Client Success Story: The Canadian Museum of Nature

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Sometimes museums have it tough.

National museums with large budgets are actually stretched thin because they have to appeal to domestic donors AND international audiences. A museum that is successful enough to be a known “tourist destination” is still competing with other major destinations. If you have just one afternoon in NYC, do you visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the American Museum of Natural History or Times Square or the Statue of Liberty or catch a Yankees game?

The challenge of marketing a museum remains as you niche down. An aquarium should be an obvious choice for someone who loves art and animals, but a niche organization often means a more limited budget that still has to reach international audiences as they come to your city.

While investing in marketing is important, there is one investment — often overlooked — that can massively increase attendance. That investment is story telling, because when you tell great stories you create memorable experiences for your guests and start a powerful viral loop as guests share your museum with their friends and family.

Birds eye view of the Canadian Museum of Nature

The Canadian Museum at the Heart of the Nature Movement

The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa is a spectacular museum run by passionate people. The CMN’s team are leaders in natural science education and interpretation in Canada and globally, and have a powerful mission: to increase interest, knowledge, appreciation and respect for the natural world.

But even with the museum’s great mission and reputation, they had a challenge — how could they get everyone in their organization on the same page about how to interpret and tell the stories of nature? The leadership team’s hope was that better communication could help the museum reach a wider audience and create a bigger impact.

One of the CMN’s team members is on the Museum Hack email list and saw some of the messages we’ve sent about telling powerful stories, like The 5 Minute Technique to Tell Better Museum Stories and The Case For Meaty, In-depth Storytelling. The CMN got in touch to speak to us about our approach to interpretation, but had one hesitation — some stakeholders were concerned that our approach wasn’t completely inline with their needs.

Museum Hack tours are fun and quirky, but the real focus is on creating a custom experience that the audience loves. After a few quick meetings, the idea of using an outside group to help create a unified language and approach won the day.

It was time to hack the Canadian Museum of Nature!

The 5 Elements of a Hack Workshop

Our work with the CMN had three major goals:

  • to get all groups on the same page about their approach to interpretation;
  • to give their staff fresh ideas to help innovate on their current efforts;
  • to give their staff a great team building opportunity.

With these goals in mind, we created a customized workshop and presentation, “the 5 Elements of a Hack”.

Canadian Museum of Nature round table
Our workshop walked the CMN team through our 5 Elements of a Hack Storytelling Technique, including how to source, tell and retell the fascinating stories behind your exhibits. One of the keystones to this technique is finding the passion pieces in your gallery. Not necessarily the most famous or most expensive art, but the pieces that you care deeply about on a personal level. After the workshop, the CMN team members had a chance to mock-up their own story and present it to the group.

Canadian Museum of Nature tour group dinosaur

Important side note: this exercise included staff from ALL groups, not just members of the education/interpretation teams. Including all groups helped amplify our work, especially the team building efforts. In one team member’s words, Museum Hack “inspired the rest of our cohort to get going!”

And the results of the workshop were immediate. Now, instead of speaking from a script, the CMN team members are confidently telling stories about the museum from a place of personal connection and passion. A huge win!

Here’s a quote from the museum director:

“We had a blast! We are going to manage our line ups differently — starting tomorrow — and we are going to give the folks that do group tours the freedom to personalize every story they provide, because they all have great stories to share.”
-Meg Beckel, Director & CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature

Do you want Museum Hack to work with your museum?

The Canadian Museum of Nature hired us to teach their staff how to tell better stories, and they had immediate results. If you want Museum Hack to do a workshop or team building event at your museum, we’d love to help. Get in touch at 1-800-210-9676 or read more here.

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