Monthly Archives: January 2013

Oat Soda Interpretation

Did you know there are beer interpreters? I have never met one, and though I am well acquainted with this resource, the experience sounds intriguing. Until I get the pleasure, I would like to just drink beer with interpreters.


Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to drink coffee too. Any chance to catch up with colleagues outside of the hectic pace of work would be welcome. I am thinking once every couple months. So if you live near Asheville, let’s give it a shot. If you are elsewhere, you could start your own. If anyone already does this, I’d love to hear about it.


Why not embrace the universal concepts of relaxation, tradition and deliciousness with some fellow interpreters? Good things could happen.

Categories: General | 1 Comment

“Inspect What You Expect”

Get out of your office see visitor trends, interactions, dispel myths, and add “speed bumps” along the way.

I heard the above title through a Disney Leadership Training or Disney related book and decided to combine it with an exercise from Stephanie Weavers, Creating Great Visitor Experiences book and go for a walk, eight walks to be exact.  Yesterday, I made it a point to get out of the office and walk the front lines of our aquarium galleries once an hour for eightDSC03727 hours. With a map of our site I noted where visitors were as I moved from gallery to gallery with a colored dot, each hour a different color.

Here’s what I found:

  • A volunteer feeding the pelicans attracted one of the biggest audiences of the day (this was a nonscheduled interpretive moment and surprise for our visitors…hmmm maybe we need to do more of these?)
  • Visitors DO tend to go to the right when entering an exhibit….what to do with the exhibits/flow to the left that are being skipped over.
  • Our newest exhibit (Madagascar) is still a hit as it was continuously packed with visitors. Time and money well spent…whew!
  • Certain exhibits had consistent visitor density all day, others not so much. What can we learn from that.
  • There are a number of dead areas where visitors didn’t seem to go. Perhaps the addition of a volunteer or educator would attract more folks and increase their length of stay. We could add these “speed bumps” to lengthen stay and value for our visitors.
  • There were places where visitors gathered without exhibits or interpreters….interpretive opportunity?
  • A signage component that was thought to be “lame” and “unvisited” was consistently visited hour after hour. Hmmm… Don’t assume!
  • Seating is packed around kid play areas (parents). Kids play areas popular all day. Where could we use more benches? Coffee?
  • Blue shirts draw a crowd. Aquarium staff creates many engagements and interactions.
  • Personally the walk turned out to be a great brainstorming session and allows me to reflect on programming and the visitors rather than the impending meeting, deadline, or awaiting email that can bog me down.
  • I begin to see length of stay patterns with certain groups or families I see each hour.
  • Its fun being with our visitors and serving them while doing the exercise.

What and where are things happening/not happening at your visitor center, museum, park, zoo, or interpretive trail? Take a walk or eight of them!

Categories: General | 3 Comments

Being great is not enough for your audience

We always dream of interpreting an amazing natural or cultural resource. Some people dream about the “coolest” sites in their mind and how easy it would be to make them relevant to their audience. I have heard quite a few times interpreters saying “my site is nice but nothing amazing or mind blowing so interpretation can be challenging; only if I was at _____, my job would be so much easier”.

The Washington Post tested your theory in 2007; if we have a world famous musician playing a master piece on one of the best instruments ever built people should stop by and admire him. To their surprise over 1,000 people walked by and hardly anybody even noticed that he was playing, he collected a few coins during the 47 minutes he played at the Metro Station.

His name is Joshua Bell, one of the best violinist in the world, a few days before the experiment he had a full house at the Boston’s stately Symphony Hall where tickets were no cheaper than $100. He played a violin built in 1710 by Antonio Stradivari worth $3.5 million dollars. Obviously the performer, the instrument and the music could have not been any better but nobody knew about it.

It is our job as interpreters to make sure that people understand what is ahead of them so they can make a connection. Otherwise another 1,000 people will walk by your site and miss the uniqueness of the resources.

The entire article can be read on the Washington Post  and here is short video of the experiment.

Categories: General, Interpretation tools | 5 Comments

Interpretive Opportunities: The Hard Work is Worth It

It’s that time of year again. I and my fellow students are preparing to return to school as well as trying to get motivated to learn about subjects such as history and biology. I often hear other students questioning the system, asking why they have to memorize so many scientific names and technical details. “When will I ever use this information in my job?” some students ask. This is actually a worthwhile question. Why are the long hours spent in researching a resource and preparing for an interpretive program so crucial to accomplishing the aim of interpretation?

Many of the reasons that good research and preparation are so important can be found in the idea of creating interpretive opportunities with the interpretive equation. When I first saw the interpretive equation, KR + KA x AT = IO, on my boss’s office wall it almost gave me a headache. However, as I began to get out in the field I quickly learned how effective it was to have the appropriate technique, which was based on knowledge of the audience, and to combine that with knowledge of the resource. All of this adds up to give the visitors to one’s site a chance to form a meaningful connection with the special place.

Although practicing my technique and getting to know my audience are crucial to creating an interpretive opportunity, sometimes the hardest part of the equation for me is learning what I need to know about the resource. It is hard to anticipate what questions will come up and what opportunities will arise, not to mention wading through all of the available information to find what is relevant. However, knowing the details allows me to take advantage of any impromptu opportunities or questions that arise. This is also so crucial for showing how the details fit into the big picture.

For instance, say that I was leading a tree identification hike. I not only need to have the technical knowledge of how to identify trees, but I also should possess a sound knowledge of the surrounding ecoAcorn smallsystem in order to show how tree fits into the bigger picture of the general area and utilize universal concepts such as survival and home. A sound knowledge of the ecosystem is also the key to being able to tie in unexpected events, such as spotting a deer, to the overall theme of the program.

All of this research and study may sound like a lot of work, and it is, but it is also completely worth it. When I do the work and get it right and the visitor is able to have an “ah-ha” moment where they see how the pieces fit together and how they fit into the picture, then it makes me feel like I have done something meaningful and worthwhile as well. I have helped the visitor to connect with the resource that I love, and hopefully I have also planted a seed in them to help protect and care for the resource in the future. I would encourage any other interpreters to study your resource, ask questions, listen to stories, and get out in it and have a few “ah-ha” moments of your own.

Categories: General | 5 Comments

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