Interpretation for Archeologists   3. What Do Interpreters Do?   Distance Learning

How Do Interpreters Interact with the Public?

Interpreters interact with the public face-to-face (called personal interpretive services) or through print and electronic means (nonpersonal interpretive services). They draw on a range of involvement techniques, aiming to match the mode of interpretation with the needs of their audiences.

Personal Services

Personal interpretive services feature face-to-face interaction with visitors.

A long tradition of personal interpretive services exists in the national park system, by both interpreters and archeologists. These programs tend to:

  • Form the base of each park's interpretive program
  • Have a central idea or theme
  • Be tailored to the audience
  • Be place-based, using park resources as a backdrop or stage
  • Provide information and orientation
  • Encourage conversation, questions, and feedback
  • Stimulate visitor understanding and appreciation of park values
  • Help to ensure resource protection and visitor safety.

Examples of personal interpretive services include: staffed orientation/information desks at visitor centers; guided walks, talks, and tours; living history programs; demonstrations of technologies, performing arts, or creative arts; and campfire programs.

Nonpersonal Services

Nonpersonal interpretive services do not require interpreters to be present, but support self-guided and independent learning and exploration. These services may include:

  • Print publications, including unigrid brochures and park subject guides
  • Exhibits
  • Web sites
  • Audiovisual presentations
  • Podcasts
  • Mobile phone apps and self-guided tours
  • Radio information systems.

Nonpersonal services may be accessed at a park or remotely, which means that they may be particularly useful for members of the public who are handicapped or disabled, teachers and students, or planning a trip. Like personal services, it is important to provide visitors with a range of options.

Try It Yourself

Visit the Things to Do sections on the following park websites. Which of the listed activities are personal services? Which are nonpersonal services?

Involvement Techniques

Whether an interpreter is conducting a face-to-face ranger program or designing an exhibit, they draw from a variety of involvement techniques to engage the audience.

Passive involvement techniques promote attentiveness, thinking, feeling/emotional involvement, and passive sensory involvement (watching and hearing).

Examples of passive involvement techniques include: word pictures, storytelling, relating concepts to visitor experiences, variation of voice and volume, role playing/dramatic interpretation, rhetorical or thought-provoking questions, demonstration, quotations/historical accounts, body language (expressions, gestures, props, costumes, visual aids), challenges/incentives, thematic connections, forecasting, and even silence.

Active involvement techniques promote physical action and movement, looking (as opposed to watching), active listening (as opposed to hearing), and other sensory involvement (tasting, smelling, touching).

Examples of active involvement techniques include: demonstrations with visitor participation, questions requiring a verbal answer, problem-solving, games, scavenger hunts, props that visitors may handle, assignments (i.e. listing, looking/finding, counting, writing, making, drawing), sensory suggestions (i.e. smelling, tasting, touching, active listening), team activities/assignments, brainstorming.

Many of these methods can deliver the all-important link of tangibles and intangibles into interpretive opportunities:

Stories, explanations, examples, presentation of evidence, quotes, metaphors, analogies, activities, sequences of questions, discussions, descriptions, demonstrations, comparisons, illustrations.

Try It Yourself

Archeologists excavating a site is a magnet for visitors. Public interpretation is a challenge, because archeologists both need to complete their technical work and make time to talk with passersby. If you plan to excavate or test, check in with the interpretive staff for tips and possible staff presence.

For Your Information

Interpretive Media Toolkit (NPS Common Learning Portal)
Find links to a variety of resources to help you plan, design and develop site-produced interpretive media products. The items listed here will help you develop your skills and meet the technical and interpretive standards for NPS media.

Use What You Know: Assess Your Knowledge (#3 of 10)

(icon) A ranger's hat.

Identify an interpretive service at your park. Is it a personal or a nonpersonal interpretive service? What involvement techniques are used?

MJB/EJL