24 November, 2022 | Posted by Jim Dempsey

What Top Two Qualities Do All Excellent Tour Guides Have?

What Top Two Qualities Do All Excellent Tour Guides Have

Tour guiding is an oral profession. For 10,000 years humans have gathered around campfires and told stories.

Indeed in his book ‘Sapiens’ - Yuval Noah Harari says it was ‘flexible communication’ that started humanity on its journey towards the world we live in. I agree with this. Storytelling, live oral storytelling, as opposed to written or recorded storytelling, is the prevailing skill of the tour guide. We work exclusively with the voice. 

Two qualities I watched out for in people when I was training tour guides in Wild Rover Tours were that ‘they loved the sound of their own voice’ (were able to talk) and that ‘they had the twitch; were authentic and interesting’.

Over the course of this season, my first full season back post-covid, I came back to these qualities.

The Top Qualities All Excellent Tour Guides Have

When I teach tour guiding, history is essential. Gaining knowledge of history is essential but more essential is the ability to then tell that story.

In the classroom, I see natural storytellers who know they have the ability but lack the knowledge. Similarly, there are history geeks who would bore the life out of you.

In order to be effective, and successful, as a tour guide you need to be an accomplished teller as well as knowledgeable. Stories are transmitted too. Some 93% of communication is non-verbal so we ALL are transmitting non-verbally ALL the time and being aware of this is the art of the storyteller.

Knowing your biases; managing and even enhancing them at times is the practice of an accomplished tour guide. Awareness of how to communicate non-verbally; how to manage that is one of the key aspects of how I teach this course.

Adaptability becomes a key trait of long-serving guides and their ability to fit into any situation and remain relevant and interesting. Fluidity in the mindset is essential to allow you to connect with diverse groups of people. This is a trait that some have naturally and others have to learn.

Sounding like a political broadcast is all too common among tour guides. Despite all your efforts, your point of view will come out no matter how much you try to limit them. This is authentic expression; it is inevitable but when it is framed by a wide perspective it becomes valuable.

That authenticity is what clients are paying you for. Nowhere in the world do people come to a country where the people themselves are a tourist attraction but Ireland.

Honing the skills of the oral tradition is essential; none of us, very few of us are that talented. I learnt from experience the art of listening and the art of speaking are one and the same. Those who can listen are the most capable speakers. Listening is a quality I have thus come to recognise when looking at tour guides. An unbalanced level of authenticity is corrected by coming across as a listener.

Learning to use the voice then becomes essential. Managing the vocal range and ability also is a process we must manage; learning to speak up and out.

I have seen people overcome speech issues in order to get their words out. Getting out words is not easy for many people. This too then becomes part of the curriculum.

If you are interested in becoming a qualified tour guide, check out our QQI level 6 Tour Guide course start dates here

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