Interpretation Canada Blog

Blogue d’Interprétation Canada

Explore insights about the field of natural and heritage interpretation shared by professionals from across Canada. 

Are you interested in writing for us? We would love to hear from you. Articles about interpretation skills, program case studies, resource reviews, and research about best practices are all ideal. We have a diverse membership and prefer topics that are relevant for interpreters in many settings. To suggest an idea for an article, please contact us at Our writers' guidelines can be found here.

Explorez les perspectives de professionnels de partout au Canada sur le domaine de l’interprétation de la nature et du patrimoine. 

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  • 17 Dec 2020 2:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Book Review by Bill Reynolds

    The book is published by Institute for Earth Education and is available through Amazon. Find out about the not-for-profit & other resources when you delve into a treasure trove by searching their sourcebook on

    “Structured fun, not unstructured play!” 

    Cover courtesy of Institute for Earth Education

    Read on if you want to discover how to carefully craft an outcome-driven, impactful Earthwalk for your participants. In-depth practical notes are shared on how best to choreograph a different kind of nature walk.

    Earthwalk structured fun involves doing like:

    • looking for pieces of a melted rainbow,
    • framing snow scenes,
    • composing a song of spring,
    • smelling a pine split sundae,
    • creating canvases with magic paintbrushes
    • using a treasure finding homing device
    • hatching out of a nest and
    • helping earth relatives

    Photo credit Mike Mayer, EID  Song of Season Activity Set-up

    Earthwalks are a touch of nature providing a new way of sensing familiar things, sharpening perceptions, nurturing empathy and stilling oneself to let nature in. Earthwalks are fun, but not frivolous. They are a serious educational and interpretive response to our increasing separation from the planet’s natural systems. If you want your visitors to make a deep personal connection with the natural world, this book provides a path through their hearts to the earth.

    Carefully Crafted Guidelines

    Earthwalks are described as a prelude for people and as an initial contact to stimulate further experiences. They last 45-70 minutes and utilize 4-6 activities that are meant to be carefully chosen and linked together in a seamless flow, where one activity moves purposefully into another. These walks have been workshopped and used by outdoor leaders around the world for decades yet have never been arranged in a book with detailed leadership guidelines before.

    After delving into the 100 pages of leadership guidelines you begin to understand how well thought out an Earthwalk needs to be to attain a sense of buoyancy and delight when experiencing a sense of place. Close to 200 pages are dedicated to activities.

    A great benefit of the book: In-depth practical notes on how best to choreograph this different kind of nature walk. Refreshing JK Rowling-Tolkienesque like activities, such as Gardens of Lilliput, Shadow Posse, Windancers, and Mysterious Niches (50 in all) abound. Readers will be caught up in the activity descriptions, being composed in a narrative “you-are-there” style.

    Earthwalks aim to develop 4 successive feelings “for this incredible planet we share and its amazing natural systems and communities of life.”  Each activity is designed to generate 1 of the 4 key feelings:

    • Joy at being in touch with the elements of life.
    • Kinship with all living things.
    • Reverence for natural communities.
    • Love for the earth.

    Photo Credit: Cooper Center for Environmental Learning  Hidden Worlds activity

    Keeping Walk Participants Focused and Motivated

    Van Matre stresses how structure in an experience keeps the participants focused on the task at hand. Many helpful details are shared on how to prepare and organize Earthwalks and how to perform the leader’s role who:

    • sets the stage and pulls the participants in
    • ensures the small, mechanical details of setting up
    • leads activities to create a feeling of “lightness”
    • achieves fully engaged participation
    • demonstrates desired behaviour
    • nurtures a sense of flow & foreshadowing
    • handles smooth activity transitions & suggests further applications
    • is more of a font of interest than information.

    A Pinch of Magic and Pound of Adventure

    Readers will unravel how Earthwalks were designed with “a pinch of magic” as a bit of extra stimulus to reach those accustomed to the intensity of the purely artificial and digital special effects. The author explains how the use of props as valuable experiential tools can introduce fun, new perspectives and help make the abstract, concrete. You will find out about subscopes, sky-eyes, scent sacs, touch cartons, and reverence triangles.

    Always felt you wanted to be an earth symphony conductor? This book provides a path where visitors can make a deep personal connection with the natural world.

    “An Earthwalk leader sets the expectations, the stage, and the tone for this special experience with nature, and then leads the activities, almost like a conductor of a symphony: channeling the participants’ energy, setting the tempo, and assisting them in tuning into what’s being performed.”

    If this writing style resonates with you then have a grand time exploring the Earthwalk book as a prelude for future nature engagement.  After reading Earthwalks: an alternative nature experience you are left with the feeling that any natural community will offer up its delights when you travel through it with openness. This, in turn, will make clear which activities you choose and interweave for your participants so you can highlight the land’s special places and passengers, thereby crafting a rewarding journey.

    Bill Reynolds is a CEO of Experiential Interpretive Design (EID) in Canada. Reach him at Get inspired and read the thought-provoking blog at Discover visitor experience insights from around the world @InterpDesign  

  • 15 Nov 2020 2:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Erin Poulton


    This article is based on segments of All About that Baseline Experience; a presentation delivered at Interpretation Canada’s annual conference in September 2020. Part 2 explores the development and application of graphic standards to ensure ongoing interpretive cohesion within permanent exhibitions at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Part 1 can also be found on this blog.


    A portion of the museum’s First World War area, highlighting a newly-developed thematic panel. (Credit: Erin Poulton)

    The Canada Aviation and Space Museum (CASM) has recently developed graphic standards with the aim of increasing the overall cohesion of our interpretive approach. The document includes a breakdown the main panel types that will recur in the museum’s open-concept Main Exhibition Hall, and parameters for their content, design, and layout. In developing our approach, we knew that full-scale gallery redevelopment wasn’t possible—we didn’t have the time or funding for a project of that scale.

    Accordingly, we needed a phased plan that would allow us to:

    1. Execute our updates by means of existing remedial priorities (i.e. replacing missing or damaged exhibitry);

    2. Minimize costs by retaining exhibitry that is objectively ‘in good shape’; and

    3. Ensure in turn that new panels coexist smoothly with existing ones as we cycle through remedial work over the long-haul.

    In developing the graphic standards, our first step was to take stock of all panels within the Main Exhibition Hall—categorizing them, and planning for their retention, adaptation, or removal. To simplify this task, we found it helpful to ask ourselves some guiding questions:

    • How many different panel types (or purposes) can we identify?
    • How many different styles of panel are used for each purpose?
    • Which panels share a design treatment that makes them read as a “family”?
    • Within these families are there recurring patterns (writing style, graphic approach) that help visitors navigate the content?
    • Does one family grouping show the least wear or damage?

    This list is not exhaustive, but was a good starting point in assessing which “families” of panels were the most effective and worth retaining. We also conducted visitor testing to challenge our assumptions before proposing any changes. Our new graphic approach drew inspiration from our most successful existing panels, incorporating key features such as shape and colour while improving accessibility and readability. This enabled us to move towards greater overall cohesion while still combining older and newer panels within the same space. 

