Tell Me What You Like/Dislike in a Museum Tour Guide

This will be my second year as a tour guide at our local (general history) museum. (My other duties include cleaning, storing, numbering, and helping preserve artifacts.) I absolutely love my job, and approach it with great enthusiasm.

The greatest amount of customers come from families/tourism, but we also give tours to large groups of local grade-schoolers. Mostly, our tours are one-on-one, but sometimes during our busiest times, we’ll have a group of tourists with one guide leading the tour.

What I would like to know is what you enjoy or dislike most in a tour guide. People often tell me that they enjoyed the tour, but never provide any constructive criticism. If possible, give examples of something that a tour guide did that either bothered or pleased you. What sort of details do you enjoy?

As a guide I’ve often wanted to share these “tips” with museum-goers:

  1. Please, ask questions! We enjoy answering them, and it makes the tour so much more fun, because then we can determine what interests you the most, and can focus on that aspect.

  2. For the love of God, keep a leash on your kids! Occasionally, it will take me longer than the tour to wipe the fingerprints and drool off of the cases, and I get a sore throat from having to shout over a shrieking child. In one room, we have artifacts out of their cases, and when I have to constantly remind them not to touch, it gets distracting.

  3. Please don’t touch anything yourself. I know you’re not intending to break anything, and you’ll be “careful” but there’s a reason why I have to wear cotton gloves to touch the items myself. Fingerprints can be damaging to wood finishes, and sometimes old furniture is very fragile.

  4. Please don’t wander off! When leading a group, other get annoyed when I have to chase you down and bring you back to the group.

Hmmm…hard to know how to explain this, and it may just be a personal quirk, but I get uncomfortable when I feel like I have to look at the tour guide the entire time she/he is talking. Sometimes I feel like they draw too much attention to themselves somehow, and it starts to feel like a conversation where you have to make eye contact. In thinking about this now, it would help with that if the tour guide kept referring back to the object(s) somehow, as in, “if you look at the top left corner here…” I like to listen to the tour guide and look around at the art, or artifacts, whatever. Sometimes it just feels rude to do that, though, and I feel like I have to keep eye contact, nod, etc. Referring to the objects might help with that.

I’m not sure if I am explaining this well. Ask questions if I am not. And by the way, I always ask the tour guide questions. I am glad to hear you like that. :slight_smile:

I like tours best when the tour guide is personally interested rather than just doing a job. You know, when the person is talking in a monotone and it’s obvious that they’ve said this stuff a hundred thousand times. I bet your really good just because you enjoy it.

I’ve been on several tours where people had running conversations between themselves as the guide was talking. (And it was MOST annoying on a cave tour) I think that the guide should have the responisbilty to try and keep a lid on that kind of behaviour.

Tig Old Bitties.


Lissa, my sista! I also work at a local history museum and tours are a big part of what I do. (What’s up with adults who touch things in a museum? It doesn’t bother me so much when kids do it–hey, they’re still learning how to be civilized–but when their parents do it, it drives me mad.)

People seem to like it when I ask where they’re visiting from, what else they plan to see, etc. Interesting anecdotes also go over really well, as do quirky facts they might not already know. Whenever I have kids on a tour, I pay special attention to them. They dig it, and so do their parents.

Hmmm. I’m not really coming up with anything earthshaking, but I’ll be following the thread with interest. :wink:

When Zyada and I visited the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden here in Vancouver (allegedly the first traditional Chinese garden built in 400 years, and the only one outside China), our guide seemed to be an old primary-school teacher who kept insisting we “Look at this, not anything else!” Even a glance away would provoke her. Even worse, she seemed to be reading from a script without really knowing much else about the place.

If you visit, take your chances on the tour, then go around again by yourself.

Luckily, there are mostly guides like Lissa and burundi around.

I work in a museum “town” full of old buildings, and my own pet peeves with the other tour guides (which I’ve brought up more than once, to no effect)

  1. People don’t really care about the names and history of the donors of objects or when things were acquired. Talking about that is done mostly because it’s on the object’s inventory card and is used as time filler for the tours. Then the guides complain there isn’t enough time to do an adequate job.
  2. When doing a tour of a natural site, like a cave or mountain, a little goes a long way in the “looks like” business- That spot over there looks like a duck, that stalactite is called “the cone”, that crag is “the wolf’s head”, yadda yadda yadda.
  3. Announce at the start where the restrooms are so you won’t have to field a half-dozen urgently-whispered requests from parents of hopping children.

** Brynda, ** I’m not one of those types . . . I guesture to what I’m talking about, and look at it myself, so people don’t feel the need to stare right at me the entire time. (It’s actually a bit unnerving when they do. I’m not the “star” of the show, the museum is . . . I’m just the narrator.)

** Leifsmama, ** I find it’s not hard to avoid the “robot” sound. I vary my “spiel” every time I give a tour, based on what the people seem to be most interested, I rotate with different historical antecdotes, to try to keep a fresh sound to the tour. With me, a tour can last anywhere from a half an hour to two hours based on how much detail the people want, and how interested they are. I’m not going to drag it out with people who are just “killing time” and don’t really care, but for those who are really into it, I can keep on going.

** yawndave, ** it’s harder than you think sometimes. I try to remain as polite as possible, but sometimes, I’ve found myself speaking to them like children if they persist. (“We’ll all wait until you’ve finished.”) I’ve never kicked anyone out for this kind of behavior, because usually, a few pointed glances are enough to take care of the problem, but I have had situations in which the people just would not stop talking. What to do? I can’t leave them behind, and I can’t throw them out, so I just try my best to keep them as quiet as possible to keep them from disturbing others.

Though, it looks like ** neonoon ** was banned, I think he brought up something important in his first point: the amount of detail given about a particular object. If the donor was someone particularly interesting, like a President, I’ll mention it, or if it was made by someone unusual (such as furniture made by a coffin-maker) I’ll say something to that effect, but you can learn a lot from your patron’s body language in how much information they want. If they just barely glance at the object, I keep it short and sweet, but if they pause to admire it, or ask a question, I’ll give them more detail until they seem to loose a interest.

When it comes to kids, I’ve found they like the “gross” details the best, like how people went to the bathroom, or how uncomfortable life was, in having to share beds, having few clothes, and only getting to bathe once a week if you were lucky. (The idea that people were stinky amuses them endlessly, and they are horrified at the thought of few toys, and no GameCube to entertain kids in those days.)

All in all, I love my job. I’m actually happy to get up and go to work in the morning. I get to be “smart” and tell people neat little tidbits of history that they may not have known before. I get to examine artifacts minutely, and care for them knowing that I’m preserving something for the future. (It’s a sort of immortality.) I get to do research, and occasionally amaze my co-workers by being able to identlify a mysterious artifact because of something I’ve read. I get to play with the old toys and dolls. And amazingly enough, they PAY me for this! Am I lucky, or what!

The only thing I can really think of to make a museum tour great is if the guide is passionate and knowledgeable about the subject. You seem to be both. Therefore, you must be a great tour guide. Congratulations! :slight_smile:

You have a great job, I’d like to work in a museum sometime…

The only thing I can really think of to make a museum tour great is if the guide is knowledgeable and passionate about what they’re doing. You seem to be both. Therefore, you must be a great tour guide. Congratulations! :slight_smile:

You have a great job, I’d like to work in a museum sometime…