How To Be A Better Docent?

Whoo that is a big question.

First, I think it’s great that you’re asking the question. The best way to be a better docent is asking that question in the first place. That means you’re open. You’re thinking about it. It’s important to you.

Here are a few quick tips on becoming a better docent:


It seems odd that the #1 skill to work on as a docent is listening. We’re talking all the time, how is listening our most important skill? Listening is so much bigger than just paying attention – this is how you’re ultimately going to understand your group.

If someone asks a question during your tour, do you just rush by it so you can say more of what you want to say? Do you assume you know their question because you’ve heard it a million times before?

Stop. Listen. Take the time, because you never really know what your group is asking you until they feel comfortable enough to ask the WHOLE question.  If someone in your group has a question it’s important, even if you have things to say, to listen and answer their question fully.

It also can lead your group to a really original place. Every once in awhile a group and I will get into something we normally don’t delve into -all because of a great question. That group leaves knowing they got an original tour (I make sure to tell them this too – “we normally don’t get into this, but since it’s such a great question…) AND had their questions heard and answered.

Code Switch

Okay, let’s say you’ve listened to your group and they’re tired and you’re running them ragged and no one is listening and it’s beautiful outside and everyone is looking longingly at anything but you?

Pivot. Switch. Change it up. In the workshop we talk about “being in the tour you’re in vs. the tour you WANT to be in.” If you find your group isn’t with you, you must develop the flexibility to change it. Don’t be afraid to do this! This is what makes your tours original and different.

I’ve written before about the Fact Trap – about we docents get stuck in our facts. Sometimes the answer is to drop every fact you have and talk about meaning, or what they think. It might surprise you and you might learn something.

A Sense of Play

I know what you’re doing is important. Your words are important. You’ve spent a lot of time learning how to say what you want to say. I know! I know. But look, it’s the classic “they’re not going to remember what you said, they’re going to remember how you made them feel.”

If you bring a sense of play and fun to your group, they’ll have a great feeling about going to your museum. Maybe ask them to walk as the old man in the painting? Maybe they tell a story behind it.  Or maybe pass round an object and have the group imagine different reasons for it?

Ultimately, it’s a feeling of pleasure and education you’re trying to create – the more fiercly you stick to your facts and script, the harder that’s going to be.

So, how to be a better docent? Remember, get out of your head and into the space.