Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Approaching the first tour

Tomorrow is my first volunteer day at Ellis Island. I'll be there with an experienced guide, plus another new volunteer. It's funny how much this is feeling like the first day of school -- I'm all about the details of where I report, how I present myself, whether I'll like the people I have to be with, and whether I know enough yet. I know the expectations are low on the part of the EI people, and that I don't need to be an expert on day one, but there's still a twinge of uncertainty. I guess I'd have to be worried if there weren't one.

The other day I had a little bit of a dry run tour with a friend who'd never been to Sandy Hook. He'd seen my photos from an insider's tour I'd taken a few weeks ago and was interested in learning more about Fort Hancock, particularly the gun batteries. I drove us around to the Nike base, Officers' Row, and then over to Nine Gun Battery and Battery Peck at the tip of the hook, realizing that there was a lot more I wanted to convey that I didn't know. Not that I see myself giving tours of Fort Hancock, but I discovered that there's a big difference between knowing the information and sharing it with others: what you absorb from guides is often just a fraction of what they've told you.

It was really proven out to me when we dropped by Battery Gunnison for what I thought would be a quick stop to see the restored and reinstalled 6-inch guns. A member of the Army Ground Forces Association, the World War II reenactors who are restoring Gunnison, happened to be there to pick something up. As he unlocked the gates to the battery's interior, he welcomed us in for a quick tour. "Quick" became about an hour as he showed us the magazine, explained the reasoning for the type of artillery stationed there, and how it worked. Seeing our interest, he also brought us into the restored plotting room where Army personnel tracked incoming ships and calculated the appropriate aim for the guns based on information from spotters stationed around the fort and in the Highlands. (My learning: today's Army personnel should thank their lucky stars for radar and computers.) This guy clearly knows his stuff and loves sharing his knowledge, but don't ask me to repeat half of what he told us.

So... the lesson is that you've got to do your homework, because what you retain from hearing others is likely just a percentage of what they've told you. A script outline is really, really important. And the guide needs to stay vigilant in gauging the audience's reactions, and be willing to adjust to meet their expectations and interests. It's not as much about what you want to tell them, as what they want to know and learn (SPIN sales training, anyone?).

Besides my volunteer shift tomorrow, we'll be returning to Fort Hancock on Friday evening for a nighttime garrison tour with the park historian. From previous experience, I'm already aware that he can be a bit longwinded, especially when it comes to artillery. Besides learning about the fort, I'll be paying close attention to how he gauges the crowd and how he adjusts to accommodate their input.


  1. Hope you have a good time today, look forward to a full report!

  2. Too late to wish you good luck but I have confidence you did great and I bet you already know things you can do better. Giving tours is great fun. Congratulations!