Three storytelling secrets to improve your heritage interpretation

Interpretelling draws on the ancient art of storytelling to make contemporary heritage communication more effective.

Storytelling contains several important lessons for interpreters. Here are three of them.

1. You must have mastery of your content

Good storytellers know you must have to mastery of your content if you want to be clear, confident and creative about communicating it.

You have to believe in, value and respect a story, otherwise you can’t tell it. It is not your story to tell.

This brilliant storytelling interpreter at Stokesay castle (English Heritage) has mastery of his content to such a degree that he could convincingly and compellingly deliver ‘The one-man Battle of Agincourt’.

The same is true for interpretation, particularly for interpretive writing. Writing is transparent and a bit magic – your readers can only take from it what you put in. If you are jaded or secretly daunted by the scientific and historic data, it will show. (I am sorry about this, but it is true.)

But if you find the beating heart of your communication, if you step willingly into your story, you will open a way for your readers or listeners to follow.

These things take, and deserve, time and care.

2. Watch and respond to your audience

Anyone who has done any live performance knows the importance of adapting what you do and say to your audience. Storytellers do that all the time. As interpreters we are fortunate to be working at a time when our information about and understanding of our visitors and their motivations is better than it has ever been (see here). Quality market research helps us do our job better.

Some of the most interesting work I have done over the last five years has drawn on the findings of detailed and careful visitor segmentation research. This allows us to create meaningful interpretive experiences for diverse visitors.

 3. Interpretation is (even) harder than storytelling

A story is a sequential narrative – it begins at the beginning and goes on until the end when it stops. Most of us cannot do that in our on-site interpretation.

Usually it is not possible to impose a sequential narrative on the physical reality of our sites and the self-willed behaviour of our visitors. We therefore have to apply the insights of storytelling in a more difficult context.

When we are working on-site we must deliver the key elements of our story, as and where we can. This makes our life very interesting.

A year ago, I was a keynote speaker at the Museums Australia / Interpretation Australia in Perth Western Australia. This is the fourth extract from my talk: you can read others here, here and here.

My title was Bridging experience; story as a vehicle for interpreters’.


About susancrosstelltale

Great visits to heritage and natural sites do not happen by accident. This blog is about the work that make special sites great places to visit. I hope it will be useful to visitors and host alike. Find out more at me and my blog.
This entry was posted in Heritage attractions, Interpretation, Interpretation Australia, Interpretelling, Stories, Storytelling, Tips and advice, Visitors and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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