The izi.TRAVEL platform allows to create advanced indoor and outdoors audio guides. However, for the beginning it’s better to start with rather simple options. This course will help you to create your fist basic audio guide and make you familiar with the system.
by Jonathan Groubert – Trainer | Journalist | Storyteller | Copywriter | Fixer | Podcaster
Content? No problem! Credibility? Check! An engaging narrative? Whoops!
If you’re reading this, you already know the audio guide for your museum, gallery or institution needs to be more than a glorified book. You’re aware you need to be erudite and enriching. But are you aware that you need to be entertaining? This is why we’ve compiled a list of, let’s not call them rules, but rather inspirational rules of thumb. These are powerful ideas you can tailor to meet your situation and spark creativity. And yes, they are in order of importance.
You Are Your Guide – Your Guide Is You
Your guide, your choices, your voice, both literally and figuratively, will set the tone for everything that follows. This is way more important than the great coffee in the café and mugs in gift shop. Your audio guide isn’t just associated with you; it IS you!
So how do you treat your guests? I give mine the best place at the table, something to eat and a lovely, welcoming tone of voice. That’s how mother raised me. Your visitors deserve the same. They’ve given you their time, money and energy. Make them feel welcome. Don’t make their visit hard work.
Do this right and they’ll already be thinking about coming again and telling their friends.
Show Don’t Tell!
I’m a know it all and I love nothing more than to show how erudite I am and to tell people why my taste is so incredibly awesome. I’ve also learned, through painful trial and error and some overly honest friends, how pontification is incredibly off putting. And yet, a great museum, gallery or exhibition is an ideal teachable moment. So how do you circle this square?
Entertain and humanize. Take this video about the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It’s soooo good. What makes it good? Rather than fawning on a towering historical authority, it’s self-deprecating. Nietszche is shown to be a three-dimensional person full of doubts and flaws. Yet he can still credibly wax lyrical about the “ubermensch”. I didn’t have to watch to the end. I wanted to watch to the end because it was interesting and, more importantly, fun.
Cheap is Expensive Part 1
If you’re just starting out, you’ll have an understandable desire not to overdo it. But don’t make your guests fret getting the equipment to work.
Here are few things you must do. A. Record your audio in a quality studio or using good mics. B. Use professional actors who know how to make a text come alive. C. Use real (royalty free) music. D. Script for the spoken, not written, word.
Here’s a good example from the Prado museum, in which a fictitious “Master Pablo” enlightens us about El Greco’s “A Fable”. Listen to the use of actors, the 17th century(ish) language and great sound effects. They invested time and money and it pays off. The painting comes alive.
Cheap Is Expensive Part 2
I recently took a walking tour through the Beijing’s Forbidden City and, while the city was fantastic, the audio tour was pretty bad. Here’s a list of what went wrong: everything.
It was supposed to be geographically activated. It was, kind of. The very nice lady doing the narrating tried to be lively and amusing. She was…unintentionally. Her English was from the 1930s. Her script sounded like it had been written during the Cultural Revolution, careful and bloodless. None of that was as bad as the headphone. This was a single elastic ear piece meant to fit snugly to my giant left lobe. Picking it off the floor for the tenth time, now covered in dirt and dust, I had to conclude my earpiece sucked very, very badly. Dix pointes for offering the tour in Esperanto though.
So…Why Does This Matter Again?
Ever seen the Mona Lisa? We know da Vinci’s masterpiece is important because she’s surrounded by selfie-snatching twenty-somethings jockeying for an angle that gets their faces and her wry smile into frame. But do they know why this painting is so important?
Do they know Margaret Livingstone, a neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School, discovered that da Vinci purposely painted her face so that Mona Lisa’s smile changes depending on where you look, due to peripheral vision? Do they know it wasn’t really all that famous until a British poet literally waxed lyrical about it 1867?
They probably don’t know and they won’t know …until you tell them.
Lingua Franca, Lingua Schmanca
Hey, I bet you had no idea that fossil Pampatheres are Cingulates that are “xantherians with a shell”? To most of us, that’s a kind of ancient armadillo. Yet this is a real sign at a real museum that shall not be named in this article, but was named here. C’mon go look. I know you want to.
