Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Never-Ending Research Fun

It is a wonder I finish anything nowadays with my shortened attention span. It isn't that I have a lack of focus; I can focus. I just focus in concentrated bursts. Currently, I am reminded about my shortened attention span as I so some research for new tour ideas for the company I work with, Echoes of Nashville. Maybe I enjoy the material too much. As soon as I pull up one resource, I see another one! I have two separate internet programs running, each with over a dozen tabs open. Never mind my books and notes spread about me! I thought I moved on past graduate school! I never wanted to see this much source material again (or so I thought).

The Civil War in Nashville is only one chapter of a
large history book of a major American city.
Part of my problem is that I am developing several ideas at once. Each tentative program has a theme or idea propelling the potential tour. From one resource, I might pull material that will contribute to several different tours. I get to start from scratch how I develop these tours! I get to choose the direction of these tours! I get to build my own foundations for these programs (and continue building)! It is all just so dern exciting! It also means my resources are so broad that I keep falling into that black hole that historians know as "the never-ending story." Learning does not stop, research can feel like it continues forever, and the stories! Those stories are endless.

Maybe it is the story aspect that I am finding the most frustrating, not the abundance of research. All of this material continues to spark ideas of how I can frame the content to present to the public. What stories inherently spark interest? How do the stories connect to fuel interest further? Where will be the best place share this part of the past?

Building the outline of programming may be one of my favorite parts of being an interpreter. Another favorite? Seeing a visitor's spark "ignite" during a program. There is nothing quite like creating a connection to a resource.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cookie Cutter Programs

Whoa. It's like I died or something. (Hint: It's the something. I didn't die.)

New day! New post! I might be two and half months overdue, but I have to restart somewhere.

The other day, I spent a solid hour and half talking to one of my best friends (and favorite interpreters), Stephanie. (That's your shout out, Stephanie). She talked about a recent bus tour that came through her park in which three buses needed interpreters for short tours. The three park rangers had discussed what they should cover beforehand, then each hopped on their designated bus and gave their programs. She said, "if only there was a camera so we could see side-by-side video of each ranger- I bet no program was the same!" While some might think of that as a poor interpretive program (each bus got their own program), I see it as absolute success. If each ranger gave only a cookie-cutter presentation, presenting the exact same program in the exact same manner to each bus, that is not interpretation.

Yep. Good interpretive programs should not be
the exact same cookie-cutter version of a program every time.
The main idea or theme exists, but how the interpreter delivers will vary.
Interpretation happens when the interpreter senses the audience and captures the attention of that audience. Interpretation happens when the interpreter shares something (a fact, a picture, an idea, a story) with the audience that makes the audience think. Or feel. Or connect. Or want to learn more. The magic of an interpretive program is that no one interpretive program is the same (or feels the same). Factors that impact an audience include:

  • Audience demographic
  • Audience interaction (with both the interpreter and with other audience members)
  • Audience questions (what is your audience interested in)
  • Events happening during program (especially true if outside and activities are happening around program)
  • Weather!
  • Contemporary events- can you relate your program to something current in the news?
  • New research- interpreters are always learning themselves, finding out new ways, means, and materials to share with the audience.

Good interpretive programs should be called "interpretive experiences." Each program is a new opportunity to create an experience for the audience. The interpreter's craft is creating that experience. So, a round of applause to the three bus tour interpreters that ultimately had three different programs! You were interpreting, not cookie-cutting.

*On a side note, I feel I need to write a separate post on the significance of cookie-cutter programs. They are absolutely necessary for spur-of-the-moment programs, had-no-idea-I-was-scheduled-to-give-a-program programs, and when interpreters feel like death-warmed-over on the days the interpreters showed up ill for they don't have it in them to call in sick.