Writing for AudioConexus has taught me a lot about the visitor experience and how to create dynamic guided tours. This is the first in an occasional series looking at our writing process, a how-to for anyone facing the first blank page in their audio tour script.
I started writing in the
With weeks to go until the project kickoff meeting, I read every scrap of information I could find about X’s life and career. By the time I met the customer on site, I considered myself an expert, fully prepared to put my personal stamp on this renowned destination.
That lasted about two minutes. I had just started outlining my vision of a walking tour that would encompass the full significance of X’s career when my customer interrupted me. “Oh, our visitors know all that. They’ve been X fans since they were in diapers. They come here to take a close-up look at the place and hear what X did right here.”
Then he walked me through the site. Only then did I realize how cramped the building was. With visitation through the roof, the audio tour would have to keep crowds moving. There went all my commentary about X’s significance. Any digressions from the story of the site itself would create bottlenecks, leaving long lines of impatient visitors waiting to get into the next room.
In other words, I had squandered all my lead time researching a tour no one wanted to take. In the process, I had cluttered up my head with preconceptions about the content that got in my way for the rest of the project. That painful experience taught me to limit myself to general research until I’m actually on site.
The AudioConexus creative team’s goal is to bring fresh eyes to each site. We want to experience it from the same perspective as other first-time visitors. We begin by taking the existing tour several times, at different times of day. Along the way, we note logistical issues, questions, and our own likes and dislikes.
Whose Story is This Story?
In our first meeting with the customer to discuss visitor demographics. As an audio tour writer, you need to know who you’re writing for: retirees, public school students, young urban singles, families with children? Are they here on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation or a Sunday outing? Did they get to the site by car, bus, boat, or plane? How easy was it to get here, and what’s their likely state of mind going into the tour? How do they want to feel coming out of it?
Find out what languages most visitors speak and which will be provided for multilingual tours, a rapidly growing market. Your script needs to translate clearly from one language to another. AudioConexus also evaluates how we can make tours more inclusive for visitors with differing abilities.
While you’re taking the current tour, discreetly spy on other visitors in your group. Do they look engaged or fidgety? What do they say to each other? What questions do they ask? When are they busy taking pictures? What confuses them? Bores them? Excites them?
Research begins by knowing your site, your audience, and your customer. That information determines which stories to tell. In the of X, my A-list celebrity, visiting the site before I started deep research would have saved me weeks of wasted effort.
Find out as much as possible about tour operations and the tour system. Sure, it’s “just” technical information, but it has a direct impact on how you structure your tour. For instance, if visitors pick up their players a few minutes before the tour begins, you have an opportunity to write an entertaining introductory message that will get them excited about what they’re about to experience.
Remember, the route and timing dictate tour structure, not the other way around. Any story you tell has to fit the time available and complement whatever listeners are experiencing when they hear it.
This gets complicated when both the route and the timing are subject to change. City bus tours often take alternate routes to avoid traffic tie-ups or because of fluctuating weather. Using a GPS-triggered bus system, you can script commentary to cover likely delays and alternate routes.
When we write bus tours, members of the creative team visit as many points of interest along the route as possible. This is particularly important for Hop-On/Hop-Off tours, which encourage visitors to disembark along the way and then catch the next bus to continue the tour. Say you’re taking a city tour of Paris and your bus stops at the Louvre. What would motivate you to hop off: statistics cribbed from the museum website or a story about getting lost in the galleries and stumbling upon a world-famous artwork? It’s easy to write good stories about something that really happened to you.
Many tours include cross-promotion for the customer’s other tours and services, so try to experience them all firsthand. You should also take competitors’ tours, not to steal from them but to focus on what distinguishes your customer from the rest of the pack.
Absorb and document your site visit in as much detail as possible, especially with photographs and videos to jog your memory later. Most of all, start collecting stories! Self-contained narratives with a beginning, middle, and end humanize your subject matter, crystalize your message, and create an emotional response in your listeners.
You should leave the site with a rough outline of the tour, including which stories to tell, recurring themes, and the voices to include. Don’t be afraid to characterize your narrator as someone with a personal interest in the site. Imagining the voice of your tour as a specific person—a middle-aged, college-educated local resident or a young hipster visiting for the first time, for example—will help you write in a clearer, more conversational style, and to communicate your proposal to the customer for their approval.
Now Start Reading!
One of the most important questions I ask customers is whether they can recommend (and in some cases, supply) reference material. Read their approved sources first and pull as much information from them as possible. Then find additional stories and facts if you need them. (By the way, AudioConexus writers footnote all sources in the text, and I recommend it; footnoting as you go saves an incredible amount of time if anyone questions your facts later.)
How much research should you do before you start writing? All you want! Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll be selective about which rabbit holes to dive down. I still nerd out over projects. I get immersed in native wildlife, regional cuisine, local terminology, and historic photos, then drive my friends batty sharing fun facts—but now I let the customer be the content expert. I’ll never know as much about the site as someone who’s been there for years.
As an audio tour writer, my initial focus is nailing down the tour format, structure, and timing. Then I can focus on telling the right stories for this tour, stories that make listeners look at the world differently, laugh out