Activity Design And Storytelling Strategies To Engage New Audiences

Museum Resources
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Museum Resources March 04, 2021 Activity Design And Storytelling Strategies To Engage New Audiences

Earlier this year, Senior Creative Consultants Dustin Growick and Zak Martellucci embarked on a multi-museum mission in the land down under.

Museum Hack’s audience development duo brought our renegade tour methods, 5 Elements of a Hack storytelling telling strategy, and best practices for engaging new audiences to three awesome museums in Australia.

Here’s what they learned — and what you can take away from our trip for your own museum.

#1: The National Sports Museum of Australia

First up, the National Sports Museum of Australia in East Melbourne.

NSM is home to Australia’s largest sporting collection. It has everything from the country’s biggest sporting heroes memorabilia to the Olympics, Australian football, cricket, Thoroughbred racing, and much more.

NSM was in a wonderfully unique situation when we arrived: a massive redesign and renovation of their physical museum space!

But what really makes NSM special is that instead of solely focusing on revamping their physical space, they seized the opportunity to rethink their visitor engagement strategy, too!

Zak and Dustin excited about meeting the team at NSM.


By investing time and resources in their staff!

NSM clearly understands that it is the people that hold the key to creating memorable and engaging experiences that will keep the visitors coming back for more.

With this in mind, The National Sports Museum reached out to us with two specific goals. NSM wanted to:

  • Learn new skills and techniques to better engage visitors on the museum floor.
  • Get advice on their museum redesign. Specifically, how can they make their space more inviting and engaging to visitors.

NSM brought together teams from all areas of the museum to participate in our workshop. They wanted to make sure that all departments were 1) on the same page regarding their new visitor engagement strategy and 2) spoke a common language moving forward.

Zak and Dustin with our super awesome point person Helen Walpole the Creative Director, Redevelopment at NSM.

Dustin and Zak focused the workshop on two things:

  • Discussing NWM’s rebrand: an in-depth look at the museum’s past, present, and goals for the future, specifically regarding how to boost visitor engagement.
  • Teaching our 5 Elements of a Hack method of storytelling: a valuable tool for engaging visitors in meaningful ways on the museum floor.

After sharing our best practices – the same ones we use for our renegade tours, scavenger hunts, team-building tours, and VIP events – we encouraged the NSM staff to think critically about their current visitor engagement strategy and pushed them to discover new and unique ways to activate the space.

When we left the National Sports Museum of Australia, they were excited to get to work implementing our storytelling and activity design methods in their new building.

We are so excited to see what they come up with!

#2: Zoos Victoria

Zoos Victoria is made up of three different locations: Werribee Open Range Zoo, Melbourne Zoo, and Healesville Sanctuary.

Zoos Victoria called us to:

  • help re-energize interpretation, specifically, in their two Melbourne locations, and
  • teach their team new tricks on how to engage millennials in different types of programming.
Zak and Dustin at the Werribee Open Range Zoo in Melbourne

Much like the National Sports Museum, Zoos Victoria brought everyone from their three sites together for the workshop, which meant interpreters and trainers were working and learning alongside the head office folks.

As these teams don’t often get the chance to work together, our workshop doubled as a fantastic opportunity for inter-department communication and team building.

It was especially important to have the head office people communicating with the people on the ground about visitor engagement and experience since there is sometimes a disconnect between what they are selling and what is actually possible.

Zak and Dustin decided it would be best to focus the Zoo’s Victoria workshop on museum programming.


Because after looking over the current programs it was clear they weren’t doing a lot to reach their new target audience: millennials.

We began by modeling the various types of things that we do to successfully attract millennials, like VIP events, renegade style tours, exclusive private tours (with games, photo challenges, and wine), behind the scenes experiences, and more.

Sarah Agterhuis, Dustin, and Ashley McFarlane striking a pose during for a tour style photo challenge.

We discussed which of these techniques would be easily incorporated into the Zoo’s existing tours to activate audience engagement right away and which events would work well in the space to attract new audiences.

We also demonstrated how to use our 5 Elements of a Hack method of storytelling and proper pacing to keep visitors energized and prevent “museum fatigue” on tours.

#3: Sydney Living Museums

Sydney Living Museums operates 12 of the most important historic houses, gardens, and museums in New South Wales, Australia.

They asked us to come in to teach their staff better storytelling strategies and different ways to engage diverse audiences.

Zak explaining Museum Hack’s 5 Elements of a Hack method of storytelling.

This workshop was extra special for us!


Because one of the participants, Jacqui Newling, SLM’s resident gastronomer and curator, is a Museum Hack boot camp alumni!

After completing boot camp in New York City, Jacqui was eager for us to come to her home museum and work with the staff.

She specifically requested our on-site workshop be similar to our boot camp AKA the Sydney Living Museums staff would not only learn a ton of new awesome skills but have the opportunity to practice them immediately following the training for a public audience.

We loved this idea and were all too happy to adjust our classic workshop format to fit this special request!

Dustin and Zak created a single, day-long boot camp in which the group would not only design a whole tour together but each participant would have the opportunity to present a personal piece on the tour.

This format turned out to be a big motivator and made people more beholding to paying close attention when we taught our 5 Elements of a Hack method of storytelling and modeled activity design.

At the end of the workshop, the workshop-ees led a live tour (which they created as a group that very day) in which each one of them got a chance IRL to share out their very own 5 Elements of a Hack style story in front of their peers who had not attended the workshop.

Dustin and Zak were also able to stay, observe the tour and offer immediate feedback.

This workshop format worked really well to:

  • show the participants that the stuff we are teaching really does work and
  • give them the confidence and tools to put it into practice immediately!

Check out what Jacqui, our NYC boot camp alumni, had to say about the event back at her home museum:

“I would emphasize how impressed we were with their knowledge and energy and their ability to motivate, inspire and coach workshop participants. Their double act was very effective in representing two different approaches to the Hack philosophy, which helped participants understand how they could adopt the techniques and personalize the interpretation and content.

From my perspective, having done the three-day 5-participant Bootcamp in NYC in June, Dustin and Zak did a brilliant job condensing the content into a one day ‘speed date’ for a larger group of our staff. They brought a wonderfully infectious energy to Museum of Sydney and exposed our staff to a very refreshing way of interpreting the exhibits and approaching their work in the broader sense.

We are now in the process of developing our own renegade tours and experiences in several of our museums using the MH model and techniques.”

written with 💖 by Taylor Gmahling

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