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.

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!).

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

The Numbers That Lie

Hello everyone, and hello summer!

We’re back (OK, I’m back – Derek is in Alaska for two weeks) from our usual midyear hiatus and are in the beginning stages of planning for CMEpalooza Fall — that’s Wednesday, October 19 if you are scoring at home. We’ll have our Fall agenda soonish. That means sometime before the last fresh corn of the season leaves your local supermarket. We like to give ourselves plenty of wiggle room with these things.

Anyway, I’m here today to write a little bit about data, or more significantly, data that makes you go, “Hmmmm.” Since the dawn of CMEpalooza, we’ve tracked traffic to our various delivery mechanisms to get a sense of what’s popular, what’s not, how our audience is growing, etc. The usual metrics. And truthfully, we’ve grown about 10-15% in terms of general traffic to just about everything year over year. It’s been a nice, steady climb that we’ve always felt good about.

And then came this Spring, and well, something weird happened. Our YouTube viewership for a handful of sessions went crazy. Prior to this Spring’s event, our most viewed session had accumulated somewhere the neighborhood of 2,500 views according to YouTube analytics. Derek probably has the actual number somewhere, but I’m too lazy to do research (hello, it is summertime!).

As we do following every live event, Derek and I went in to see what our YouTube numbers looked like this Spring. We can see, in real time, how many people are watching each session — that’s one of the best things about Streamyard, the platform we use for our broadcasts — so we knew our live event was well attended but in line with previous iterations. So we were quite surprised a few days later to see what our YouTube metrics looked like for two of our sessions.

Beyond Checking the Box to Achieve Commendation: 6,327 views
Demonstrating the Value of CME to Internal and External Stakeholders: 9,064 views

Every other session from the Spring had relatively normal traffic, but these two significantly outperformed any expected metrics. I joked to some of the presenters of these sessions that perhaps their legions of college exes had been stalking them to see what they were up to. We dug a little deeper into YouTube Analytics to try to figure out what had happened. And while were are some answers there, a lot of questions remain.

From what we could tell, these two specific videos somehow became popular “recommended” suggestions for people watching other YouTube videos. For the most popular of these two CMEpalooza Spring sessions, the most popular linked videos were the Optimist Bahamas Live StreamData Exchange Podcast (Episode 123): Jack Clark; and Day 1 Conference: “The Geopolitical Impact on Talent Acquisition” (Anke Strauss, IOM). All very interesting I’m sure, but I have no idea what any of them have to do with our sessions or what about the title or content or audience may have triggered their inclusion in those videos “recommended” suggestions. Not surprisingly, the number of viewers of these two sessions who watched more than the first 30-60 seconds was quite low, a significantly lower percentage than our typical sessions.

For those of us in the CME planning world, we see these sorts of statistical anomalies from time to time. Maybe it’s pre-test data that looks a bit squirrely or something in the evaluation that has us scratching our heads. It’s often tempting to overlook the potential drivers of these data deceivers because they look so good. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to report that 5,732 learners accessed one of our online educational activities or that only 12.3% of learners answered a pre-test question correctly about a key variable tied to a learning objective? But usually, there is enough that looks suspicious (and sometimes, you can figure out the issue) that requires the outlier data to be cast aside.

So no, in our next CMEpalooza sponsor prospectus, you won’t see us crowing that our overall audience for the Spring 2022 event was 400% greater than any other iteration. But say we did. Would that be a boldfaced lie? Technically, maybe not – I mean, the YouTube data shows what it shows. But in an industry where we rely so heavily on data to tell our outcomes stories, it’s the interpretation of the data that often matters most. So, no, we won’t pretend that thousands of people are suddenly interested in Derek’s new haircut or the insightful question from our audience at 34:52 of one of our recent sessions. We’re good, but we’re not that good.