99.999999% of your visitors are not experts, museum curators or even educated amateurs. They are, however, definitely curious and open-minded. Don’t lose their goodwill by keeping them at a linguistic arm’s length.
What’s more, English is a second language for nearly a billion people. Few native speakers will know the difference between a gouache and a watercolor, or an australopithecine and a Neanderthal. This is an opportunity to explain almost anything in a way that’s fun and doesn’t condescend.
Think it can’t be done? Watch adorable British physicist Brian Cox explain Particle Physics to group of interested laymen in terms anyone can understand. His sense of passion and wonder comes through like a gamma ray through uranium.
Everyone Loves a Mystery
Look around you. Your gallery, museum or exhibit is a potential soap opera filled with intrigue, revenge and mystery. Who influenced/stole from/was married to/had an affair with whom?
Frida Khalo is an international star of the art world, but during her life, her fame paled in comparison to her husband, Diego Rivera. These days we’d be hard pressed to remember his name. How did that happen?
Create a mystery narrative that has your moving from one location to another as they discover hidden truths, deeper meanings and unknown relationships between the pieces. Adults like games just as much as kids.
Welcome to Short Attention Span Theater
Maybe this is just me, but when I listen to an audio guide, I ruthlessly hit that “next” button the instant I feel a pang of boredom, even if it’s well made. My limit: about three minutes.
Here’s a great guide that combines points one to six AND manages to keep the segments under three minutes. The British Museum created the (partly) fictional tale of King Rædwald as a way illustrating the meaning behind artefacts found at an Anglo-Saxon site at Sutton Hoo in East Anglia.
Everything Old Is New Again
Guernica! Picasso’s most famous mural was inspired by the bombing of a city during the Spanish Civil War. Well, war has not ended, nor bombings, nor civil wars nor Spanish or European politics. Guernica is as relevant as ever.
Today’s events have an analogue in the past and visa versa. Portraits of powerful noblemen might be the iconic Barack Obama “Hope” picture of their day. A steam engine might have transformed lives in the same way the Tesla and other electric cars are threatening to do today. This is your moment to transform the past into the present.
Break the Damn Rules!
Throw caution to the wind, toss out the rulebook, along with your sanity, and create special tours not for the faint of heart. Think I’m kidding? The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC has a political scandal tour filled with enough death, destruction, corruption and derring do to raise all your hairs and hackles. Now that sounds like it’s worth the price of admission!
Like I said, the above are not rules, merely suggestions. Use and abuse them to fit your specific situation. Whatever you do, be bold, witty and true to your own spirit. After all, if you have an exhibit, gallery or institute, you’ve got something singular. Your audio guide should be equally unique.
Museums are no longer only for transferring information. They want their public to be emotionally engaged as well. The challenge is to find the right balance between these two factors and to personalize the museum experience to different target groups. A digital storytelling platform is a good way to fulfill these request. In this paper, three museums have tested several ways of using and adapting a digital storyteller. Thereby they needed to work within a team existing of people from different disciplinarians. The results are positive. The interdisciplinary group got very creative ideas and new ways of seeing the way of distributing information. However, there are some challenges. The internal organizations of the museums will change. They need more professionals from work fields outside the museum sector, and the existing staff of the institution has to acquire new ways of storytelling.
Every object has several stories. For example, you can tell how it’s made, but also who owns it. However, you can also make stories of objects by speculating, imagining or make up an entirely new story. The project ‘Significant Objects’ shows that well-made stories can add value to an object. The better the story, the more people wanted to give for an object. Also thinking about a story for an object leads to participation. People start to think for themselves, and want to be part of the storytelling. This is why stories can be seen a starting point and not as an indisputable lesson.
The aim of this paper is to present the state-of-the art research project in digital storytelling for museums titled CHESS (Cultural Heritage Experiences through Socio-personal interactions and Storytelling). The goal of CHESS is to research, implement and evaluate an innovative conceptual and technological framework that will enable both the experiencing of personalised interactive stories for visitors of cultural sites and the authoring of narrative structures by the cultural content experts. We believe that the new modality of extended museum visit that CHESS proposes will make cultural heritage sites more attractive and effectively conveyed to audiences (especially to “digital natives”) and will provide new means to leverage and exploit the existing digital libraries that have been developed since several years in the cultural heritage world.