    As we kicked off our remedials updates, our first focus was the low-hanging fruit: artifacts with missing or temporary signage. We retained one existing style for our basic caption panels, adding new panels where required that were larger and easier to read. In time we will transition to the new panels throughout, but in the meantime, we can save costs by retaining one style of existing panel until the end of its lifecycle.

    From there, we began to address our ‘consoles.’ These large back-lit panels tell the story of each aircraft on display. When we began this update, many of our console panels dated from the museum’s opening in 1988. Over time, past remedial updates disrupted the overall interpretive flow by introducing different graphic approaches. The console updates are ongoing, and we are taking a two-fold approach:

    • When we replace a console in a thematic area that we cannot yet fully update, our graphic style is heavily influenced by the original 1988 panels (which still make up a slim majority in our Main Exhibition Hall).
    • Where we are able to fully update a thematic area, we transition to a new “look” that includes larger panel structures and a more timeless design. We also incorporate a new layer of interpretation—thematic panels that present background concepts to non-expert audiences.

    Once again, this approach enables us to gradually transition to a new style without disrupting the flow within existing areas.

    An example of the museum’s original console panels, dating from 1988.

    A new panel, for use alongside older existing panels.

    A new panel, for use in a redesigned section of the museum.

    Overall, we are finding the graphic standards to be a helpful tool for implementing remedial work, guiding exhibition development, and envisioning long-range plans. Having standards in place is helping us to take one-off projects—the type that could once obscure our main messages—and shape them into novel experiences that complement existing learning objectives. Part of this success involves fostering buy-in within our museum. If colleagues can reasonably argue that they can’t follow a plan, it will lose momentum—so we’re striving to keep things flexible and attainable. On that note, we wrote the standards in such a way that they are only prescriptive where truly necessary. This leaves project teams with clear boundaries, and room to innovate. Similarly, support from leadership is also crucial for long-term success. Over the past decade the CASM’s leaders have been committed to updating our baseline experience to better serve family audiences—but these are the same leaders who have to make difficult decisions about how we spend our time and money. Our commitment to finding phased approaches, and overlapping updates with required remedial work, has helped our leaders to see that updating the baseline experience doesn’t conflict with their other goals. Over time, we hope that this approach will enable the CASM to shift with intention—making strong strategic decisions that enable us to stretch our resources while providing visitors with the clearest and most engaging experience possible.

    Erin Poulton is the Exhibition Interpretation Officer at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. She has been working in museums for twenty years, with experience developing and coordinating a wide range of exhibitions, programs, educational resources, and events. A skilled communicator, Erin approaches her work with a balance of critical thinking and creativity.

  • 12 Nov 2020 1:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Erin Poulton

    Part 1: Identifying Obstacles


    This article is based on segments ofAll About that Baseline Experience; a presentation delivered at Interpretation Canada’s annual conference in September 2020. Part 1 explores the importance of maintaining graphic cohesion and message hierarchies within exhibitions, proposing graphic standards as a tool for maintaining a structured approach over time. 


    Main Hall with Canadarm - Part of the museum's Main Exhibition Hall, as seen from above. Note Canadarm 1 on the left. Photo Credit: Audrey Vermette

    The Canada Aviation and Space Museum (CASM) is a true destination for aviation enthusiasts. Cited among CNN’s top 20 Aviation Museums worldwide, we present a unique collection of historically significant aircraft. Visitors can see a replica of the A.E.A. Silver Dart (the first aircraft to take flight in Canada), the last remaining segments of an Avro Arrow interceptor, and even a space-flown Canadarm. While eager to maintain our cachet among enthusiasts, we have been working over the past decade to increase the CASM’s appeal among generalist family audiences. To this end, we have been adjusting the CASM’s non-personal interpretation to better serve its changing audiences.>

    A major facet of this adjustment has involved examining and streamlining our ‘baseline experience.’ Consider what a visitor experiences when they visit a site on their own, without taking part in an organized program or staffed experience. Their exploration will likely involve circulating from one object or experience to the next, guided by appealing sight lines and other prominent visual cues that surround them. We can consider this to be the ‘baseline experience’—what a visitor encounters at bare minimum if they explore on their own, and don’t engage in ‘personal’ interpretive experiences. Visitors will most likely engage with the information that is physically easiest to access—typically the main recurring interpretive elements in our permanent galleries which can include higher-level introductory and thematic panels, and repeating elements such as artifact and image labels. The cues that we send, in large part through these interpretation panels, guide visitors as they select which objects and experiences will hold their attention. Our approach in developing these elements, and ensuring that they work well together, in turn sets the groundwork for an engaging and informative visit. 

    In order to set the stage for a strong baseline experience, museums and interpretive centres need to assess the baseline experience, identifying obstacles that complicate visitors’ engagement. In taking stock of the situation at our museum, it was clear that we faced a number of common challenges. The CASM is largely a hangar-style museum. More than 80% of its exhibition space is contained within the Main Exhibition Hall, which measures over 100,000 sq. ft. Content is organized into loosely chronological groupings that we call ‘thematic islands.’ With few inner galleries or wall-based displays, and sightlines from one thematic area into the next, our museum cannot have a defined circulation path<. In turn, we cannot base our interpretive through-line on the premise that visitors will encounter content in a given order—traditional introductions and conclusions are “out.”

    CASM Visitor Map: Overview of the CASM's Exhibition Areas Credit: CASM

    The CASM opened in 1988, and over the years there have been a number of partial updates to our interpretive approach. While there was an initial design direction for all of our main interpretive panels, subsequent updates introduced disparate approaches that eroded the intuitive connection and hierarchy among thematic panels. This was further compounded by the addition of tangential artifacts and experiences—items that were added with the intent to enrich the visitors’ experience, but which do not align with or support thematic goals within the area. Similarly, the CASM has pursued many funded “one-off” projects with the support of partnering organizations. These experiences have their own unique messages, and often a look and feel that distinguishes them as being special. While these opportunities do enrich the museum’s overall offerings, they can compete for visitors’ focus and subvert the planned hierarchy or flow of ideas within a space. These are all common challenges for museums and interpretive centres—exhibition teams are continually balancing the need to maintain and renew existing exhibitry with the push to innovate and seize new opportunities. 

    Over about the past decade, CASM has been working to balance these competing needs. From 2013 to 2016, we began to assess many aspects of our personal and non-personal interpretation—an initiative that culminated in a Master Interpretive Plan. Along with a focus on service fundamentals, the report set forth expectations to restructure content in ways that are more welcoming for family audiences. This involved placing greater focus on “people” and “people stories” rather than purely technology and traditional historical narratives. One of the plan’s recommendations was the development of graphic standards to bring cohesion to the museum’s baseline experience.

    The graphic standards themselves cover everything from the broad to the concrete. Key items include text and graphic hierarchies, colour palettes, and graphic approaches for a defined set of recurring panel types. The idea is that panels within each area of the museum will include common elements to ensure that the Museum reads as a cohesive whole, and yet there will be variation between thematic sections to keep things interesting and help distinguish one key theme from another.

