The Bad Guide, A Parody with a Purpose

Ace leaves his guests to catch up as they can near Lake Tahoe.
Ace leaves his guests to catch up as they can near Lake Tahoe.

Those of you who have been to guide or trainer training with us may remember Ace Adventura, my alter-ego, the bad guide. I like portraying this rogue interpreter because he provides a chance for guides and trainers to critique guide performance with no concern for hurt feelings. Ace intends to be bad and is. And yet virtually every antic of my performance is something I have seen in practice by a guide at a natural or cultural history site.


I like to do about ten minutes as the bad guide, and then explain as Ace that I have to leave early for an obviously inappropriate rendezvous with a young lady. I take over as myself just two minutes later after improving my appearance. I then attempt to give the “good guide” thematic interpretive talk along the same trail. I always hope the contrast is extreme enough that everyone can see the difference and think about what made the difference.


Just a few but not all of Ace’s transgressions include:

Show up late

Wears sunglasses

Toss a coffee cup on the ground

Dressed as a slob

Terse formal introduction

Does not allow questions

Walks too fast

Talks facing the resource not the audience

Leaves guests facing the sun

Too much scientific jargon

No discernible theme

Takes a personal phone call during the talk

Talks down to guests

Asks for tips

Inappropriate humor

No conclusion

Ends the guided hike early for personal reasons


As the good guide I try to:

Dress appropriately

Have a clear theme throughout

Use questioning effectively

Create conversations with guests

Invite their questions at any time

Use universals and language familiar to guests

Encourage them to think about where we are

Provoke further thought or action

Take care of guests appropriately with weather, speed, etc.


After the ten-minute good guide effort, we go back to the classroom to debrief. I first invite a critique of Ace and that’s usually fun and engaging. Guides or trainers enjoy sharing what he did wrong and there is a lot to talk about.


I also invite the class members to tell what they liked about each talk and critique the “good guide.” We are rarely perfect when doing our best work and listening to thoughtful criticism is good for all of us.


Many trainers have shared photos and stories of their personal “bad guide” character over the years. If you train guides, consider using a bad example as an opportunity to talk about the many things that do not work well. A really good guided activity is so engaging that it is often challenging to critique it. You get engrossed in the experience and forget to analyze why it is so good. A truly terrible performance will make you think about why we need to be good at this.


Happy guiding in the New Year – 2015!


– 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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