Presenting Lessons from Walking Tours

shop sign advertising antique guns, swords... and gold jewelry

Last November I was in New Orleans with a friend, and we went on a couple of the many (many!) walking tours offered. These are essentially 2-hour long presentations, but the stage is the street and the slides are the city itself.

Whilst I often find the presentation style a bit overdone (especially in a city like NOLA, where much was made of the ghosts – the best walking tour I ever did was quite low key, letting the history speak for itself), I’m taking some lessons back to the presentations I’m preparing for 2016.

Have a Theme

You cannot cover all details of a city (or a technical topic!) so often a sub-theme is picked within the topic. In the ghosts tour we took, it was French buildings. It’s a heuristic as to what goes in and what gets left out, and it ties things together.

Handle Interruptions

Cars driving by with music blaring, a group of people walking past, a child having a tantrum, interruptions are constant and the best guides have developed ways to handle them without it throwing them off. Even just pausing whilst the noise passes, and doing it confidently, like “you can wait, because the story I’m telling you? It’s worth it.”

A Sense of Place

A walking tour is set in a city, and also in a time period within it. This is a powerful way to orient people up front.

Tell a Story

A walking tour is made of stories, not facts. All the better to draw people in.

Build a Crescendo

The order of the stories is carefully chosen, the guide for our ghost tour choose the penultimate story to be the most creepy. The gradual escalation draws people in, especially in that context where the stories get increasingly improbable.

Give People Somewhere To Go

Tours always end with instructions: here’s where you are, here’s where you came from, and here are some places you can go. Normally bars and restaurants, which isn’t that relevant outside this tourist context. But – thinking critically about where the kind of people who will be at your talk, and where they want to go after seems like a useful thing to do.

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