    For this initiative to succeed in ensuring lasting cohesion, it needs to be different. Part of this difference involves ensuring that the document includes adequate breadth—creating rules and guidelines that won’t prevent us from pursuing future opportunities (like “one-off” projects). Throughout the document, we make the distinction between more rigid rules that apply to our Thematic Islands, and more fluid guidelines for exhibitions located in enclosed galleries (where the same degree of uniformity with the rest of the Museum is not essential). An effective standards document should be a tool after all, and not an obstacle. 

    The success of graphic standards also lies in their application, and in fostering buy-in for the initiative—ideas that we explore in Part 2 of this article.

  • 14 Oct 2020 3:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Margaret Vaughan

    Two online-tools in the world of educational technology allow participants to create sound bites spoken by creative characters or to crowd source ideas using multi-media. Using, you create a video of a talking character (a “talking head” or a talking, semi-animated portrait). Using Padlet, you can create an interactive place to pin information or make a static poster. I have used both, and they might be options to explore for interpretation work and working with all age groups that have comfort with technology.

    Voki is a site that features creating talking avatars and characters that your participants can make in response to a prompt or question that you pose. You can even create a classroom and generate usernames and passwords for the students or participants. There is an option for you or your participants to create a slideshow almost like Power Point, except that you can insert different characters who can speak a short monologue, creating a longer presentation than just a regular one-character monologue.  

    Participants or users can choose characters that are close to their own or vary far from their own identities. Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama are character choices, for example. Participants can use their own voice-over or choose among ones provided through “fon-net-ik-ly” typing out the script, calling in by phone, or uploading a recording. Voice choices include Martian, Giant, and Troll. The Voki characters can speak their pre-arranged message for 90 seconds. Participants choose different backgrounds, clothes,  and features of the character. When done, there is a sharing capability for using the Voki artifact outside the Voki site.

    I found a few drawbacks for the site. For some participants, the site poses a medium-level of difficulty in actually creating the video and would require an alternative activity for participants who require screen-readers. If encouraging remote use of the Voki website, it is best that you make your own tutorial showing how to use the Voki tools. Sometimes the characters are difficult to understand (which would mean the best practice is to encourage uploading the script to the character). In other examples, students have made inexplicable decisions in their characters and background, such as a capuchin monkey in the ocean or a horse in a coral reef. In an educational setting if things get too crazy you can ask for a re-do. I usually just chalk such decisions up to creativity. Looking back at some of my Voki videos, I did the same thing, such as putting a dolphin in a thunderstorm, a garden, or in front of a fireworks display to mark the season. 

    You may want to stay more authentic, depending on the purpose of the Voki video. This is a site worth playing with and exploring if, for example you want short answers to things like science or history-based questions or reflections on what your already technologically-comfortable audience has just seen.  Better yet, you can also use the Voki videos as learning objects. In one learning experience, I kept utilizing a video of a talking dolphin for informational videos and to make quick reminders, including the video and the actual script for accessibility. In the future, I plan to use only for this purpose, as participants have run into technical difficulties in their video-making. There is another learning tool that contains even more interactive possibilities.

    Padlet can be used for making what I call “posters” that contain links to the internet. Padlet needs Javascript and Cascading Style Sheets for successful implementation. A “padlet” consists of sequential tiles from which you build a lecture or informational segment. Mine are stand-alone, but they really are for making interactional bulletin boards, in which learning participants add to the bulletin board, including posting drawings and audio files. You can set up your padlet using different modes, including wall, shelf, canvas, stream, timeline, backchannel, map and grid modes. You can even add interesting backgrounds. For example, one of my padlets features a symbolic brick wall to emphasize a barrier to sound environmental policy that is portrayed in the poster. There is a tutorial you can access here. And check out one of one of my padlets on places of trauma and trauma museums related to the Cambodian genocide: Cambodian Traumascapes and Memoryscapes. You can add videos, images, and websites to a padlet. The best part is that Padlet is screen reader friendly for many types of screen readers.

    Interpreters might want to set up a padlet for an interactive activity or if they are doing remote work they could offer short Voki videos for brief informational sound bites.  Maybe a computer site is part of an exhibit where a Padlet could be used to reflect pre- or post-experience. Both tools have a free version with the option of a paid upgrade. Explore Voki at if your curiosity has been piqued. Explore Padlet at

    Margaret Vaughan teaches in the Ethnic and Religious Studies Department and the Master of Liberal Studies program at Metropolitan State University in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

  • 15 Sep 2020 11:31 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Tim O’Grady

    Historic Edmonton and Doors Open Virtual Festival

    Welcome to the Festival

    The Historic Edmonton and Doors Open Festival is an annual event designed to encourage people to engage with history. The Festival is the flagship event of the Edmonton District Historical Society (EDHS), a volunteer-run non-profit charitable society dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of Edmonton and the surrounding area. EDHS organizes and promotes the Festival, but the programming is put on by partner organizations in the community, including museums, archives, government, non-profits, businesses, and faith organizations.

    2018 Festival Launch

    Tour during 2019 Festival

    Moving Online

    Planning for this year’s festival began in January, but by March, with the emergence of Covid-19, EDHS had a big decision to make: do we cancel, do we continue planning and hope for the best, or do we transition to an online event - something that we’d never done before.

    Ultimately we decided to move online. We thought it would be a good way to continue supporting our partners, to allow us to continue fulfilling our mandate of providing meaningful opportunities for people to engage with the past, and it would help us maintain a connection to our stakeholders.

    The festival ran from July 5-12 on our website.

    The Partners

    This year we had 24 partners - half of last year’s number. Not all our regular partners were able to participate in an online medium. Some didn’t have the resources (either technical capacity, or just lowered capacity due to the pressures of the pandemic), while a few didn’t foresee a significant return on investment in creating online content.

    The Events

    There were 38 separate pages of offerings on the website (though some of those pages contained multiple links). Of these, 24 pages featured unique content created specifically for the festival. The production value varied by partner, as some had better equipment and more technical prowess. Mostly tours, these offerings were done in a variety of ways. Many were interpreters speaking on video, interspersed with shots of contemporary scenes and archival images. Some partners made tours using the Google Street View app; 360 degree photographs linked together and augmented by interpretive text, sound, and additional images. This was an option encouraged by EDHS, as the app is free and fairly easy to use. There were also a few slide shows: some had interpretive voiceover, but a couple were of a local cathedral and only had organ music playing in the background. Only two of the offerings were live events: one through Facebook Live, the other through Zoom.

    The other 14 pages contained content that was recycled from previous initiatives, such as online exhibitions, inventories of historic places, or interpretive videos that had been done in the past. These were generally larger projects and therefore had a considerable amount more time and money put into them.

    Visitor Behaviour


    Because the online festival is so different from the in person festival, it isn’t possible to compare them. However, EDHS is happy with the number of new users and total page views. The bounce rate (the percentage of users who only looked at one page) of 59% isn’t great, as we had hoped people would explore multiple partner offerings. The average session of 3 minutes could also be better, as in a typical year visitors could expect to spend 30-60 minutes on a tour.

    Traffic Acquisition

    Direct links = 45%

    Social media = 30%

    Organic search = 25%

    Traffic came through a number of ways, with organic search having the lowest bounce rate (29%). It can be assumed that if someone used a search engine to find the site, they heard about the festival somewhere but didn’t have a direct link. This can likely be attributed to the traditional media we used to promote the event (a promotional package through CTV Television), as well as through subsequent interviews on CKUA Radio and CBC Radio.

