4 Easy Ideas for Creating Engaging Museum Audio Guides.

It’s an interesting time for audio guides within the world of museums. In some ways, audio guides represent a fairly traditional way that staff has employed to encourage visitors to look closely and think critically about objects in our collections. But in a post-pandemic world during the age of social distancing, museums can leverage this technology to engage visitors in exciting new ways.

If you’re new to creating audio guides, you can reach out to us to learn more about Gesso’s mobile guide app, designed to be one of the most accessible and affordable platforms available. If you’re an old pro and looking for inspiration to shake up your current audio offers, here’s a list of our community’s top priorities when it comes to making audio guides that visitors will want to listen to.

1. Length: 90 seconds is the sweet spot

Our experts agree that short and concise is best when it comes to individual audio guide stops as visitors tend to lose attention when stops feel too long. We recommend keeping stops between one-two minutes for introducing visitors to key concepts and pointing out details they may have missed upon first viewing. However, some of our participants are experimenting with longer-form audio, such as podcasts, that can extend the museum experience beyond the galleries themselves. This is especially relevant during a time when many people are still accessing #museumsfromhome.

2. Accessibility is key

Accessibility is a key idea for our community when it comes to audio guides, from how and where visitors encounter audio guides on site to providing inclusive experiences for visitors with disabilities. You can read our suggestions for how to promote your audio guide on site, which provides a number of entry points for visitors to discover and access guides. Audio guides also provide the opportunity to reach visitors where written interpretation often falls short by breaking down the barriers that typically exclude visitors from marginalized backgrounds. This includes providing translations for English Language Learners, verbal descriptions for individuals who are blind or with low vision, and American Sign Language videos for Deaf visitors. (Did I mention all these features are available through Gesso?)

3. Voices people want to hear from

If you’re looking to explore new avenues for audio guides, the quickest way to freshen up your content is to reconsider who speaks on your guide. Curators and other experts in your content can provide a great base knowledge of the objects on view, but featuring diverse voices can help captivate and hold the attention of your visitors. Our community found that hearing directly from the artist (when possible) is always very appealing to visitors. When that’s not a possibility, our community taps into some often-overlooked resources, including students at a college art museum and even security staff. Utilizing your museum community in this way builds comradery among participants, increases representation, and empowers your visitors to interpret your collections for themselves.

4. Tug at our heartstrings

Audio is a powerful medium that — perhaps more than other forms of interpretation — help us to connect to other people. There’s something special about hearing real people describe their experiences and reactions to works in our collections. It can be an intimate experience. Audio can also convey personality, point of view, and emotion that doesn’t often come through in wall labels or texts. It’s an outlet for telling stories that tug at our heartstrings and inspire us to take action. One person to another.

What creative ways have you dreamt up to engage visitors through audio? How have you used audio guides differently in this new age of engagement?

Co-founder of Gesso, next-gen audio guides for cities + museums. Follow for latest insights on audio, museum tech, travel tech, and more. www.gesso.app