Community Resources & Economic Development

Interpretive Guide Training

Do you ever feel as though you are lecturing your guests, as opposed to communicating with them? Are you interested in making your message pleasurable, relevant, organized, and thematic? According to novelist Freeman Tilden, interpretation is revelation based upon information. Interpretation involves translating technical language into terms that people can readily understand. Interpretation stresses the importance of ideas and relationships, rather than facts and figures.

How is interpretation different from formal instruction?

Interpretation       Formal Instruction
Interpreters use facts sparingly, only when they enhance the material       Teacher relies on facts students must memorize
Interpreters use stories and props to illustrate their point       Teacher lectures, writes/illustrates on a blackboard
Audience will generally not take notes       Students take notes, knowing they will be tested
Attendees are a non-captive audience       Students are a captive audience

This video “Drama in the Dark” (part 1 of 4) by Park Ranger in Olympic National Park illustrates the art of interpretation.

Olympic National Park – Drama in the Dark – Ranger Presentation (1 of 4)

About the Course

River guide

This course is designed to give West Virginia guides, educators, and those interested in improving their communication, the knowledge and skills needed to engage an audience in a positive and constructive way. The course will train participants on interpretation techniques that will establish more effective communication with guests.

The majority of this five-unit course will be conducted online. Participants will have two weeks to complete each unit. Readings and assignments will take approximately four to six hours per unit to complete. After completing the online portion, participants will have developed a working plan for a 10-minute interpretive talk. Shortly after finishing the online component, each participant will give his/her interpretive talk during a half-day, in-person workshop held at West Virginia University led by WVU faculty. Upon successful completion of the entire course, participants will receive a certificate of completion, as well as a pin and badge recognizing them as a West Virginia Interpretive Guide Heritage Steward.

This 12-week course is offered in the spring and fall to groups of 10 to 15 guides or instructors. It is recommended that the course be taken together as a group to increase the effectiveness of the in-person assessment. A $50 fee is required to participate. To register or for more information, contact Doug Arbogast, WVU Extension Service Rural Tourism Specialist, at or 304-293-8686.

I was skillfully guided in a variety of tools and techniques that not only allowed me to inform my audiences, but to also engage and motivate them in lasting ways. By applying the skills developed in this class, my interpretive talks as an Adventure WV canopy tour guide deeply connected with more people than I’d ever imagined possible.” Evan Cestari