Six Approaches to Being Present

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Those of us who work or have worked in service roles know the erosive effects of seeing lots of people in a day, often asking or being asked the same questions over and over. Soon our eyes glaze over and we listen minimally just for the most basic cues needed to do business, but we must remember that every conversation is an opportunity to turn a customer into a friend, a supporter, and an advocate for our natural or cultural heritage site. It won’t happen if we are not truly present. Here are a few thoughts on training staff to be present, not just physically but with sincere focus on each and every guest. Encourage your staff to:


  1. Look at each guest as you talk and do not move your focus to other people or transactions as you chat. People in service roles often move their eyes to focus on other people or activities, which tells a guest that he or she is the lower priority. Being present requires holding focus with a guest throughout a conversation, not just intermittently. If you must change focus for a brief moment, excuse yourself before doing so and apologize when you return your focus to the guest in front of you.
  2. Have real conversations with the customers, clients or guests. “Do you have big plans for the weekend?” is intrusive and sounds artificial. Asking questions is a good start but they should be more respectful. Requesting personal information not needed in the transaction is too pushy. Asking “Have you been here before?” is usually a better starting place.
  3. Use the name of the guest or client if you have it, but be respectful. We all perk up when our name is used and pay more attention to the conversation. Ask how people would prefer to be addressed. A good rule of thumb is to start more formally when addressing people by name and switch to first names or nicknames if they invite familiarity. Although an informal approach may work in the U.S., many people from other nations expect to be addressed more formally by people they don’t know well.
  4. Listen carefully to the person’s answers. When you hear a person answer your question, build the conversation from there and repeat back what they say in a different way to confirm you heard correctly. “So you’ve been here before, but you’re looking for new things to do? Is that correct?”
  5. Be thinking how you might assist them beyond their expectations. Do they need additional information? Have you shared options they might enjoy based on what you heard? Are there things to see or do or pricing options that they might overlook if someone doesn’t point them out?
  6. Don’t close with clichés like “Have a nice day” over and over. People hear what you say to others and know when they are being “handled” but not heard. Be sincere and say what seems appropriate. It never hurts to say, “It was very nice to chat with you. Let us know if we can be of further help.”


Some of these work better if the work environment and responsibilities are supportive. A person greeting guests should not be taking phone calls during a conversation that make the guest wait. We once stood in line to rent a car and heard the guy behind us calling the clerk in front of us because he could tell phone calls took precedence over people at the desk.


Training all staff to be good hosts is a critical need when you hire people. Being present is a matter of sincere focus on the guest, not just minimally available to do business.


Call us at 970-231-0537 or visit our website at to learn more about how we can be of assistance in designing or delivering customized host training for your staff.


– Tim Merriman

Published by heartfeltassociates

Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman are married and serve as Principals of Heartfelt Associates. They write fiction and non-fiction, raise miniature horses and consult with parks, zoos, museums, historic sites, nature centers and aquariums on heritage interpretation and visitor experiences.They live on the Big Island of Hawaii on a small Kona coffee farm overlooking Kealakekua Bay.

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