    Users who came via social media had the highest bounce rate, at 72%. The social media effort done by EDHS included Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit:

    # of posts/tweets

    % of total traffic

    Bounce rate













    Other than a few dollars promoting the Facebook posts, the social media advertising was free. What was particularly surprising was the interest generated by Reddit. We posted on r/edmonton, which is a subreddit for all things Edmonton. Not only did this result in around 400 site visits, it also generated a media enquiry from CBC radio which led to an interview later in the week. And with 50% of Reddit users under 30, it is a community that is underserved by our organization. That said, the bounce rate was very high among users coming from Reddit (87%), so while we will continue using Reddit, it will have to be one of several tools in our online tool box.

    Our takeaway from this analysis is that it is important to advertise in a variety of different ways, but that traditional media is still very important for our audience.

    Pages Visited

    Surprisingly, despite the recycled content being more polished, the most popular content by far were the tours created specifically for the festival. The most popular tour, with 1,161 visits, was an historical tour of a local fallout shelter. This tour was featured on Reddit and resulted in the CBC interview. The rest of the content averaged about 124 visits each. Although less than the fallout shelter, these numbers are far higher than a typical tour would reach (or be able to accommodate).

    Another surprise was the amount of traffic we received to parts of our website that were unrelated to the Festival. Our About Us page, for example, was the 6th most popular page with 279 visits. Our blog, membership page, publications page, and speakers series page were all in the top half for visitorship, and averaged 155 visits each.

    Partner Comments

    In a short post-Festival survey, two thirds of our partners said they would consider providing an online portion in addition to in person offerings next year. There were numerous comments about the increased accessibility (both from partners and visitors), as well as appreciation that the Festival was done digitally rather than cancelled.

    I will quote a particularly lengthy and thoughtful comment:

    “I think I would prefer to do only one format: either live or virtual. This is because each event creates its own time demands and as the only volunteer for my organization, it would be a lot for me to do both formats. The virtual format was much more labour intensive for me and with the live event, if I am not able to be in Edmonton during the festival I have to look for and prepare another volunteer. When I do the tours myself, I have to schedule a number of days in addition to the preparation, so both formats can be demanding. With that in mind it would be helpful to know the festival theme a bit earlier in the year, so that it would be easier to prepare (but especially for the virtual format).”


    In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, moving to an online format was a success. With 3,683 people participating in the online festival, EDHS fulfilled its mandate of providing an opportunity for people to explore this area’s history. With 24 partners, we supported our colleagues in the local heritage ecosystem by providing an opportunity to continue connecting with the public in a difficult time. And with a surprising number of people interested in our organization, as evidenced by the page hits to unrelated parts of our website, we’ve managed to stay engaged with our stakeholders - and hopefully found some new ones along the way.

    That being said, an online festival is not a replacement for an in person festival. Although more accessible, engagement with partners and visitors wasn’t as high. In the future, we plan to go back to in person events, though we will offer our partners a place to host or promote online content as well should they wish.

    Tim O’Grady is passionate about local history and the importance of telling our stories. He has worked in museums, archives, built heritage, and historic sites for nearly 20 years, and has served on several history-related boards. He is currently the President of the Edmonton and District Historical Society. You can email him at

  • 14 Aug 2020 8:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Pam Murray

    Have you ever been really excited about something that nobody else was doing, only to see it all of a sudden become mainstream?

    At Interpretation Canada, we’re excited to see something we’ve been doing for the past 11 years, online conferences, suddenly become incredibly popular. Our upcoming national conference, “This Time It’s Personal:  Rethinking Non Personal Interpretation” is the eighth conference we have offered online since 2009. With 2020 appearing to be the Year of the Online Conference, we thought we’d share some of what we’ve learned over the past decade of organizing conferences online.

    Interpretation Canada has been offering conferences from the comfort of your office since 2009.

    In 2009, our board initiated a strategic planning process, and through that process identified that our members wanted more online content. Our membership was, and still is, geographically spread out across Canada. Travelling to in-person conferences is difficult for many of us, even when there isn’t a pandemic going on, due to costs and the need to get approval from our employers. We also had many members at that time voicing concerns about the carbon footprint of an in-person conference, especially related to the air travel required for people to attend. 

    As part of our 2009 Strategic Plan, we decided to try running our conference online for the first time. “Inspiration Uploaded” took place in December of 2009. We continued with this model until 2013, when we switched to alternating online and in-person national conferences. In the past decade, we’ve learned a few things about running conferences online. Here are our top five:

    1) Pick your provider carefully. We’ve worked with two different platforms, and while both had strengths, we changed to our current platform because they are readily available for administrative support, which wasn’t the case with our previous provider. Online conferences require a lot of work behind the scenes, so finding a provider that isn’t just easy to work with but also genuinely excited about your business is important.  When choosing a provider, it’s also important to know that some government organizations may have rules about which online platforms their staff are allowed to connect to. We currently use FieldTripZoom, because it’s a platform built specifically for online education.

    2) Registration management is different online. At an in-person conference, it’s straightforward. Everyone registers individually, gets their own name badge and attends as themselves. In person, you’ll notice if someone shows up wearing someone else’s name badge, or brings all their non-registered coworkers along with them to a session. You can’t see those things happening in an online format.

    Our initial approach was to create a ‘Site” registration. This was to be used in cases where several people would gather in one place to share a screen. This meant we only had to pay for one hookup to reach multiple people, and let us keep the conference affordable to our members. However, it also made it difficult to know exactly who and how many people were actually attending. It was also on the honour system.  The site registration DID cost more, but we really had no way of knowing that people weren’t registering as individuals and sharing their screen with others. We’ve since changed to offering discounted registrations for additional participants at the same site, so that we know exactly who is attending.

    3) Consider time zones. Offering an online conference in Canada means you really only have four or five hours of the day available. Interpreters in British Columbia don’t want to attend, much less present conference sessions earlier than 8am Pacific, and interpreters in Atlantic Canada want to go home at their regular 4 or 5pm Atlantic quitting time, so it’s best to fit all of your content into those constraints while also allowing for breaks. This means you may not be able to fit as many sessions in each day.  This hasn’t been a huge issue in our experience; it has just meant we focus on quality of presenters rather than quantity.

    4) Networking opportunities are important. When we first started, it was really important to us to pick a platform that didn’t just allow people to ask the presenters questions, but also to interact and chat with each other. At an online IC conference, we see participants greeting each other, noticing colleagues and friends in the chat, and interacting not just with the presenter but with each other. This networking is a very important part of in person conferences, and it’s essential to find a way to include this in an online conference as well.

    5) Online conferences aren’t a substitute for in-person conferences - and vice versa. While it seems the current trend is to take conferences that were originally planned to take place in person and turn them into an online format, the reality is that they aren’t the same type of experience. Both formats have strengths and weaknesses. Online conferences are less expensive, less onerous to organize, more environmentally friendly, allow for recording and playback of sessions, and offer participants a great deal of flexibility in how they attend. Online conferences have also allowed us to welcome well known keynote speakers from outside of Canada, like Colleen Dilenschneider and John Falk, as speaker fees are generally much more affordable when travel isn’t involved. In-person conferences are more expensive, more difficult to organize, more of a commitment for people to attend, and don’t easily allow for recording and playback of sessions.  They do, however, offer far superior opportunities to network, get to know colleagues, and take part in the visitor experiences offered by our host sites first hand.

