Docents can make humor a work for them, especially with children’s tours. A laugh together early in a tour establishes rapport and friendship between the group and the docent.
What are the benefits of humor?
Most of all, it makes children (and the adults with them) feel good to laugh. It relaxes them, breaks down barriers, and loosens them up physically. Humor encourages participation. It lets children know you are accessible — that they can ask questions — that their docent will provide some variety to an otherwise serious discussion.
Laughter can unify your audience. Laughter demonstrates to each child that others are having a good time, and invites them to join in the fun. It also adds to the anticipation of touring with you. “What will our docent say next?”
When using humor, we must choose our humorous anecdotes carefully. Children do not cope well with cynicism. Remember that humor must fit with the audience and the occasion.
I have found that the best humor comes from personal experience. If you think it is funny, they will also. How do you discern things in your own experience that fit with the exhibition you are touring children through? I suggest “negative fondness” — an experience that you cherish, but that also went awry. For instance, when showing children the cramped quarters of a pueblo at our museum, I talk about the time my family and I vacationed in a tiny trailer and I had to ask everyone to crowd onto the beds so that I could get food out of the cupboards.
What do you do when a child or teacher offers a tasteless joke or makes an ethnic or sexist remark? I try to ignore them, but sometimes have said, “Not all of us agree with your viewpoint.” Then, I quickly move the group on to a new topic.
Smiling, steady eye contact with everyone, and joyful approach to teaching are helpful for you, and for the children on your tour. Incorporate humor into your arsenal as you capture converts to the joys of learning.
Jody Bates, Docent, Texas A & M University Art Galleries
(P.S. – Ms. Bates requests that docents send in humorous things that have happened on docent-led tours. It could result in an article and would make for delightful reading!)
Bates, Jody. “It Works for Me…Sharing successful techniques and ideas.,” The Docent Educator 4.1 (Autumn 1994): 13.