THE TAO OF TOUR LEADING – Tour guide TV transcript


Hello to another episode of Tour Guide TV and You are hosted with the mosted, Kelsey Tonner.

So today we are gonna talk about that scary, paralyzing moment when a guest is upset and yelling in your face.

Not very fun.

Unfortunately, a lot of tour leaders can panic, do or say things that actually make the situation worse.

So here is where the Taoism comes in. Very famous man named Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism and generally regarded as a pretty smart dude said

Do not resist for that create sorrow

Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they choose

Oh it probably didn’t say it quite like that but it did have a pretty sweet beard, this is known.

We as tour guide should not confront or resist somebody who is upset. The most important thing to do is to listen, let them vent and speak their mind completely. And there is no better way to acknowledge somebody’s frustration by saying these two magic words

You’re right

That’s it. That’s all you need to say to somebody who is upset with you. Not only are you acknowledging their pain but you’re also completely disarming the situation. That means who can disagree with somebody who just said that they are right?

But just to hit this home, after saying something like “You are right”, you know that you really do have to mean them. So great follow up phrases that could work after “You’re right”, something like these

“Gosh, it must be frustrating for you”

“I totally get how this could be frustrating you”

“I get it. I really see how this is making you upset”

Now I hear you out already. Oh oh you want me stand there and that take abuse from somebody and just take that and say “You are right”, uncle friend?

No, definitely not.

You are gonna know, I mean, you are the best person to know if somebody has been upset with you, their yelling has crossed the line into verbal or emotional abuse, physical, anything like that. And if you find yourself in that situation, you need to speak up right away and let that person know that they should stop immediately, that they’ve crossed the line, that you will not be treated this way. Make that very clear.

But you still want me to tell somebody that they are right when they are wrong, huh?

They just gasped on my face and they are wrong, and dumb, and also, they smell.

Not quite.

Here is the secret source.

Just because you said somebody was right doesn’t mean that you are wrong. All you are doing is acknowledging their point of view. Right, let’s face it. If you put yourself in their shoes and you had their expectations and maybe their knowledge or lack of knowledge, you would be just as upset as them.

So there you have it.

By following the wise words of Lao Tzu, we are going to, when faced with an oncoming angry guest, listen very carefully and closely and those are two magic words.

You’re right

To diffuse the situation

Reduce the stress

Reduce the conflict

And only then will we move on to offer solutions or other points of view. So in the comments below, let me know your experiences with the technique or other ways that you have to diffuse angry customers.


Story telling in a tour

There comes a period I become so skeptical and turn to doubt my career. It’s when I realize that information a tour guide provide is not necessarily exact. Nobody cares if this king died in 1845 instead of, say, 1900. In a real business world, providing wrong information means you are a fraud. Not in a tour though.

However, in the end everybody has a specific role and I am quite satisfied with the conclusion that a guide carries with him or her various roles, one of which being an entertainer, a storyteller. In other words, your stories may not be exact, but they should be captivating. A great tour guide is also a great story teller.

Regarding this, Kelsey Tonner, an acclaimed tour leader from Canada shared some insights with us:


Let’s listen to him and see what we can filter out of it:

“Hi there, it’s just be 30 degree Celsius where I am right now. Just pretty warm for me. And I realize in this video I don’t need to wear pants. So this week, just shorts.

Hi it’s Kelsey from and very exciting to welcome to ….edition for a community Q&A. This is a …to ….from Chicago area. She leads tour there and reached out last week asking about story telling and actually sharing some of her tips and how she uses story telling on her tour. And I thought this is a great chance to weigh in on how important story telling is to being a great guide.

So stories are so important and central to human experiences. Before we had writing, we passed our most important knowledge through stories. Great speakers, if you think of any great speakers, they use stories, they get across a point, and say bare bone facts or things like this. And many schools, business schools for example, like Harvard or John Hopkins business school use case studies. Centrally story telling helps make their lessons more sticky. In this way you are business owner with your protagonist through struggles or challenges in a business world and then there is a resolution or outcome and students learn and tease out the morals and lessons from that story. So stories are extremely, extremely powerful and you definitely wanna use them on your tour. Let’s take a look at 4 important things you can use to tell better stories.

What is the message?

