Someone told me last week that their organisation had researched what people wanted from a day out at a heritage site and that ‘having a laugh’ was one of the top five answers.
I wasn’t (and am not) totally convinced.
I wish I knew more about that research – what exactly was the question? and who was it put to? and how?
But I don’t, so I’ll just take it face value. With a grin.
I like laughing. I do it a lot. I like getting other people to do it too. I like doing it together. There is just a possibility that this makes me a better interpreter.
Last night I tested this idea with my mates in the pub. Very grounding, they are. They didn’t sit and ponder. They laughed long and loud at the idea that people might visit heritage sites looking for a laugh. They then laughed a bit more at me for even considering it as a possibility. We spent the rest of the evening telling jokes. It was good.
Maybe we shouldn’t take this too seriously.
But we certainly shouldn’t make communication about heritage too serious either. Often our visitors don’t.
Maybe that research is not so off beam after all. Talking about laughter may just be a quicker and more fun, less jargon-ridden, way of saying ‘having a good time with family and friends’, or ‘trying something new’ or ‘building relationships’ or whatever. Laughing can a great part of all of those – all of which I recognise as ‘motivators for cultural visits’.
Laughing is a personal thing. Maybe we laugh when we make a strong emotional connection. Maybe laughing together forges our relationship to the site and intensifies our experience of it.
I can certainly think of a lot of cultural visits where judicious use of laughter helped. And even more where it would have!
Recently I have been on two great guided tours. One at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, the other at the Anglo-Saxon burial site at Sutton Hoo. The subject matters were miles and centuries apart but both tours left us talking. Some of the things we talked about most were the things that made us laugh. And because we talked about them – we will remember them.
Laughter, like stories, is a great way of getting your message across. Heritage interpreters therefore need to be very serious, and not at all sniffy, about it. I recommend regular laughter practice for all interpreters.
I may well therefore have to introduce irony, wit, and a range of lower and less appropriate forms of humour, in and around the scheduled sessions on ‘Interpretation Now’ our new training course in Wales in May. Amongst other contemporary issues we will consider recent research on visitor segmentation and motivation for visiting heritage sites. There is still time to join us.