    We don’t want to give all of secrets away, but hope this helps those of you who may be considering running a conference online. Ours will be on September 22 – 24, and we’d love to see you all there.

    Pam Murray is the Chairperson of Interpretation Canada, and has attended, presented at, and helped organize IC's online conferences since 2011.

  • 14 Jul 2020 3:45 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Bill Reynolds, Interpretive Coach, Experiential Interpretive Design

    The following summary notes were compiled by the author based on a session he conducted during  the highly stimulating 2019 IC conference in Winnipeg, at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

    Facilitator Bill’s note: This workshop modelled the dialogic interpretation principles of facilitate, listen, acknowledge and connect. My intent was to stretch the concept of dialogue in different directions and to help all heritage sites see the benefits of interpretive dialogue in other situations than just when dealing with difficult topics and human rights issues. The aim was to explore approaches to different mission-based dialogues, including non-sensitive topics, that would stimulate the exchange of ideas and elicit visitors’ reflective reactions.

    After a quick self-assessment of participants’ familiarity with and experience employing dialogic interpretation (DI), it was clear that most participants had limited knowledge of and few experiences with it. The session explored the whys, who, whats and hows of DI.

    Why Dialogue?

    Deciding whether to incorporate DI into an interpretive toolbox requires coming to grips with “Why Dialogue?” Our keynote speaker Sarah Pharaon, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, presented these four key outcomes:

    • Provoke thought
    • Inspire compassion
    • Build acceptance
    • Compel action

    Participants shared DI techniques that had been used to spark attitude & behaviour change, to build bridges, to transfer information, to gather opinions, and to challenge assumptions (e.g. snakes). Additionally, DI was helpful during collaborations between neighbours and sites as well as supporting visitor acceptance of management decisions.

    Who is involved?

    Once you know why you are doing DI, then knowing your audience, the who is critical. Five options were shared:

    • Visitor’s Internal Self
    • Partner/family
    • Strangers
    • Groups (e.g. school, corporate)
    • Community/global

    The first option, visitor’s internal self, posed the possibility that dialogue does not always have to be face-to –face, it could be with yourself? Internal dialogue can be powerful when encouraged. The middle three are examples of visitor –visitor interactions. Community/global examples were supplied of centres using the internet to communicate with other centres and classrooms to have live discussions. The challenge is how to consciously set the stage for site visitors to enter into one (or many) levels of DI.

    Types of Visitor Dialogue

    DI situations can involve a range of topics and not just around sensitive and emotionally strained DEEP talk. We explored examples of who or what the visitor could converse with when visiting a site:

    • Real Life Individual
    • Person from the Past
    • Inanimate Object

    “Real Life Individual” is fairly common and is usually an interpreter or artisan demonstrator. Exploring beyond the normal choices, a site could enlist a curator, a local celebrity or historian or a storyteller.

    You don’t need to be a living history site to use “Person from the Past.” For example, your site could have a “time machine portal” allowing certain Messengers of the Past to appear with questions for visitors to compare the past with the present.

    A structure (barn), a natural feature (a river), or an artifact (a door handle), are all objects that would have witnessed many events or been touched by many people. You might need to inflict your visitors with a pinch of fantasy to make this work with interpretive staff having certain auditory and linguistic powers able to decipher specific object “language.” Alternatively, the object (e.g. barn) could direct the visitor to take action by directing them to “go around the back…” or “drop to your hands and knees to look for…”

    Maybe challenging the visitor to create a conversation between objects that do not have an obvious connection (e.g. a slave shackle and a silver tea set placed together) could have evocative power.

    Recommended Dialogic Stages

    Stage 1: Pre-Dialogue increase receptiveness of the open mind

    Stage 2: Focus Thoughts and Feelings

    Stage 3: Post- Dialogue Share with others

    Stage 1 Opening Minds

    This stage has 4 parts:

    • Welcoming – Receptiveness
    • Feeling Comfortable
    • Creating a safe, supportive space
    • Perceiving in new ways

    The session focussed on the first and fourth parts, the second and third were presented in other sessions.

    Being open and receptive to various viewpoints is critical to setting the stage for dialogue. Isn’t the beginning of a dialogue with nature a way to form a new connection with the earth - the start of a regenerative relationship?

    Generating different points of view, at a natural history site, could come from coaching people to be good receivers and providing them with new perspectives. New perspectives are aided by exposing visitors to sensory awareness exercise; seeing something from a new position -- in a wheelchair, from the ground (roleplaying an ant), or walking with a mirror held horizontally at shoulder height to view the canopy. A great resource would be the Earthwalks book created by the Institute for Earth Education.

    Perceiving in new ways could be as simple as evaluating one’s language and comparing cultural differences. The use of the word “resistance” versus “rebellion” when discussing Métis history sets up a totally different mindset. Words do affect perception. Perhaps one word, “mindbodyearth” without separation could change our point of view and impact our land relationship. By thinking this way would you ever perceive that land could be owned?

    Stage 2 Focusing Thoughts and Feelings

    As several conference sessions were dealing with questioning tools, we pursued setting up the concept of walking in someone else’s shoes (or paws). An apartheid museum utilized two turnstiles for visitors allowing them to choose different perspectives during the visit – either as a white guard or a black prisoner. At a natural heritage area, the visitor could experience life as a predator or a prey? DI would be initiated after the experience to compare feelings and thoughts.

    Fundamental to mission success is the evaluation of the visitors’ sense of a site’s reasons for being. DI could probe, “Why is this site significant?”  What if visitors were asked to create a display (crowd curate technique) by picking one thing from an assortment of representative options and share why they chose their item.

    Images from the past and present representing reality, propaganda, and discrimination helped conference attendees realize that photographs/paintings could be used more often as DI conversation starters. Similarly, quotes can be used– like this inscription on a sidewalk in a Canadian multiracial community.

    Stage 3 Share with Other

    Visitors need more opportunities to post thoughts and feelings beyond the shallow comments in guest books. The Canadian Human Rights Museum (CHRM) has a recording studio for audio sharing and has dedicated a large attractive space for visitors to write their reactions to the museum’s content.

    Cards were used to kickstart the visitors’ voice, with phrases like:

    • Respect is…
    • Inclusion is…
    • I am inspired by…
    • I will…

    In a less controversial setting like a heritage park, a starting phrase could be “I never knew…” where promoting curiosity/environmental understanding is the purpose.

    Posting these cards on a wall is a quick way to share visitors’ responses. This is a kind of silent dialogue where visitors read what others wrote and add their own. The Canmore library, decided to share quotes from a local artist survey about the creative process by writing them on “birchbark” paper strips, creating a canoe.

    Reflecting on our dialogue about the whys, whats, who and hows, we must consider whether the visitor experience has challenged assumptions, motivated visitors to learn more or inspired them to act.

    Did this session’s treatment about the whys, whats, who and hows of DI succeed in challenging your assumptions, motivate you to learn more or inspire you to change in any way?