This article is dedicated to the most important elements of storytelling by referring to the Pixar movie ‘Finding Nemo’. For a story, it is crucial that the main characters have internal and external goals. The latter is a problem that is created by someone or something else, and that the character has to overcome. The former is a personal obstacle that the character needs to overcome (for example fear or insecurity), to eventually overcome the external goal. The thing that needs to be surmounted forms the central issue of the story. This issue has to be kept in mind in every scene and during the whole story, just like the internal and external goals. During the story there need to be crescendos; turning points with the rising of action between them. This way, the story builds up to the final action where the character overcomes the internal problem. During the climax of the story, the character surmounts the external problem. This climax forms the most important element of the story.
In this article twenty-two tips for storytelling are formulated, the tips are also based on Pixar. In this abstract I will describe the five tips that work best for me. The first tip is to keep in mind why you want to tell this story, that is the drive to write it. That second tip is to the simplify the story and its characters, the story will get stronger. Third, give the characters opinions. That will prevent that the story gets passive. Finally, there are two exercises the article recommended: unravel the stories you like and keep in mind why you like them and what you can learn from it. Second, take a story you don’t like and try to rearrange it into a story that you do like.
This article discusses three results from scientific research. The first result is that every good story needs some tension. Because the brain reacts to tension in a story and release oxytocin, a hormone that increases the empathy that someone is feeling. So when a story has some tension, the public gets emotionally involved in the story. This involvement also increases when the story has character, the social aspect of a story. The second result is that stories get better when there is a dialogue between different voices. The brain more easily pictures characters, and can switch quickly between these characters. When using different voices, the public gets more emotionally involved and interested. The last result is the importance of sound effects. The imagination is triggered more, and the listener gets more involved in the story.
Because digital storytelling is very new, there is not yet one existing storytelling method. That is why this article formulates four ‘do’s and don’ts’ for digital storytelling. First of all, see your constraints as encouragers for creativity and use them as a frame for your story. Second, don’t be afraid to move away from traditional styles when other methods work better. Then, try to make the story interactive by using the technology. Finally, cooperate with the software development team, so you stay updated on the latest developments and possibilities.
The Cultural Heritage sector faces two challenges: it has to improve the engagement of visitors and experts and it has to share the knowledge and content of the Cultural Heritage. Digital storytelling is an excellent medium to work on these challenges. It can be personalized for different target groups so that they become more involved, and it can disseminate knowledge in an easy way. Also, the medium is approachable for smaller museums with a small budget, and digital storytelling is easy to promote online. In this case-study, they worked on a project that should map the Etruscan cultural heritages. Several institutions worked together and combined their information into one storytelling platform. Storytelling is a good medium for the future. The possibilities should be explored more, for example how to bring the large-scale date in a clear way to the visitors.
Humanities is a scientific sector which can make more use of digital possibilities. Storytelling is one of these opportunities which can be of great use. Benefits include the ease with which scholarly work can be distributed through digital storytelling and the interactivity with the public. It promotes critical thinking, broader knowledge, and social awareness. However, scholars are used to a particular way of theoretical thinking and working and can see these new digital developments as difficult and unnecessary. They have to get used to new ways of working because storytelling can help the humanities to spread knowledge which would not be reachable otherwise.
‘Scientists need to improve their scientific communication,’ that is what Randy Olson states in his book Houston. We have a narrative (2015). Scientists know how to write a paper and how to focus on facts, but they don’t know how to bring their results to the public. Olson believes that science needs storytelling to bring knowledge to society and help to prevent future misunderstandings while keeping the stories correct and based on intensive research. In his book, Olson gives several ways of how to tell a story.
