaching method,” Weldon says of the interactive, environmental street theater. “Public history, as opposed to academic.”
Take a stab at telling your own tale with some advice given by Writer Jeff Goins. He suggests three steps to enliven a story: 1) Use a hook; 2) Tell the story; 3) Reflect.
Don’t expect to tell the perfect story the first time you try. Just ask me how many times I have tried to tell the story of my company. It can take a lot of work but it also needs feedback from the audience that you are telling it to.
One of the great things about having a digital platform for creating guides is that you can edit them in real time. I highly encourage guide creators to try telling their stories and publishing them on MustSee. Use the service to get feedback from your audience, and then edit your story. Keep updating your guide until you feel sure you are giving people the experience you intended.