    For over 40 years Bill Reynolds’s life work has pivoted around creating enriching experiences for people. Bill possesses a diverse background in heritage interpretation, visitor friendly site design, leisure attraction feasibility assessments and strategic planning. Presently he is an interpretive coach and co-writer of the Experiential Interpretive Design blog at  which he hopes you check out for interpretive insights.

  • 13 May 2020 12:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Ian Martens

    Icebreakers can be used to energize, build bridges and begin dialogue. Your host Ian Martens will take you through a few of his favorite icebreakers and share how he uses them to assess prior knowledge and tailor his tours. Contrary to popular belief trust falls are not the place to start.

    Types of Icebreakers

    1.    Energizers

    Energizers are great to get a group moving, especially if the group has been sitting on a bus for a while.  The goal of energizers is just that - to raise the energy in the room.  Often, students who come on tours will be very nervous when arriving in a new place with new people and new expectations.  Energizers are great for putting people at ease and quickly breaking down walls.

    2.    Let’s Get Talking Games

    The tours and programs at the CMHR are dialogue based and in reality, all programs no matter the site are better with some dialogue.  Nobody wants to ask and a question and get crickets!

    3.    Deeper Meaning

    Some icebreaker activities can be used as a way to build a deeper meaning.  These are activities that are best used in settings where you have had a group for more than one tour or day.  They can be a great way to build bridges from one program to another and really hammer home big ideas.

    4.    Whole Group

    If you have a group that is already energized and the volume level is approaching Stanley Cup Win levels, Whole Group icebreakers can be just what the doctor ordered.  These can bring the energy down or up depending on the audience.

    5.    Simulation Games

    Simulation icebreakers are probably the most complex because they require more preparation, but with the right group can skyrocket the depth of conversation.  We want to keep them short but still have some depth. We won’t be doing simulations today but they are a great way to build teams.>

    What can icebreakers tell you about your students?

    • Who is reactive and who is more contemplative
    • Who friends are and who enemies are
    • Language level
    • Prior knowledge
    • Dialogic strengths
    • Who the ‘cool’ kids are and who might need some one-on-one support
    • What point students are at within an academic unit
    • Who are the specialists and who are the students who think this is a day off
    • Behavioral issues

    Types of questions we can ask:

    Green Questions

    • These are instinct questions (least risk)
    • Ex. What’s your favorite food?  Favorite color?  Favorite movie?

    Yellow Questions

    • Questions that require some thought, but with moderate risk
    • Important to be bounded so people are overwhelmed.
    • Ex. “How many human rights can you name?”
    • Ex. “Dinosaur Provincial Park has 30 species of dinosaurs.  How many dinos can you name?”

    Red Questions

    • The content and you questions. 
    • Ex. “What would you do in this situation?”  “What is a human rights problem that makes you angry?”  “What is it about it that irritates you?” “What kind of things prevent you from realizing your human rights vision?”

    Purple Questions

    • Self-directed/introspective
    • Ex. “After everything we have experienced today what will you do to make a difference in promoting human rights?”
    • Ex. “What could you do in your community protect the environment?”
    • Ex. “How can you work to get out the vote?”

    Icebreaker Examples

    1. Rock Paper Scissors Cheer (Energizer)

    Best for: Large groups, the bigger the better

    Participants are engaged in the World (or insert your program’s name here) Championship of Rock Paper Scissors. Have participants find a partner to play against.  If they win then they keep going, but if they lose they become the cheering section for the winner. This continues until there are only two players left and they have two giant cheering sections.

    Be aware this one can get very loud.  The largest group I have done this with is 100.

    Things to watch for: Participants in the corners, who jumps right in, who looks overwhelmed, anybody left out, anybody going out of their way to include outsiders. 

    2.     Square Dance (Let’s Get Talking)

    Best for: Groups of 6+

    Have each participant find a partner. Once they have a partner, have participants form two lines with each pair of partners facing each other. You will ask a series of questions of increasing complexity. After each question the A group moves down the line so that there is a new partner. Between questions I usually zigzag to get answers. Sometimes for younger groups I might pass a ball through the line to get answers. For a Human Rights program where I want people to think about Human Rights Defenders I might ask:

    • What is your favourite breakfast food?
    • What are the human rights you can name?
    • Who is a person who has defended human rights that inspires you?


    A1        A2        A3                    A2        A3        A1                    A3        A1        A2

                                        ->                                             ->        

    B          B          B                      B          B          B                      B          B          B


    3.    Super-Heroes (Deeper Meaning)

    Each participant gets a piece of paper and a marker

    Have participants draw their own super hero, name them and give themselves a superpower.  Have them share this with people at their table or in a small group.

    4.    Inside-Out (Deeper Meaning)

    Each participant finds a partner and a wall or poster paper.  The partners trace each other’s outlines.  Ask the group the question of What values are the most important to them.  Have them write these on the inside of the shape.  Now that they have reflected on their values ask the question of how can we use our values to change the world.  Write all the possibilities on the outside.  Have participants circulate to each others drawings and put check marks beside all the causes they feel they could see themselves helping the person with.

    5.    Snowball (Whole Group)

    Each participant writes a hobby or interesting fact about themselves and throws them into the middle of the table or the room. Participants pick a snowball and must try and find who it belongs to. 

    Other Resources:

    Museum Hack, The Only List of Icebreaker Questions You’ll Ever Need

    Fraser, K., Fraser L., Fraser, M., 175 Best Camp Games, A handbook for leaders,Boston Mills Press (Aug. 24 2009)

    Raphael, T.E., & Au, K.H. (2005). QAR: Enhancing comprehension and test taking across grades and content areas. The Reading Teacher, 59, 206-221.

    Ultimate Camp Resource, Ice Breakers,

    Ice Breaker Ideas,

    Ian Martens is a Program Interpreter at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and joined the CMHR in 2014. Ian is a museum educator with over 15 years of experience working in interpretation at both museums and Parks Canada. He is a youth leadership facilitator and is driven to inspire the next generation to make a difference. He has also taught in the classroom from Kindergarten to Grade 12 in both Thailand and Shamattawa, MB.  You can contact Ian at

  • 15 Apr 2020 4:47 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Jennifer Dick, Interpretation Officer, Royal Botanical Gardens

    For the past few years at Royal Botanical Gardens, we’ve been making simple videos for social media using cell phones. This fun side-of-the-desk project has become critical in the past month as we move from interpreting our gardens and nature sanctuaries in situ to entirely virtually. RBG closed temporarily in mid-March due to COVID-19 to help keep our community safe. At the beginning of April, we launched RBG at Home to connect with our “visitors” by providing videos, activities, and videoconference programs.

    In preparation for creating more videos than we ever have before and from our own homes and yards, I put together my top tips for filming. A few of these tips come from Karin Davidson-Taylor’s March blog poston delivering webinars. Given that interpreters around the world are facing similar situations and working on new ways to connect with their audiences, I wanted to also share these tips with you. As with anything, this gets easier with practice. After a few videos, you’ll feel more comfortable in front of the camera and you’ll appear more natural. You’ve got this!

    I’d love to hear some of your tips and some of the things you learn-by-doing in the weeks to come. Share in the comments below. Please take good care of yourself!

