What I Learned at Tour Guide School in NYC

My pandemic side gig was learning all I could about the endlessly fascinating Central Park, and then parsing out this knowledge during my weekly Walk and Talks with whomever would turn up from my dormant theater group. Surprising and delighting hard core New Yorkers with Central Park tidbits and stories was to me a completely gratifying way to spend time. This was, for certain, my Covid Silver Lining. So my brain reasoned why not learn more about this occupation called Tour Guide?

In trying to determine the most efficient way to pass the NYC tour guide test I stumbled upon an organization called Trip School. After buying the handy the how to pass the test book, I signed up for their newsletter. Philosophically it appeared Trip School mirrored what I believe makes the difference between a ho hum guide and a next level memorable and meaningful guide. Cause if you are going to spend time doing something do you want to be ho hum? No. Never.

The semi-regular emails were entertaining, respectful, informative and enticing. To assess my assessment of the organization I hopped on as a silent voyeur on a zoom discussion on crafting WOW moments. I took 6 pages of notes and was happy that the appealing voice on the newsletter matched the appealing person on the screen – Mitch.

So when one of the newsletters unveiled a NYC (yay) Intensive Tour Guide Boot camp over a weekend where I mysteriously had NO GUESTS I pounced and grabbed a spot. Which is how I found myself with 12 complete strangers from all around the country with equally diverse tour guide backgrounds on a sizzling hot day in NYC in front of Chelsea Market at 8:30am on a Saturday. It was two 12 hour brain engaging, life infusing, thought conjuring, non-stop days. And I LOVED IT.

Trip School’s driving tenant is to elevate the craft of The Tour Guide. If they could, they would banish forever the rote and tired model similar to that of a teacher as sage on a stage (the lecture ad nauseam model). Their view is that guides should entertain, entice, surprise, and ever so gently nudge their guests out of their comfort zones and into a more elevated and higher consciousness. Not an insignificant nor easily achieved goal, but one that was handily achieved during the 2 day back to back super fun but super intense training.

How? The secret sauce about what makes this course so effective is: it is the socratic method on steroids with nowhere to hide. It was not “Hi I am Mitch. Let me tell you all I know about how to guide a tour.” But rather, for me anyway, let’s try this career path on for size and learn while we do it.

There was homework. There were off the cuff assignments with super scant preparation time that involved presenting to the group on a a rather off the cuff basis. In the 24 hours at Trip School each participant gave a total of 6 mini presentations or commentaries as one person on the group aptly called our time on the “stage.”

Miles from my normal beat of Central Park suddenly I was talking about sex shops in the Meatpacking District, bold street art on a wall in Bushwick, and giving a spirited overview on DUMBO under the Manhattan Bridge. So much fun! (And that was all before 5pm on the first day).

With each and every presentation? Each and every person, from the novices to the experienced, got better and better as they mined what worked for them from Mitch’s gentle but insightful guidance. This phrase I snuck in there – what worked for them – was also critical to Mitch’s socratic style of enlightening. Over and over again our sage and savvy instructor emphasized the importance of embracing one’s own personal style. The more YOU – YOU can be the more effective YOU will be as a guide. Such freedom! to not only be exactly who you are but even taking the best of what makes you, well you, and amplifying it. A gift!

The act of hearing from the different voices of my fellow Trip School class members was also super effective. Of course, I was going to be the very best listener I could when my fellow students were speaking. These were huge acts of bravery – being a fierce listener was an unspoken rule in the course. The result? We were all super lucky recipients of a treasure trove of all kinds of NEW NYC information (look out group!).

I know each and every person in the group was there for the specific act of learning or enhancing the craft of tour guide BUT I would counter that this course teaches you how to be a better human. How to engage. How to listen. How to be aware when you are on the street and sensitive to other people’s perspective. How to elevate a conversation. How to elevate an experience. How to lift others up and introduce them to a way of thinking that is foreign and perhaps uncomfortable, but made comfortable because of all of the other things I just mentioned.

Mitch has a gift for all of this. And now I have a whole bunch of new life goals and 12 new friends. Thanks Mitch! and my lovable Trip School group. I had the best time.


8 Responses

  1. So happy you are doing this! IMHO, the mark of an excellent guide: one who refrains from rattling off facts, and always tells a story, passionately.

  2. You are amazing as always! So fun to meet what I imagine were mostly like minded souls. Can’t wait to partake of the fruits of your learning…

    1. aw thanks friend. Can’t wait to have you partake. I got lots of new places for us to go now. so fun. hugs.

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Space does open up! When it does it’s often at the last minute. Will keep our fingers crossed. Would love to see you at this experience!