The Guide's Manual Pt. 3 - Continous Briefing
Updated: Sep 13
In this part of the Guide's Manual, I want to talk about what I consider to be the single best technique to employ as a guide. I have already hinted in previous blogs that you should aim to continuously brief your tour, and today I would like to explain what I mean by that.
If you worked as a guide for any amount of time, you probably employed elements of or even the complete technique already. It is something so ingrained with the idea of being a guide that for most people, it just happens subconsciously. But for me as a guide, having something happen in the subconscious is actually not desirable, despite so much of our society promoting this idea that: "You want to be so familiar with a process that it happens subconsciously."
Well, what happens in your subconscious can not be controlled by you, and every element you can not be in charge of as a guide needs to be reduced as much as possible. You are responsible for knowing your limits, knowing your biases and actively thinking about anything you do on a guided tour because doing so reduces the risk of incidents and that should always be the most important goal for you to work towards.
So now we should evaluate something we already do, talk about its effects and think about how we can improve upon this process, and what we do need to change in ourselves to reach this goal. So without much further delay, let us talk about continuously briefing your tour:
How often do you need to brief?
If you think very roughly about the building frame of an excursion, you can think of a straight arrow representing time, divided into three sections. The first section starts at that point in time where you first meet the guests of your tour. Now a few things will happen, first of all, you will introduce yourself. Secondly, depending on group size and type of excursion, there will be a chance for your guests to introduce themselves. And lastly, you will conduct a briefing about your planned program, telling the guests what to expect and also include all safety-relevant details. Now how long this first phase is, and what information should be included, depends wildly on the guide and the type of excursion he is leading. The whole thing can take as little as a few minutes, and as much as multiple days.
After the briefing phase is finished, we can start the second phase, which is, you know the tour, and after eventually arriving at our destination, we begin the third phase. This should include a debriefing as well as all the aftercare fitting your company values.
So now let us think a little bit about this. The reason we have this first long briefing is, of course, to get our guests in the right mindset for our tour, establish ourselves as leaders, provide an overview, and caution them against the coming dangers. So now imagine you are leading a multiday trip. Every evening you settle down, sit on the campfire, maybe drink a beer, go to sleep, wake up, brew some coffee and enjoy a breakfast. After all that do you expect, often quite inexperienced, guests to immediately resume your excursion where you left of yesterday? Probably not. So it is only the logical conclusion that you repeat your initial briefing in the morning before starting out. Now we can return to our tour, still represented by a straight line on a piece of paper. As I have decided to build my example on the four days long Pite Älv-Upper Section, we can now divide our tour, formally represented by one section into four sections.
If you follow my line of thought, right away, another question arises: What about the Lunchbreaks? After all, we sit down, cook lunch, talk about this and that and forget the river for an hour. So you could argue that, as after a nights rest, we now need to bring everybody up to speed again. So, actually, let us divide our tour into eight sections.
But now we have just opened a further can of worms to the next question: What about the portages? After all, these are short periods of hard labour, that are in nature utterly different to our usual process, so surely we have to give a briefing for each portage? Well ok, let us add the eight portages, to a total of sixteen sections on our tour. And as space is getting tight on my piece of paper, let me just draw out the whole journey as a circle. And by looking at the result, you should realise one thing right away: I have been drawing a Tour Sketch the entire time, although I did it in a somewhat convoluted and unhelpful way.
With this realisation, we can now give a definitive answer to the question: "When do I brief again." And the answer is: At the very least at every spot you deem essential enough to include it in your tour sketch (you are free to do it more frequently). Now with the question of "when" answered we, can now focus on the "what" and "why".