    1.    Plan Ahead: Be prepared

    a.    Be an interpreter: Plan your video much like you would plan a personal interpretive program. Even though this video is a “non-personal” interpretive product, you still want it to be engaging, inspiring, organized, and relevant. Make it personal! Don’t be afraid to ask your audience questions, get them to do an action, ask them to participate. Even though you can't see them, they’re watching you being the awesome interpreter you are.

    b.    Message: Have a clear message (theme statement!) so viewers understand your point.

    c.    Draft an outline: Take the time to write a great theme, identify your target audience, and set your objectives. Ask yourself what you want your viewers to know, think about, and feel. Outline your content, and the order you want to cover it.

    d.    Write a script: If scripting is helpful for you, write it all out. What are you going to say to get your theme and objectives across to your viewers? How are you going to introduce and conclude your video?

    e.    Flow: Have a clear intro and conclusion and use obvious transitions between points so it’s easier to follow the content.

    f.     Timing: You probably won’t be able to do as much as you think you can in the time you are planning. Less is best so be clear and concise to get your message across.

    g.    Storyboarding: For videos with multiple shots, angles, and images, it can be helpful to map out a storyboard to plan your shots, timing, and delivery.

    h.    Reviewer: If possible, have someone else review your outline to make sure your plan makes sense.

    i.      Platform: Consider where your video will be posted. Platforms like Facebook have algorithms that give priority in feeds for videos of certain lengths. Instagram cuts off the sides of your shot, so you need to keep everything centred.

    j.      Text: No matter what platform you plan to use, you’ll need to draft text that will accompany your video. Write a catchy title, use an active voice, keep it short, and make it fun. Try writing this text like you would an advertising description for a live program.

    k.    Responses: Ideally your audience will engage with you after watching. What do you want that to look like? Are you going to ask them to comment or use a hashtag to post their own photos or videos? Be as specific as you can with how you’d like them to respond.

    2.    Equipment: Gear up

    a.    Cellphone: Most cellphones have great rear-facing cameras. Don’t film in selfie-mode since the resolution isn’t as good. Always film in landscape.

    b.    DSLR: Cameras also take great video but check your specs. My cell phone has better resolution than my older camera.

    c.    Tripod: These are really valuable if you are taking still videos. You can also get creative and rig up a stationary stand or prop up your camera. Selfie sticks can help with this too.

    d.    Camera person: If you’re planning a moving frame, recruit someone (preferably from your household) with a steady hand to help.

    e.    Gimbal: If you want really smooth looking moving shots, try using a gimbal. It’s not critical for low-budget filming and most viewers are forgiving if your camera person has a fairly steady hand.

    f.     Props: Have everything you need close at hand and in front of you if possible so you don’t need to turn your back to the camera. Props should be large enough and have a simple enough form to show up well on camera. Showcase them on a white or neutral background if possible

    3.    Filming: Take the shot

    a.    Keep it simple: Start with videos that you can film straight through in one shot. This is much simpler than trying to edit together multiple shots.

    b.    Rehearse: Go through your planned content several times, at least once with a camera in place to make sure the view will work.

    c.    Take 2: Film two to three takes; it’s good to have options to choose the best one.

    d.    Beginning and ending: wait a few seconds after recording starts to begin and let the recording run a few seconds after you’re done so that nothing gets cut off.

    e.    Pace: Slow your speech down a bit so the mic will pick each distinct word.

    f.     Keep going: If you stumble, stutter, or pause, push through. It’s not as noticeable as you think.

    g.    Eye on the prize: When not looking at your subject, keep your gaze on a single focal point to avoid wandering eyes. A good rule of thumb is to look next to the camera lens. If you have a camera person, look at them. If you don’t, try adding a dot or picture an inch or two from the lens to look at.

    4.    The View: Admire the scenery

    a.    Background Indoors: Make sure the space is tidy and as stark as possible. A busy background is distracting. You can always ‘hide’ a busy background with a solid tablecloth or sheet.

    b.    Background Outdoors: Again, make sure the space is tidy. Is there anything that doesn’t belong in the landscape that can be moved/removed such as litter or equipment?

    c.    Clothing: Ideally wear your uniform shirt if you have one. If not, wear solid coloured clothing in blues, greens, dark reds, and preferably not bright colours or very dark colours. Patterns, stripes and dots are not a good idea since they distract the viewer and may even make them dizzy.

    d.    Position: Make sure that the camera is at your eye level, so viewers aren’t looking down on you or looking up your nose. 

    e.    Moving: A changing view is less static, can make the video more interesting, and keep people’s attention longer. This needs a steady hand with the camera, and you need to plan the route (including lighting and sound) ahead of filming. This can be done in your rehearsals. The “walk and talk” works well but make sure that you are always facing the camera which sometimes means walking on an angle or walking backwards (or your camera person walks backwards).

    f.     Staying still: Moving isn’t always appropriate and a static view works best for instructional or short videos. If possible, use a tripod to film since camera shake is more noticeable in a still shot.

    g.    Framing: You don’t always need to be centred in the shot. Try using the rule of thirds or leading lines to create visual interest. Do try to keep the content towards the middle of the screen though since Instagram cuts off the sides of the frame./p>

    h.    Orientation: If filming on your phone, always use landscape. This matches the orientation of most video viewing platforms so your video won’t be stretched or appear with black bars on each side.

    5.    Lighting: In the limelight

    a.    Outdoor: Where’s the sun? Where are the shadows? If it’s early or late in the day, is there enough light? Are both you and your subject(s) lit well enough? Consider the lighting for your whole route if moving.

    b.    Indoor moving: Similar considerations to outdoors. Where are the windows, light sources, and shadows? Is there enough light for both you and your subject(s)? Consider the lighting for your whole route.

    c.    Indoor still: If possible, place a soft/diffuse light in front of you so that you are well lit. This is especially important for still shots. Try to make it so that you are evenly lit and do not have shadows on one side of your face. If you are in a room with a window, face the window. If you must have your back to the window, use curtains; otherwise cameras will adjust to dim the entire image resulting in you being a dark silhouette.

    6.    Sound: All ears

    a.    Background: Take a moment to listen to the ambient sounds. Insects and birds add a nice soundtrack. Traffic, fans, running water, and other background noise (such as aquarium filters, dogs barking, people talking) are distracting and are more obvious in a recording than in person. Can you move to another location or eliminate the sound temporarily?

    b.    Wind: Even a light breeze can make a lot of noise in the microphone. Wait for the wind to die down or film in a sheltered location.

    c.    Voice: Always face the microphone. Depending on the quality of your mic, it may or may not pick up your voice if you turn your head. Use inflections and intonation to make your voice more expressive.

    d.    Energy: Use more energy that you would for a live presentation to make it engaging. Your normal presentation energy won’t translate the same way on film so amp it up and don’t be afraid to be a bit over the top.

    e.    The word: Most interpreters have a word or phrase that they use more than any other. Your word might change over time. If you don’t know what your current word is before filming, you probably will after because it’s more noticeable on video, at least it is for me. My current word is “now”. It used to be “excellent”. Don’t feel like you need to re-film because of it, but I encourage you to watch/listen for it so you’re more aware of it.

