(4 minute read)
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If I asked you who the ‘star of the show’ was on a tour, would you answer; (a) the tour guide or (b) the guests?
The average traveler might assume (a) the tour guide. However amazing guides know that the true answer is (b) the guests. So when a very physical wall (of computer screens and distance) is put between the guide and the guest, it makes it very hard to make the guests the ‘stars’. In fact, it makes everything you knew about being a spectacular guide no longer totally relevant.
It takes a different set of skills to pull off an experience virtually. Especially if you consider the fact that, instead of having a group’s energy to feed off of, you’ll kind of be sitting in your room talking to yourself…
In this article, I’ve put together a checklist of things to think about to pull off an engaging, memorable, and logistically smooth virtual tour.
Five things to consider for your Virtual Tour.
Lighting- Do some research to make sure you are lit up in a flattering way (nothing kills a tour faster than ‘creepy dark basement vibes’). Be creative with the lamps, lights, and windows you already have.
Sound- You might be limited in terms of what microphones or headphones you have access to (quick tip- regular phone headphones are ideal in a pinch) but you’ll also need to think about exterior sound such as roommates or noise from the street.
Framing- Do you want to be standing, farther away from the camera? Perhaps you have your camera propped up, or someone will be filming you. Or do you want to be close to the screen so you can read comments and click through your slideshow? Also- what’s behind you in the frame? Guests might be easily distracted by the view out your window or the titles on your bookshelf.
Props- Are you going to use physical props such as photographs or maps? Where can you place those so they are within reach?
Being in the moment and improving off the energy of a group doesn’t work the same way with virtual events. This is a new space for most guides, so it’s important to think of it as a new skill.
Things you will want to test out ahead of time;
Every single presentation or workshop I’ve given, I’ve given first for my Mom. It helps me catch any remaining typos on the presentation and allow me to time myself. Very often I'll also realize something I’m saying is clunky or confusing. If nothing else, it gives me that extra boost of confidence knowing I’ve gone above & beyond to prepare.
(3) The “Opening Speech”
‘Housekeeping’ is even more important on a Virtual Tour as this is new for the guests as well.
As with any tour, you’ll want to introduce yourself, give your credentials (why are you the best person to give this tour? What are you passionate about that relates to this tour?), and set expectations by telling guests what to expect throughout the experience.
Specifically for Virtual Tours, you’ll need to give them permission to, and explain how to, interact. Can they ask questions as you go? Maybe you’ll encourage them to interact with each other?
If you’re dealing with Zoom or another interactive platform, you’ll also have to go over the logistics of ‘keep yourself muted’, explaining how or when to ask questions.
I’ve found that there is an even higher chance of someone not paying attention while on a Virtual Tour, so make sure to repeat these important logistics throughout the experience.
Avoid the temptation to simply give a lecture or webinar (unless that’s the format). This is a TOUR, how is that different?
A basic element of an effective experience is to have a ‘point’, or an end goal. This goes beyond the general topic of your tour. What do you want people to get out of their time with you? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to have learned?
Similarly, what is your big ending? When I train about ‘tour endings’, I always start by asking guides; “how many of you get applause at the end of your tour”. How will you wrap everything up into one final anecdote or parting wisdom?*
I highly recommend ‘scripting’ your Virtual Tour (at least somewhat) in order to keep this structure. You don’t have to memorize it, but it will keep you on time, on topic, and result in a well-thought-out experience. Remember, a guide going on a tangent can be endearing in real life, but when you don’t have the ability to read the body language of guests through a computer screen, it’s an easy way to lose your audience virtually.
*You can prove the importance of a strong beginning & ending with the Peak-End Rule.
Now is a great time to evaluate your personal style as a tour guide. Are you more of an educator or an entertainer? What is it that you’re really passionate about?
Taking stock and being aware of your tour guide style will be important to recognize so you can do any needed adapting while on-camera. For example, if you’re a guide with a big personality that relies a lot on wit and jokes, it might be TOO big on a small screen. In this case, you might choose to frame your whole body to accommodate.
Think about other things you typically do during your tour that you’ll have to be creative to translate online. For example, if you always connect guests with each other during the tour, how can you do that through the comment section?
You’ll also want to think about interaction which is a great way to make a virtual experience more engaging. It can be something as simple as having people comment where they are from at the beginning, or having them answer questions or do trivia during the experience.*
*You’ll have to think back to logistics in order to make your experience interactive. Will you have the ability to look at comments as you talk? What if someone if filming you or the camera is far away? Can you then hold a smaller device in your hand to check comments? Just one more thing to prepare ahead of time and then explain to guests how it will work.