The Victoria & Albert Museum has a large and strong team of volunteers who are present in the entrance to the museum to welcome visitors, answer questions and guide them to different galleries. Since the V&A was aware that half their visitors were new and that many people are unsure of what the museum is about they wanted to develop the volunteers’ role so that they could be more proactive about approaching visitors and be able to share a small story that would introduce the museum.
We worked with approximately 80 volunteers (in groups of 10-16) who took part in 2 different workshops to develop how and why they could approach and interact with visitors to enhance their visit and how to create and share a story that illustrated and explained the past and present (and sometimes future) life of the museum. The groups included established volunteers and recent recruits who were all invited to investigate and conclude what their responsibilities were and how they could best put them in to practice. They were encouraged to think as practically as possible and to identify where they had the power to improve someone’s visit. The volunteers developed content that, given the opportunity, they could include in a conversation with a visitor. We found solutions to how to include information about tricky subjects such as donations and “cross selling” without them being confrontational or demanding. The second workshop worked towards giving the volunteers a set of techniques they could use to generally improve how they communicate the museum and its collection’s stories, and in particular looked at what story they could tell visitors as a way to introduce them to what the museum is. Volunteers could choose their own subject, allowing them to work with what interested them so that visitors could have their interest ignited by each volunteer’s particular enthusiasms.
The training allowed the V&A to raise the overall quality of how their volunteers interacted with visitors; in how they care for them and in how they engage them with the museum. Volunteers came away having explored how their role, to offer face to face interaction with visitors, fits within the rest of the museum and its overall aims. The storytelling techniques helped the volunteers to share what they know and love about the museum with their visitors in a descriptive, vibrant, spontaneous, visitor centred style.