New Visitor Engagement Strategies With The National Gallery, London

Taylor Gmahling


Marketing Representative

In October 2018 we had the opportunity to work on new visitor engagement strategies with The National Gallery in London.

The National Gallery, located in Trafalgar Square (Central London), was founded in 1824.

Today, it’s home to over 2,300 paintings from artists of late medieval and Renaissance Italy to French Impressionists — many say it is the most representative “tasting menu” of European painting in the whole world!

The National Gallery’s collection includes many famous works, such as Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne, Paul Cézanne’s Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

Paul Cézanne’s Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)

The National Gallery, London called us to help them achieve three specific goals:

  • Create more engaging tours;
  • Learn how to quickly and effectively develop new content for rotating exhibitions, and; 
  • Bring the staff together.

We were up to the challenge, and went to work creating a custom 4.5-hour Professional Development Workshop focused on both visitor engagement strategies and interdepartmental team building.

Museum Hack’s museum consultant, Dustin Growick, traveled to London to bring the method to our (successful) madness to the staff at the National Gallery, London.

During the workshop, Dustin…  

  • taught our passion-based storytelling method for creating engaging interactions with objects, exhibitions, and spaces,
  • demonstrated how we use pacing (and a few other top-secret elements) to structure dynamic tour experiences that appeal to all visitors, and
  • led interactive and inquiry-based games to both engage the staff in thoughtful team building and model out-of-the-box activity design for tours.  

The main goal of our workshop was to have The National Gallery, London, staff take what they’ve learned and put it into practice with actual guests, immediately!

Workshop participants practicing the “5 Elements of a Hack” storytelling method.

What does a Professional Development Workshop focused on both visitor engagement and team building look like (besides 4.5 hours of nonstop fun)?

During the first part of the workshop, Dustin demonstrated how to create an engaging tour. The participants practiced both dynamic tour structure and Museum Hack-style storytelling.

The Hack Tour Structure

Dustin demonstrated the specific structure of our own renegade tours. He showed the workshop attendees how to include fun activities, educational storytelling, and careful pacing to keep audiences engaged the whole time.

Workshop attendees practicing one of our fav tour activities: a tableau vivant photo contest.

We have a five-step technique for creating a successful “hack” of an exhibit, space, or object. Dustin walked through these elements, demonstrated the technique on an object in the National Gallery’s collection, and then gave participants the chance to experiment constructing narratives about their own favorite objects.  

Many of today’s visitors want a more participatory experience, where they feel invested in the stories and spaces of the museum…

…which leads us to part two of the workshop — experience design.  

Exploratory Games And Activities

With so much to see and take in (remember, The National Gallery is home to over 2,300 paintings!) visitors often drift through exhibits dazed and overwhelmed. We explained how games and activities with clear and fun objectives offer the visitors a chance to connect with objects in new and interesting ways.

What game do you think prompted this photo?

Many visitors are anxious about sharing their thoughts in a museum space for fear of sounding “dumb.” To combat this, we focused on tour activities that create an open and non-threatening environment encouraging visitors to speak their mind.

For example, we told participants that it was okay to use their smartphones!

Smartphones are excellent tools for engagement. Who doesn’t love a good museum selfie, amirite? We challenged the workshop attendees to come up with 2-3 tour games that incorporate smartphones.

Pro Tip: Smartphones are great tools for scavenger hunts and photo challenge activities.

We had an awesome time working with the amazing staff at The National Gallery, London, and can’t wait to see how they use their new skills and tour-building tools to increase visitor engagement!

So, how did it go?  

“The workshop that Dustin led was great and the team appreciated having him talk through ways that Museum Hack have delivered and adapted their tours for a diverse range of audience members. The team here are a mixed team of Educators who have worked here for many years as well as newer members who have only been with us for a few months.

I think the team felt at the beginning of the session that Dustin was highlighting skills that they already possess and tactics for delivering tours that they already use. However, as the day progressed the team felt that it unlocked some subconscious skills that they use but are not necessarily aware of and taking advantage of. They were able to tangibly look at new ways of shaping their tours and some of them have already used some of these on tours they have delivered since the training.”

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