What is the most important information or message that you wanna get across to your group? You are obviously choosing to share some information with some people on your tour. But what is the most important message? We think of this sometimes as the morals, maybe some insights or lessons to be drawn from that. Maybe it’s for humor. Whatever that main message is, it’s gotta be clear. Because wait a second that will allow you to cut out the fat out of your stories. Anything that doesn’t contribute to that main message can be cut out, you can be a much more effective story teller. Quick example, I was leading a tour in France and we started our days on a hilltop where …. defeated United army of the……This is a very very important battle. So of course there is a ton of facts that I can share about that battles, the details. But they key message that I wanna get across was a few points:

  1. How important this battle was for the future of Europe.
  2. How victories for the Romans wasn’t certain. This is a kind of tension we take for granted now but actually wasn’t certain.

and lastly was the affects of that, the consequences of that battle echo until this day. So these were three big things that were my message.

Who is your audience?

Every story telling exercise should begin with: Who is in the group that I am telling the story to because if I am talking about a building, I am gonna tell very different stories to groups of children and people from general public. Maybe a group of architects or something like that.

You always want common reference points for your audience. You want to be able to relate to the protagonist in some ways or relate to the struggle. So back to my example of the biking trip in France. So I knew right away that these weren’t history bugs or this isn’t an archeology tour or anything like that. So I tried to keep the tour short and I keep the focus on Julia Cease, someone who most of the groups probably heard of. And I am really focused on the human struggles between these battles that Julia Ceaser was facing in that battle.

Show. Don’t tell

Always show. Don’t tell. So a great story teller will use a visual language and sensory language to really get people immersed in that setting where stories are taking places. So, for example we are talking about the… I had to imagine that they were rising on that camp on top of the hill. They looked down on the mist and see that romance and campaign. And the smell of campfires and shoots. And… of horses. And you’re looking down and you see the glint of the medal of the Roman ….Little details like this, visual language will set the setting much better than a simple day or description or anything that wasn’t in this…So always use visual language as much as possible.


And practice. That’s one of the most important thing, honestly. If going onto your stories or facts or information you get on tour might tease out some characters, some tension, and plot. And plots show the short stories over and over until they are comfortable. Practice with your friends, your videos until you are comfortable with. Because story telling issuch a huge subject, I want to pop out a few more “do” and “don’t” for story telling. So let’s take a look:

Screenshot Screenshot001

So in your comments below, let me know your best story telling tips.

How do you tell great stories on tour?

Share this video if you are inspired!

So what do you think about Kelsey’s tips?

Written on 14/7/2015

Medium blog version:


or the branding story

1 mTQgCguHOdWDAiqo0o0AqAThis pictures paints a monk, a young one. Not really yet, since he still got hair. But look at his eyes. Why is he so sad? Probably he has suffered something really bad, really horrible. The look that only very experienced people have..

That’s what the old, charismatic tour guide— the famous history ambassador of Hanoi Legend Sofitel Metropole told us. I want to believe it so bad.

Until later did I search deeper and saw this:

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Rusty Compass, a famous, so-called trustworthy travel guide site boldly claimed this is a “painting of a Hmong boy

Frustrated, I turn to question most of what he shares. As a tour guide, I am used to the mere fact that we make up things a lot of time. When I was taking tourist to Surprising cave in Ha Long bay, most of what we present there is just bullshit. I know, my co-workers know, probaly our customers are also well aware. But hell yeah, that doesn’t matter. After all, as a listener, to me

“A young monk with sad eyes and an agonizing past” sounds better than a H’mong boy

As a story teller, you want to give customer a specific feeling, a unique experience. If making up some small details help to help to construct that concept then why not?

Out of many 5-star hotels in Hanoi, Sofitel Metropole charges the higest price, and yet most people staying there feel so good and consider that as an unforgettable experience.


Does this have something to do with?

Great room?

Big pool?

Convinient location?

Good bar?

Great food?

Sure :), as a 5-star hotel it must have all of the above, but hey

The best beds are in L’ Opera

The biggest pool belongs to Thang Loi

Every 5-star hotel is situated just right in the center

The best bar goes to Sunset bar of Intercontinential

The greatest food must be created by chefs in Sofitel Plaza

Plus: no rooftop.

