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Tour Operators often deliberate over the benefits of hiring an Experienced Guide vs. a Newer Guide.
The benefits of an Experienced Guide being, obviously, their experience, and the benefits of a Newer Guide being that you can often mold them into the specific style that you're looking for (in my opinion, the best teams have a combination).
I mention often that I think most skills can be taught- even 'muscle-memory' skills. And there is really only one skill I think new guides take some time to develop which is the ability to; 'just figure it out'.
Unexpected traffic, a food stop that is randomly closed, a guest that shows up for a walking tour...unable to walk long distances (all things that have happened to me)... While these challenges are more common than you'd think, the skill doesn't come from solving a specific problem and now knowing the solution. It comes from solving unanticipated problems on a regular basis.
In this article I'll offer some tips on how to develop this skill in order to quickly up-level from newbie to experienced guide.
HOW TOUR GUIDES CAN IMPROVE THEIR SKILLS TO "JUST FIGURE IT OUT"
(1) Have Back-Ups (Lots of Them)
The best tour guides are usually able to hide when something goes wrong. Which is often.
The best way to prepare for the unexpected shop closure, or parade or vendor who has no idea how the tour tasting works (I've experienced all of these personally...many times) is to have tons of back-up plans.
As much as possible, come up with a list of back-ups for each stop on your tour (keeping in mind your tour's inclusions that are listed on the website).
If the tour offers a 'coffee' have a few backup coffee shops that are convenient to your tour route. Have several 'quiet' places you can give your group information while en route, several options for places where they can sit and rest.
Make sure you know the information your usual vendor gives if they are too busy to talk to your group, have back-up stories, and trivia games ready for when you're stuck in traffic or need to stall for time. And, most importantly, have back-up bathroom options if one proves inaccessible.
In an ideal world, your guest will never know that these back-ups are not in the regular tour, but if not, I always tell guides, "Sell the heck out of Plan B";
"Oh no, it looks like the coffee shop has closed early today for some reason- that's never happened before!
But you know what, my favorite coffee shop is on our way to the next step and, honestly I never get to bring people there so, you know what, I'm going to take you there instead! Please don't mention this in your reviews later on, I'm normally not able to take guests there and they might get jealous!"
(2) Known How To Get Your Rhythm Back
Each individual story has its own arc and flow which makes it tough to continue when that’s interrupted.
But you can practice ways to jump back into your story. For example, have a question you can ask the group that will lead back to where you left off, or skip ahead to the next exciting part of the story to grab their attention back.
Once you give a tour enough times, you might even be able to predict the types of distractions that could pop up and when, and prepare specific segue back into your story.
For example, let's say there's a dog park near the spot where you discuss Irish Immigrants on your tour. And it's not uncommon for an adorable puppy to pass by, completely taking your group's attention...;
“Wow, that puppy was so cute! Actually this is the perfect. Imagine that we’re 19th century wealthy New Yorkers, and that puppy who just walked by was an Irish immigrant.
We would have done exactly what we just did, stopped and stared. But instead of being delighted, we would have been scowling; 'Look at that cute puppy- it seems like there are more & more cute puppies every day! They’re over running the city, before we know it there will be more of them than there are of us!' And that would scare us!...”
(3) Practice Letting It Go
Sometimes, there’s just no going back.
Maybe you always take a specific side street because there’s an amazing photo opportunity but today the street is closed. Or maybe you were about to launch into an amazing story about a building you pass, but your group got caught up in a really intense side conversation and you can tell they're not going to let you interrupt.
Or, even, for example, a strange character stands behind you and starts to mock you as you talk to your group, making it completely impossible for them to pay attention to what you are saying*.
In those cases you just need to let some things go. Obviously nothing that’s integral to the story of the tour (or a tour inclusion), but you might just need to cut some of those fun facts, or that favorite shop you like to point out.
Remember, if your guests don’t know what they are missing, they won't miss it.
Guests expectations for a tour are incredibly low. So long as you're aiming higher, your tour can still be exceptional even if you have to miss a few elements.
*This exact scenario happened to me in Times Square while I was trying to explain its history to a group of school children. To add to the distraction, the man was eating a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich and was pretending to spit it on me.
Needless to say, the group was not able to hear a word I was saying.
I simply had to stop talking and lead my group into the nearest hotel where the man was stopped by the security guard who I subtly alerted on my way in.
Instead of a history lesson on Times Square, I instead gave the students a lesson on how in NYC, everyone is welcome. Which sometimes means you meet some strange characters… But what made NYC so safe is that you were never alone and that ducking into a shop or a hotel is a great way to ditch someone if need be.
They found this all very exciting and I’m sure no one missed the information on Times Square’s history…
(4) Perfect Your “Everything Is Fine” Face
No matter what happens, so long as you remain calm and relaxed, often your guests will never pick-up on the fact that something went wrong.
And this is something you can easily practice.
Yoga and meditation are great tools for guides to be able to flip on ‘calm’ in the face of chaos and internal stress. You can even practice something as simple as breathing in for 4 beats, hold, then breath out for 5 beats.
I like to do this when I'm waiting for the metro. This way it becomes easy to slip into, and, should something crazy happen during a tour
So that, should something crazy happen on your tour, you can force yourself to breath which will slow your heart rate and make it easier to keep you “Everything is Fine” facial expression.