    Jennifer is Royal Botanical Gardens' Interpretation Officer where she manages interpretation in their 11 square-kilometres of gardens and nature sanctuaries. Her interp adventures began in Ontario Parks in 2001. A Biology degree and graduate diploma in Science Communication have benefited her career working for museums and not-for-profits across Canada. She joined Interpretation Canada’s board of directors in 2015.

  • 15 Mar 2020 10:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Karin Davidson-Taylor, RBG

    So you’ve been asked to do a webinar?  You want to make a good impression while presenting an engaging, informative program. Here are some helpful tips for how to position yourself, the technology to use, and your presentation format.

    First of all, where you are in a room and your surroundings makes a big difference.  You are in the spotlight; both figuratively and literally. Place a light in front of you so that you are well lit. Try to make it so that you are evenly lit and do not have shadows on one side of your face.  If you are in a room with a window, you can sit facing the window. If you have to sit with your back to the window, then try using curtains; otherwise cameras often adjust to dim the entire image – including you – which would result in you being a dark silhouette.  Take a look around and behind where you will be sitting. Is it a busy space? Is there a messy bulletin board or bookcase? You want to create a professional atmosphere, and this might be distracting for participants.  You can always ‘hide’ that with a tablecloth or vertical blind… or change the position of the camera so that your background is neutral or not distracting.  Is your phone off? Are there pets or other potential noises in another room? Do you have a clock close by to keep track of time?

    Can you spot a few webinar errors in the image above? 

    Next consider how the camera and you are positioned on your desk and room. The placement of the camera can also influence how participants react to a webinar. You want to make sure that the camera is at your eye level.  How often have you seen presenters looking down or you’re looking up into their nose? When we interact with visitors onsite, we want to make eye contact; the same applies to doing a webinar.

    The technology that you are using also makes a difference. Make sure you have a strong stable Internet connection. That means being hardwired (ethernet cable) or having a very robust WiFi. This will help avoid streaming delays so that you don’t become frozen… it’s very disruptive to see the presenter mid-sentence with half-opened eyes. It’s also helpful to close any unnecessary programs since they can consume bandwidth. Make sure you’ve tested your video quality. Depending on the age of your computer, you may have a good built-in camera and microphone; otherwise invest in a webcam. This will make a world of difference in the quality of what participants perceive. You’ll also need to test your audio to make sure your microphone works and produces a clear sound. A fuzzy, low volume can ruin a wonderful presentation. It is always a good idea to have a headset (earbuds/headphones and microphone) handy in case you are in an office situation. A video test is also a good way to determine the correct placement of your camera. If possible, do a connection test, too with the event organizer. You can review your presentation at the same time. Rehearse how the switch from moderator to presenter happens as well as discover how your presentation will be shared and who will be advancing slides. Some applications are very clear about this while others take a little practice.

    What you’re wearing influences how people perceive you and consequently your presentation. You don’t want what you wear to take the attention away from your message. Consider solid coloured clothing in blues, greens, dark reds, and preferably not bright colours or very dark colours. Patterns, stripes and dots are definitely not a good idea since they distract the participants and may even make them dizzy.  

    Finally, your voice and how you use it can make or break this very visual presentation. Make sure your audience can hear you clearly by placing yourself in front of the microphone. Depending on the quality of your mic, it may or may not pick up your voice if you turn your head to check something on another monitor. Secondly, don’t forget to use inflections and intonation – change the volume, the ups and downs of your voice to make it more expressive. Pictures are lovely, but if participants cannot hear, understand, or stay awake because you are using a very monotone voice, your message is not going to get across. Much like with a live program, put some energy into your voice and it will translate into an energetic and engaging presentation.

    The Presentation

    During webinars, your presentation is the main visual compared to doing an in-person presentation when you are the focus. Depending on the application and the far-side set up you may be visible as a PIP (picture in picture) in one corner of the screen or you may not be visible at all when you are sharing your slide presentation. Just in case you aren’t visible during the presentation, it’s always helpful to have a picture of you (and other presenters) at the beginning since it adds a personal touch. Have a slide that gives an overview of the presentation to let participants know how the content will be arranged.  And make sure you end with a slide that thanks the audience and notes next steps — handouts, recording, surveys.

    One of the biggest issues is text versus pictures. Use more visuals!  Your message is important. Pictures (and simple animations) will help reinforce that as well as keep your audience engaged and reinforce the message you are trying to make. You are serving both the ‘left’ (logic) and ‘right’ (appealing to feelings) brain of your audience.  But don’t fall into the trap of having a slide up for just a couple of seconds; twenty to thirty seconds is ideal.  You also don’t want the slides to be reliant on a perfect synchronization with what you are saying in case there is a time lag. 

    Other design components of your presentation will impact the engagement of your presentation. Find out what the display ratio is – 4:3 or 16:9; the latter provides a better view. The placement and size of the pictures also influence participant engagement. Consider one important point per slide or if you have to list points, create an attractive slide using “SmartArt” in PowerPoint. Use a plain one-colour background throughout your presentation. If you want to use animations, make them as simple as possible since it might slow down your presentation while your slides load. Consider “building” an animation. You can achieve the same thing using 4 slides by gradually adding components to each new slide to create the appearance of an animation. Don’t use transitions since they often slow down the webinar. Prezi, which is great for an in-person presentation, doesn’t work well for webinars because of all the transitions and animations.

    Chat, Questions and Polls

    If “housekeeping” isn’t done at the beginning of the webinar by the moderators, remind participants how to participate in the chat and how to ask questions. Ask them to tell you and where they are from since this might be information you can refer to during the presentation which will help build a connection. Are you able to incorporate a poll into your presentation or some other activity? These are always great ways to add an interactive element to your presentation to get participants involved.

    Silence during a webinar is the presenter’s worst nightmare, but it can happen. There are times when silence will be important, but participants need to know what you are doing. Build in some micro-pauses, too, since the participants might need time to finish jotting down a point that you just made. If you are going to be silent because you need to take a sip of water, let your audience know. You don’t want them to think they’ve lost audio.

    When it’s time for questions, having a slide up is a good idea with the word ‘Questions’ on it to remind people that is what’s happening at that point in case they joined while the presentation was in progress.  Depending on the application, you may or may not be able to see the questions and will have to rely on the moderator to state the question for all participants and you to hear. Don’t end your presentation with questions. Your last slide should be a Thank you slide so participants can identify the clear ending.

    A webinar is not just a bunch of pretty pictures, but so much more. How your room is setup, the technology used, the placement of your webcam, what you wear, how you sound will all influence the engagement and reception of your participants.  But don’t forget that your presentation needs to be active and stimulating to engage to make it impactful and memorable. Finally, have fun!

    Karin Davidson-Taylor, B.Sc. (Guelph), B.Ed. (Brock). Education Officer, Royal Botanical Gardens. Karin joined RBG in 2006, coming with 17 years experience with the Upper Grand DSB in both children and adult education. She has been responsible for establishing RBG as a Canadian leader in the world of interactive videoconference-based virtual field trips. She develops and delivers interactive distance education programming to schools and life-long learners around the world, working in coordination with other staff and partners.

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