What You Can Learn From a Tour Guide About Quality Education

I recently returned home from our family’s much-delayed summer vacation abroad (you can guess the reason). For the last 5 years or so, we’ve become big proponents of AirBNB Experiences when we travel to new places, not only as a way of acclimating ourselves to each city, but also to get unique perspectives on the lives of those who reside there. You can book some really interesting activities – over the last few years, we’ve done some hands-on to learn how to make Montreal-style bagels, create our own scented soaps, and become a beekeeper for a few hours.

But the majority of the “experiences” that we book involve walking tours of some variety. Fortunately, I have a very curious and outgoing 11-year-old who likes chatting with tour guides so he’s always happy to come along (the wife likes them, too). On our most recent trip to Amsterdam, we went on five different walking tours over the course of a week. They all had a unique theme – one was a food tour, one took us out to a town with several windmills and a wooden clog factory, one was a canal cruise, one introduced us to the more “adult” side of Amsterdam (the boy was excluded from that one), and one was a more general historic overview of a nearby city.

As some of you may be aware, I also serve as an occasional volunteer tour guide in the historic area of Philadelphia during the summer, so I have some experience on both sides of the “walking tour” experience, which perhaps give me a bit more of an expert perspective on the issue. Maybe. Let’s just pretend either way, shall we?

A few days ago, I began thinking a bit more about all of the walking tours that we’ve been on through the years, and especially some of the qualities that separate a good tour guide from a bad one. I quickly realized that there are a lot of parallels between a good tour guide and a good CME faculty member. After all, both roles focus on education and engaging an audience. So here are some of my takeaways on what it takes to succeed in either role.

  1. Be prepared. Know your subject. You don’t have to be the be-all, end-all expert, but you need to do your research. It might even be a good idea to practice your delivery.
  2. Be a storyteller. No one is interested in a litany of names and dates alone (or detailed clinical trial data). Give your information some context and explain why it’s important/interesting.
  3. Have some personality. Don’t be a drone. If you look like you are checked out, guess who else won’t care?
  4. Be passionate about your topic. I had a mother come up to me after one of my recent tours and ask if I was a history teacher. When I told her that I wasn’t, she said, “You should be. You really seem interested in what you are talking about.” Alas, not making a career change.
  5. Tailor your talk to your group. This is much easier when you are dealing with a small gathering of 5-10 people and you can get to know the people a little bit, but anyone can take the pulse of even a larger room to get a sense of who is listening to you. That’s what our demographic ARS questions are for, right?
  6. Find the people who are most interested and focus on them. If you are in a room or leading a tour with a group of 20 people, not everyone likely wants to be there. That’s OK. Identify the people who seem most engaged and keep them in your corner. Often, they’ll be the ones to bring in those folks who showed up because someone else dragged them along.
  7. Invite curiosity. Maybe you get questions that you think are stupid or of little interest to you. So what? Once you shut a person down, they are going to tune you out. This happened on our last tour during our vacation. You could tell the tour guide just wanted to get things over, and walked far ahead of the group between landmarks. When anyone asked him a question, his responses were clipped and a bit off-putting.
  8. Laugh. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at your surroundings. And get other people to laugh. Remember, you are there both to educate and to entertain.

CMEpalooza Archive Updated

Scott and I like to play this little game where I send him an email saying “Hey, I updated the CMEpalooza archive with links to all the sessions from the previous CMEpalooza” and then he responds by saying “I thought you did that months ago, you doofus” and then I respond by saying “No, I just did it today, duh” and then he responds back with “It’s August, and the last CMEpalooza was in April, you ding-dong” and then I respond back to him with “Yeah, I know, I was there, duh” and on and on. He’s funny when he gets annoyed.

(Quick aside: while we may poke fun at each other on the blog, neither of us has ever written anything as devastatingly backhanded as what Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about Henry David Thoreau after meeting him for the first time:

Mr. Thorow [sic] dined with us yesterday. He is a singular character–a young man with much of wild original nature still remaining in him; and so far as he is sophisticated, it is in a way and method of his own. He is as ugly as sin, long-nosed, queer-mouthed, and with uncouth and somewhat rustic, although courteous manners, corresponding very well with such an exterior. But his ugliness is of an honest and agreeable fashion and becomes him much better than beauty. On the whole, I find him a healthy and wholesome man to know.

Now that’s a vicious compliment.

The point of all this is to say that the CMEpalooza archive has been updated and you can find links to all of our sessions there. There are a lot of them. Enjoy!

Welcome to the CMEpalooza Center

As many of the fans of our blog know, Derek and I are big fans of the Philadelphia 76ers (I know, I know – a lot of you don’t follow sports. Keep reading anyway). We both go to a smattering of home games and exchange furious text messages as another season goes down the tubes in the early rounds of the playoffs.

Big 76ers news last week, though, gave us renewed enthusiasm during the doldrums of the offseason. The 76ers ownership, along with a few well-heeled partners, announced plans to build a new downtown arena, scheduled to open in 2031. Of course, with any new stadium comes a new naming rights agreement. You know what I mean. Smoothie King Center. Talking Stick Resort Arena. KFC Yum! Center. Slap a little corporate branding up there for a few million (or hundreds of million) bucks, and voila!

So as various local entities put out the call for creative naming ideas of the proposed new stadium, we figured, “Hey, people love CMEpalooza. People also love a worthy cause. So why not give people a little of both?”

Here is what we are asking you to do:

  1. Go to this link and flood their inbox with proposals for CMEpalooza Center (please, please, please, don’t misspell CMEpalooza. Big CME. Little palooza. Put them together. CMEpalooza). Make up a good story. Maybe Derek promised his son that if he got straight As in 9th grade that he’d do something special for him. Maybe my grandmother told me on her deathbed that her dying wish was to see CMEpalooza Center in lights. You get the idea.
  2. Donate! Now, let’s be realistic here. At SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, naming rights cost $400 million over 20 years. That seems a bit, I dunno, excessive. So we’re setting the bar a little bit lower. We only want naming rights for 1 year. Let’s peg the cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million. That means we only need 25 of you to donate $1 million each! That’s less than 10 cents a day (Derek, check my math) (note from Derek: Close enough!).

ThisĀ  is your chance to make an academic wunderkind/ailing octogenarian’s dream come true. Don’t let us down.