Managing Interpreters: Presentations as Road maps

Meandering. Wandering aimlessly. Lost. Confused. Does this describe your worst road trip? Maybe it describes the conversations between the public and your front-line interpreters?

As an undergrad, my freshman English professor told a classmate that reading his paper “was like trying to follow a drunk down the road… it could not be done.” The comment stuck with me (I daresay, it stuck with my classmate, too!). It told me that a paper must have direction, as must a road trip… as must the presentations our front-line interpreters give our guests.

Most of us working in Education and Interpretation will remember learning about thesis statements. Thesis statements provide structure—a roadmap for the reader. Frontline interpreters also need roadmaps. At The Henry Ford, we approach our Mission Statement like a thesis statement.

The Henry Ford provides unique educational experiences based on authentic objects, stories, and lives from America’s traditions of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and innovation. Our purpose is to inspire people with these traditions to help shape a better future.

Mission defines who we are as an institution, what we care about, and what we hope our guests care about after visiting us. All presentations our frontline interpreters provide must connect in some way to mission. How do we go about this? We teach new interpreters to climb the pyramid.

1. Content and Details:
Each historic site or exhibit has detailed content. Interpreters should start with details that interest specific guests. Content is tailored.

2. Presentation priority:
Content details should be connected to a presentation priority. These are the few main ideas for each site and exhibition at The Henry Ford.

3. Mission:
Each presentation priority ties easily to the mission. This is the thesis, or main idea, for each presentation. How does the content tie to America’s traditions of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and innovation?

4. Relevancy:
Lastly, interpreters should explain how content, presentation priorities, and mission relate to our guests— to life in 2015.

Using this presentation pyramid has helped create continuity in presentation across The Henry Ford’s many venues; regardless of the interpreter or site, guests are getting the same message: The Henry Ford is about ingenuity, resourcefulness, and innovation. It has been a useful road map for our interpreter staff.