What to include and why to include it in your briefing
At the beginning of your tour, you hold one long and comprehensive induction, including any and all relevant information. Depending on the type of excursion you can talk for quite a while, and probably stretch the attention span of your guests to the absolute limit. So please reduce the length of your subsequent briefings. The easiest method to accomplish this is the time and physical distance covered in each induction. I would recommend that each and every time you only brief up to the next point marked on your Tour Sketch. This can be advantageous for numerous reasons:
Short, digestible briefings: Well it is kind of obvious. First of all, you do not have to cover more than a fraction of your actual excursion. Secondly, one can reasonably assume that the character of the tour should only significantly change at spots marked on your Tour Sketch. After all, deviations from the norm can pose a danger and should be included in the Sketch. This, however, means in turn that up to those changes the challenges should stay roughly equal, which could allow you to generalise the information given and further reduce the length of your briefing
Aides in the motivation of physical weaker guests: To understand this point, I would like to give you some homework: Plan a training session right at your physical distance limit. Swimming, Jogging, Biking, or any other sport whatever you choose, it does not matter. After deciding on the distance, start your training session and place your GPS-Tracker right in front of you. During the entire course, you are only to pay attention to the kilometre counter. (If your system permits, actually disable all other data fields). I can tell you one thing: It will feel like an endless grind, and it will suck, and you will probably reach your exhaustion limit a little earlier than planned. Now, after you recovered from the first session, you can conduct the second experiment. Take your GPS Tracker and hide it. During the whole course, you are never to look on your kilometre counter. Instead chose your endurance pace and work from point to point. Set one, visible location as your goal. It can be a crossroads, a hilltop, a curve in the road, really everything you can see and keep in your line of sight the entire time it takes to get there. Once you reach this spot, go and choose the next point, according to the same criteria. Then repeat until physical exhaustion is reached. I took a few things away from this exercise, the main point being, of course, that the human mind works way better with short term goals. I also learned that my cycling distance limit is actually much higher than I expected. And thirdly I learned that I have great parents that are willing, at least in this single occasion, to drive to Bumfucknowhere, Oberbayern to pick me up. Because the leg cramps got so bad that riding the half-hour more to get back home was about as impossible as flying to the moon tomorrow. Well, the same focus on short term goals will help your guests, especially if they doubt themselves. You can (almost) always just power through five more minutes, but faced with insurmountable challenges your body might only decide to quit. And your job as a guide is to keep your guests ever in a state of mind where problems can be conquered. And only ever briefing the immediate next goal can aid you in this.
Increases guest's perception of your skills: This is a point I only want to touch upon briefly because the psychology of the guide-guest-interaction is so complex, it deserves a whole other article, maybe even a series, on its own. But let me explain. Your briefing should include a very rough description of the route to your next stop. If you remember my blog about the Tour Sketch, the course between stops if often painfully evident to the experienced guide, even if you have never conducted this particular excursion. But do not assume the skills of your guests to be the same in this regard. For the most part, you as a guide should be quite a bit more familiar with the tour, and to people that struggle with navigation just remembering a simple route can seem like magic. So getting all these small directional descriptions right, can actually leave a lasting positive impression with your guests.
Of course, every time you hold a briefing of any kind, those are probably safety-relevant in some regard. And therefore, every induction should follow one maxim: KISS – Keep It Simple & Safe. You should include all the relevant information, but absolutely nothing more. The way I see it, a guide is what you get if you cross a High School Teacher with a Theater Actor, and like many of those, so do many guides suffer from one problem. They do, and by the way, I am absolutely guilty of this, love to hear themselves talk. Therefore I strongly recommend premeditating your briefings. Some especially conscientious might go as far and write down their sentences and even read them back to their guests from their notes to ensure they do not forget anything and going on a tangent is impossible.
It might fit some situations, but if it is too awkward for you, I recommend to at least have one standardised text, memorised down to the last syllable. If all else fails and you get off track or even lose your train of thought entirely during a briefing you can at least fall back on your memorised text and ensure your guests receive most of the information anyways.
So, to sum up, everything into a few short sentences here is my advice on continuously briefing: Every time you stop at a point marked on your Tour Sketch, do conduct a briefing covering only the leg up to your next marked spot. This briefing is the last thing you do, before actually moving again to be as fresh as possible in peoples minds. You are to keep your text to the absolute minimum possible while still including all the potential dangers as well as a short a very rough description of your planned route.
If you actually consciously perform these simple steps, you will find it a great tool to increase your guest's perception of the tour, and your own skills, as well as decrease the number of incidents occurring on your excursion. And with that, I am happy to leave you to try it for yourself. If you have something to add, please feel free to comment below.