Interpretation In The Real World

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2014 at 7:05 PM

Authors note: Interpretation the art of presenting information in a manner that inspires and provokes listeners, allowing them to find new meaning in what is presented.

The term “interpretation” was coined by park rangers in the 1950s. iSpeakEASY teachers interpretation as a communication tool – one that is very effective in both the public and private sector.

This article was published by the National Association For Interpretation in March, 2014.


Interpretation In The Real World

I believe that interpretive principles, when properly applied, can work to change attitudes, behaviors, and they help audiences see things in a new way. To realize the full benefits of interpretation, we have to apply it every day.

I have seen few approaches to communication that are more effective than interpretation. By engaging the listener, interpretation provides information that is relevant and important not just to the speaker, but to those listening. Interpretation helps open the mind of the listener and can change the way one looks at and understands the world.

Too often, interpreters practice interpretive methods only when I see interpretive professionals express a belief that interpretation should be practiced only when leading a program or speaking with visitors and, not during other communication encounters. We may not say this outright, but we show it with our actions. We do a great job with visitors and fail to apply our skills when speaking with staff, coworkers, family, or friends. In these latter situations, we tend to share facts and information and put too little emphasis on provoking, inspiring, or revealing. We save our best behavior (and skills) for guests instead if for those closest to us.



Interpretive conferences often provide such evidence, as some of the worst presentations I have seen have been at these events. Highly talented and skilled individuals stand in front of fellow interpreters and tell, explain, and give facts about their programs without using the more effective methods of revealing, relating, or provoking.

Let me share an example. Recently I toured a new interpretive center with a group of interpreters. We met with a woman whom I know to be an outstanding member of our field and profession. I have seen her in action and know her reputation is deserved. What was delivered that day though, was a rather uninspiring overview of the nuts and bolts of the operation. She showed us the buildings, took us outside to see exhibits and trails, and described programs. It was interesting as it is a beautiful site and a brand new program, but the presentation fell short of what it could have been. I did not get a “sense” of the place, or feel the excitement of this site and project. I wondered why she didn’t incorporate the fabulous interpretive skills I know she possesses.

I shared this thought with other members of my troop and they didn’t agree my observations. “It was not an interpretive presentation” they said. “She was just showing us her site”. But in my mind, her presentation was a showcase of missed opportunities. She had the chance to “wow” us with her skills and abilities and by doing so, inspire us to use new ideas and methods in our programs.

The talk provided the chance to engage with her audience on the role of interpretation and the opportunities this new site offers the agency, the region, and the profession. In doing so, we all could have been inspired to raise the bar of our own work and find ways to weave our programs together for the betterment of our agencies, the public, and the resource we all protect.

This woman’s shortcomings that day are not unique. Too often we save our talents and skills as interpreters for the trail or museum floor and forget to use them in meetings and conversations. By doing so, we fail to show our co-workers the best we have to offer.

I began my career in parks and other traditional interpretive venues. While I continue to work for a governmental resource management agency, I have taken these skills into the private sector – training people to interpret the value of their work, their product, and their services even though their line of work doesn’t involve parks or museums.

These individuals learn to relate their ideas in a relevant manner with the intent of provoking thought. They are encouraged to motivate the listener to change a behavior, belief or attitude. People in the private sector are learning to use interpretation every day and then feel the excitement as their programs and businesses flourish.

The results are amazing: increased sales, increased public and political support for projects, less conflict in the workplace, and smoother transitions to new systems. These clients are learning more effective ways to communicate so they can bring about the change they are seeking.

As interpreters, we have the skills to bring about change and we clearly have the passion and drive to do so. Why is it then that so many interpreters forget to use these skills in everyday life: in the places where it really matters the most?

The next time you have to speak to your boss or a subordinate, find yourself speaking to a customer service rep about the problem with your order, present information at a meeting, or find yourself in any more “routine” speaking situation, remember to engage the interpretive skill set you have learned. Take a moment to think of a way to present your thoughts in a way that inspires and provokes thinking. Guide your listener so they see things in a brand new way. Afterwards, take a moment to evaluate your “presentation” by the response you elicit from your audience.

Hone your skills to enhance the listener’s experience every time you speak. WOW your audience even if the audience is “just” a group of co-workers, peers, or your spouse. You may be surprised at how effective you become.

Interpretation is a great tool for use in parks and museums – and it has applications every time you speak with the intent of helping someone see the world in a different way. Keep interpretation in parks and museums, and apply it to your life every day.



Call or email for information on how to create and deliver presentations that capture and inspire your audience.

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