When Hamlet says, “…the play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King,” he hoped to evoke an emotional response from the king through story.
Today, we still flock to Shakespeare’s plays because his stories evoke a strong emotional response that we crave. As a tour operator, you can harness the same power of storytelling to create an extraordinary experience for your visitors—one they will cross oceans to see and hear.
The Heart of the Story
Visitors want an experience when they travel — it’s what they left home for. No-one wants to listen to the audio tour equivalent of someone reading a history textbook.
“The adult audio guide was boring. It explained in detail about the building,” says one visitor to the Vatican Museum online. “The child’s guide was fascinating – we all took turns listening to it. And upon leaving, it was the 9-year-old who knew more about the history, socio-political and artistic context of the works we had seen than any of us.” The desire to be entertained doesn’t end with childhood. Good storytelling captures the imaginations of visitors at any age, engaging 9-year-olds and 99-year-olds alike.
Heartfelt stories bring history to life and give visitors something they want to listen to over and over again. Your visitors likely won’t remember the birth and death dates of the architects who built the cathedrals on your tour. What they will respond to is the reason someone cared enough to design, commission, or build the structure. And more than that, they’ll remember listening together as a family, laughing together as friends, and finding delight in the shared experience of the destination, just as the family at the Vatican bonded over their child’s audio tour – sharing in her delight, surprise, and fascination.
“It’s so important to make history contemporary. Highlight the reason why visitors today should care about this place,” says Ange Berlin, VP Creative, AudioConexus, who has written audio tours for attractions around the world. “A monument or building is so much more than dates and facts. It’s about the people who built it. The people are the story.”
Take, for instance, the Taj Mahal. Few people remember the two decades of construction details, the materials used, the building dimensions, or who the chief architect was. It’s the story of devotion, devastating loss, and grief that inspired its creation that leaves a lasting impression on the three million people a year who visit this monumental tribute to love.
In 1992, only days before Valentine’s Day and just months before she and Prince Charles announced their separation, Diana, Princess of Wales, was photographed alone on what has become known as “Lady Di’s Chair” in front of the mausoleum. That image of loneliness captured the imagination and hearts of the popular press and reverberated around the world. Loss of love is an emotional touchpoint, relatable to princesses and commoners alike.
The Language of Story
What are the secrets to great storytelling in audio tours? Ange Berlin has a few pointers. “When creating an audio tour script, consider how people actually talk so that the text sounds natural when spoken. Imagine writing your audio script like you’re speaking with a friend and telling them the story of this place.”
The Art of Writing for the Spoken Word:
- When people talk, they use shorter, varied sentences.
- Colloquial words and contractions create a more lively, conversational tone.
- Consider how the written word will translate to vocal delivery concerning musicality and flow.
- Allow for breath and pause for both the voice talent to deliver the story effectively and for your audience to absorb the story.
- Write in shorter units of thought that are easier for your visitors to follow.
- Use familiar or common words to ensure your visitors understand.
When scripts come to life, they sound natural, friendly, and welcoming instead of prescribed, lifeless, and insincere; and you avoid jarring your visitors’ ears, distancing them from the tour experience, and downgrading your online reviews.
The Five Senses in Story
Although tours are reliant on sight and sound, creating a multi-sensory experience when writing your tour script can add even more dimension. As author and creative artist Marianne Richmond says, “To create a full, engaging experience for our readers, however, we must write to delight all five of the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Neglect one or several senses and a story becomes flat, one-dimensional and sadly cast aside.”
Rather than layering in adjectives or describing in words what the location would have smelled or looked like, consider using a subtle soundscape in the background to create a sense of time and place, evoking a multi-sensory response.
Notice how the Elizabethan music and elevated voice of Juliet reciting Shakespeare’s iconic lines work together to instantly transport you to the Globe Theatre of the late 1500s. The audience laughter brings you into the performance, acting as “claques” to inspire the listener to laugh along. The applause at the end puts you in the experience, as if you’ve actually witnessed the performance in the theatre space. By describing the lack of hygiene and use of garlic – a highly potent smell – your olfactory system tingles, and you get a laugh out of it as well.
Memories are linked to the sensory centers of the brain. “That’s the beauty of our memory system,” says Jay Gottfried, a scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. “Imagine a nice day on the beach. The smell of sun lotion, the friends you were with, the beer you were drinking; any of these could trigger memories of the whole thing.” Engage your visitors’ senses through their audio tour experience, and you connect with them emotionally.
The Shakespeare Experience
Shakespeare followed a dramatic story structure designed to keep audiences entertained while engaging them in his characters’ plight. You don’t have to be as masterful as the bard, but to create a tour that leaves an overarching impression on your visitors, you will want to have a clear purpose.
“It’s important to set an intention for your tour,” says Berlin. “Ask yourself, what’s the message that you want your visitors to leave with? Then find a way to communicate it in ten different ways, creating a golden thread that turns your vignettes into a meaningful journey for your visitors.”
Shakespeare delighted audiences for decades during his lifetime. It’s safe to say he knew how to captivate an audience. Invoke the spirit of the bard when writing your audio commentary, and when people hand in their headphones, they’ll have goosebumps on their arms, a smile on their face, or tears in their eyes. That’s when you’ve created an experience that will inspire them to write a glowing review, tweet about their experience, and post and share.
What’s Your Next Story?