What help construct the strong impression in general is not the facilities which are tangible. On the contrary, it’s the intangible which sets it apart from the others

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Regarding story telling, Sofitel is excellent. It gets all of the facilities mentioned PLUS the history, and just this intangible feature creates the legend brand. Having had no chance to spend any night there yet lucky enough to follow and observe the bunker tour guided by the famous ambassador, it struck me hard why this is complimentary — which means free — to the guests. After all, nothing is free, right?

No receptionist can hold you more than 10 minutes, so the 1-hour tour becomes the perfect chance to sets its value proposition.

It’s not about Vietnam war. It’s about the VIP guests.

The tour was divided into 5 parts. The longest part is spent to talk about how many VIP guests have stayed there. There proudly hanging on the walls:

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Here we have some notable faces:

1 7yNoEfv3aK8UCGhitEhOPQ 1 Hts6cgNsHBnCmcEQ8k7fig 1 TovDxu9nwBu27-X8AaVh7g 1 xMhTpnu9FSYGqVEcI8KBFw

If you are a star and your budget is huge, you choose the best option. As simple as that. Why not? With Sofitel Metropole and its long history, the list of guests becomes an “asset” of the hotel. It is selling the status and style, very similar to the way Trek bikes used to use Lance Amstrong (yes, not anymore) and Nike used Tiger Woods.

The more famous they are, the more space in the hotel is spared for them. Hence there is no surprise when the biggest frames feature Bill Clinton, Angelina & Brad Pitt, Jane Fonda. They may not necessary the best, yet they are the most well-known. The guide mentioned Mark Zuckerberg as well (as he is just quite recent, there is no pic of him yet, but the high chance is that he will gets to be posted on the wall soon if FB keeps expanding like it is at the moment).

There is even a separate luxurious “Charlie Chapline Suite” for super VIP guests where “ a collection of Chaplin portraits hang from the wall and a series of Chaplin’s movies are provided to surround you with the memories of this well-known artist” as being said in the website.

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If you are like me, who is very ignorant of history and have no idea who the beautiful ladies in the black-white pictures are, no worries. They are famous and important, period. Dig deeper if you are interested.

Small details matter, yes

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Me and my friend were sipping the “welcome back” drinks after the tour while he exclaimed

Hey this is not a real straw !

Oh yes, that’s a lemon grass trunk being used as a straw. Suddenly I remember the WC with traditional music being played and laughed. Yep, it’s small details that matter.

In the end If you are serious about small details then the big ones will definitely be covered, isn’t it?

Written on 18/6/2015

Medium blog version:


Sometimes I feel lost. Today is such a day

I am about to write something about tour guides as “jack of all trades, master of none” and while surfing Google to find evidences to back up premises, an interesting interview of a tour guide in Europe popped up.


I have been a tour guide for nearly 2 years and the process has boosted my confidence considerably (when I am in tour scene only ha ha), yet the question of being “jack of all trades, master of none” has always bothered me, especially after observing lots of experienced tour guides starting to lose their passion and be stuck. They end up not being able to do anything stable or interesting enough and get to a survival mental state of mind.

After many years having fun with their job, discovering places, culture, photography, meeting new people, they turn to a period which I name “a bittersweet turn”: not so young and energetic, not too old for retirement, knowing many things yet nothing is deep enough. Yep, They become “jack of all trades, master of none”.

Comparing tour guides in Hanoi (whom I know) and this Ben, I can understand why he is more passionate: the coverage of “Best of Europe” tour is surely much wider than classic tours offered in this city and therefore his knowledge thirst may last longer, but there must be one thing that we can learn:

Yet even when we have brought to add our own taste to tours, is it enough for us not to be insecure anymore, to be “a master of one” ??

What is your personal touch that sets u apart from other guides and do u maintain it during tours?

Tho, an experienced tour guide for Vietnamtourism (30A Ly Thuong kiet, Hanoi) told me once: a big mistake of tour guide is talking too much. Forget about it, in this era of information they can always find what they want on the Internet.

If that is the case then what is a guide for as an information provider?

– To turn information to stories (many people call that “lipservice — chém gió). Become excellent story tellers ?

– Focus on “area expertise” so deeply that u can be secure and stand out (and R u sure that your information doesn’t exist SOMEWHERE on the Internet? 😉

Be a companion rather than a guide?

– If you level up or level down your knowledge in tour, does it affect the tour compared to other skills?

Who are u then? I bet if we don’t answer this for ourselves soon then the “bittersweet turn” would come as fast as flashlight.

Hmm, need to think more about this.