Most postings for interpretive jobs include wording like this under skill requirements “The ability to answer the same question for the hundredth time as cheerfully as the first.” I never quite understood the reason why this is considered difficult enough to be called a skill.
I’m spending this summer volunteering for the Oregon Island National Wildlife Refuge, and having a wonderful time. My major responsibility is to do twenty hours a week of roving interpretation in a state park that overlooks the largest island in the refuge. More than anything else I have done in my career this is exposing me to the dreaded repeated question, but I still am enjoying the chance to answer every question.
Lately I have wondered why, unlike most skills in interpretation, this one seems to come naturally to me. I’ve come up with two possibilities. First, I consider every question as a chance to improve my answers. Over time my answers become more fluid, thematic, and focused. I am always trying to discovered new themes in the resource, and I experiment freely. Each repeated question is a chance for a do-over, a chance to do it better.
More importantly, I know that each person is unique and has different needs. There may be only one way to answer the most common question of all “Where’s the bathroom?”, but there is no single best answer to a question like “Why can’t I visit the island?”. I use those questions as a way to open a quick dialogue to understand the thought process behind the question and to determine how I can best convey the meaning of my resource to that individual.
Now that I think about it, I’m actually cheating. By constantly honing and customizing my answers, I am NOT answering the same question over and over again. Except maybe the bathroom one. There is only one building, and it has large signs featuring pants and skirts. Maybe that question does take a little skill to smile through!