It is a transitional moment for one of the British Museum’s flagship products: the permanent collection audio guide. Nearly 160,000 visitors take the guide each year. It provides multimedia commentaries for 220 objects on display in museum galleries. In late 2014, the Museum embarked on a project to redesign the guide. This coincided with the launch of a new digital strategy focused on user-centred design. In a six-week Agile project, a cross-disciplinary team interviewed, observed, and tested paper prototypes with more than 250 visitors. This paper highlights the results, which include six key factors that influence take-up rate of audio guides and common patterns of behaviour in their use. It is of interest to anyone reflecting on the role of the traditional audio or multimedia guide alongside smartphones and mobile apps.
Verbal description of objects in museums or cities can offer a solution for people who are blind or have low vision. But also visitors with normal vision appreciate a combination of a description of the object and the story behind it. What are the main aspects you have to take into account when making a verbal description? First of all, your audio fragment must have the length of 1,5 – 2 minutes. Only when you make a virtual tour, it can be longer. Let your audience know how long the fragment will be. Then, when writing content, first tell the basic information of an object. So the title, artist, year of creation and so on. After that, describe the object very specific. Say where the viewer is standing, what colour you see, which technique is used. While writing, always remember that you write for a listener, not a reader. The sentences need to be short and clear, written in active voice and without unnecessary jargon. Also, write like you are talking and speak directly to the listener. An audio fragment can be more compelling when you add a sound. An ambiance background often works very well.
Rob Pyles is the owner of Audissey Guide and has made several audio tours through American cities. In this article, he gives ten, very useful tips for making tours. First of all, he advises to only tell the things you know very well and you find interesting. Second, take advantage of the fact that the traveller can walk in all the narrow streets and even step in building and cafés. Further, add emotion in the story you tell. Also, make the story personal. The fifth tip is to make sure that you use a good microphone and record in a quiet room. After you’ve recorded the text you can add background sounds, these sounds you can record in the city. You can also add music, but be careful with that because it can also distract the listener from the story. Keep the stories and the distance of the tour short. Try to surprise the listener, for example by leading them to unexpected places. Finally, be a friend of the listener. So keep it funny, casual and personal.
Museum ‘The Warhol’ wants to be more inclusive: they want to give their visitors an experience satisfying for all ages, abilities, backgrounds and so on. This idea started in 2014 when the museum developed audio tours and tactical reproductions of artwork for people who are blind or have low vision. During this project they had four aspects in mind: the content is meant for the user, so let them be involved. Second, don’t just build the tour for more accessibility but create a better experience for all visitors. Third, think further than the traditional audio guide, make it more special. Finally, start small, dream big: the goal of ‘The Warhol’ is to make an audio tour for the whole museum. In their blog they will keep the reader updated of the project.
The Warhol has made three tactical reproductions of Andy Warhol’s artwork. This way, all the visitors of The Warhol can experience the artworks in a different way. In this article the maker, David Whitewolf, is interviewed about the process. He tells that choosing the material was difficult. In the end, copolymer worked the best. Also, what is crucial, is that you only produce what you can see. You must not add elements that do not exist in the artwork. Finally, Whitewolf says he has learned about the importance of a descriptive audio guide. In combination with the tactical reproduction, it especially helps people who are blind or have low vision to imagine the artwork.
The Warhol also developed an inclusive audio tour, which means the tour is suitable for people who are blind or have low vision as well as for regular visitors. This article contains an interview with the developer of the application used for the tour. Making the app, Niculcea used the program React Native. This program makes it possible to construct an app, by only using Java Script. Advantages are that you can easily redesign the audio player without changing the fundamental basics of the app. Also, porting the app to Android is much easier with this program. What makes this audio tour of Warhol unique, is that the stories are separated into different chapters, each containing a specific category (historical context, artistic process, archival material). This way, the visitors can choose their own stories and follow their interests.
The Warhol always tried to use the newest technology to enhance the visitor’s experience in the museum. In 2008, the museum made its first podcasts for the permanent exhibition. Six years later, the museum made an audio guide, also suitable for people who are blind or have low vision and for deaf people. This time, they used Bluetooth beacons, so the audio automatically started playing. Only, the content was boring and long and not innovative. So in 2016, most unique of this tour is that the content is split into several themes and visitors can choose the theme they want to hear. Each theme has the length of only one minute. Also, the guide is more interactive. It encourages the visitor to think about the object and interpret it in their own ways.