Part II: How to Create Inspiring Museum Audio Guides with Lou Giansante.

In the July meeting of Museum Mindshare, our community gathered to discuss how to capture and hold visitor attention through museum audio guides. This month we’ll feature short interviews with some of our participants to share their advice and experiences in creating audio guides that engage and inspire.

Interview with Lou Giansante, Audio Tours for All — Producer, Writer, Narrator, www.lougiansante.org

What is your favorite thing about creating audio guides?

Personally, I’ve always loved working with sound. Professionally, I especially enjoy creating audio guides that weave together language for the ear, the emotional power of music and sound effects, friendly narration, dialogue, and when possible audio description (AD). AD uses words to represent the visual world and helps people who are blind or have low vision participate in visual culture. More and more museums are asking for AD to be part of an audio guide.

What creative formats have you used for making audio guides?

For art, history, and science museums I’ve done guides that use narrators, curators, actors, artist and expert interviews, music and sound effects. But sometimes I’ve been able to throw the net wide, especially when doing guides with Audio Description or guides for kids or families.

When writing kid/family tours, I’ve sometimes used two kids or teens as narrators, either as themselves or playing characters. Other times I’ve paired an adult with a kid. For instance a few years ago, I wrote a family tour for the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. The narrators are actors portraying a young girl and her father whose family ancestors immigrated to the US.

When writing Audio Description tours for art museums, I’ve had luck asking artists how they would describe their work to a blind person. I did this for Revealing Culture, a VSA exhibition of contemporary art by artists with disabilities at the Smithsonian in Washington. The fascinating byproduct of talking to the artists was their reactions. Many said they had never thought of blind people appreciating their art, and in the future would consider ways to make their art more accessible.

How do you measure the success of an audio guide?

I’ve worked with various museums, so I trust the museum to decide what it thinks of as success. It’s ideal when a museum uses tracking software to measure how visitors listen. Did they stop listening after 15 seconds or listen to an entire 90 seconds? Did they listen longer to the early stops than the later stops? More museums now offer listeners opportunities to leave verbal or written feedback so that also helps measure success.

In two unusual situations I created AD tours for people with vision loss, but many sighted visitors mistakenly picked up the provided audio players. To my joy (and the museums’) sighted visitors did not complain but instead appreciated the “extra” information that heightened their appreciation and understanding.

What advice would you give to museum professionals making audio guides for the first time?

Be sure that curators and educators are on the same page about the goals of the tour.

Remember that the best thing any audio tour can do, for sighted or blind visitors, is to help them look more closely and carefully, to focus attention, making for a richer experience (especially for sighted visitors who choose not to read wall labels.)

Resist the urge to cram too much curatorial content into a guide. Don’t overwhelm ears with facts and figures. Decide on a few key points and make them as compelling as possible. Visitors will remember them.

If you interested in trying your hand at including Audio Description, try exploring my website about how to write AD: www.writingad.org

Gesso creates museum audio guides that cultural institutions of all sizes can set up in minutes. See how your museum can partner with us to host your mobile audio guide experience.

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