You’re passionate about history. You can’t stop reading books about your favorite time periods, events, cities—you name it. You devour documentaries. And now, you’re leading a group on a history-themed trip. Maybe you’re a tour guide or a trip leader and you can’t wait to share your knowledge with your group. History tours can be invigorating learning experiences, but they can also be overwhelming and forgettable for travelers trying to digest what they’re learning. Here are five tips for ensuring your history-focused travel experience connects with travelers:
Remember your audience doesn’t know as much as you do
This might seem obvious, but it’s crucial to avoid Expert Blindness: the phenomenon in which someone knowledgeable on a subject assumes their audience knows more than they do. Remember, everyone has different levels of understanding. Are you using specialized terminology, like putti, Doric, or antebellum? Are you introducing individuals with their full names and roles in an event or are you assuming people know who a well-known general is?
Find a theme and edit mercilessly
What’s truly important about the story you’re telling? Remember that communicating with a group that’s traveling is the opposite of reading a long book at home. Every word counts and you have to hold their attention. Ask yourself, what is truly important for my travelers to understand about this place or event? What’s the point I’d like to convey here? Connecting the various sights you visit with a thematic link helps travelers understand how everything fits together. Be careful not to cloud your point with so many details that no one remembers anything.
Dates are helpful anchors in your mind for understanding the flow of history. However, when you’re sharing with an audience, they’ll go in one ear and out the other, and without content they don’t mean a lot. Instead of starting your talk with a date, start with a hook that gets someone thinking. If you’re talking about the history of the Statue of Liberty, don’t share when it was built, but say: “When the idea of this statue was floated, it was a pipe dream: no one knew how to build it, or how they would raise enough money.” Now you have their attention, and along the way, you can provide context, which includes dates but also cultural context, etc. Start by connecting with the audience.
Find the personal angle
Historical events can feel impersonal. When talking about large, complex events like World War II, it’s easy to stay zoomed out and talk about large numbers of people, famous names, and the general flow of an event. But to an audience, we connect most with the individual stories of real people, fleshed out with their personality, their hopes, aspirations, and motivations. The more you include individuals and make them real people to an audience, the more travelers will care about and understand the larger scale.
Think about the emotion behind the story
Rudyard Kipling said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” A good story connects us on a very human level. And more than facts and figures, humans remember and connect through our senses and emotions. That’s why a historical movie like Titanic tells both the larger story about the ship sinking, but also through the emotions that stem from the people on the ship, fighting for life, but also falling in love. Universal human emotions like struggle, love, hope, and fear are emotional anchors that allow an audience to connect with the story on a human level. The more you anchor your communication in our shared humanity, the more you’ll make an impact with your audience.
Mitch Bach is the co-founder of TripSchool, a learning organization that helps tour guides and other travel professionals grow their skills and pursue their travel career dreams. He is also a principle at Tourpreneur, a company that helps operators flatten the learning curve and increase profits in a supportive community.