Not all museum visitors are alike.
Some learn best by reading information in exhibit labels. Others need to see a demonstration or do something in a hands-on way to understand it. Some visitors prefer to hear information in order to process it effectively. A good exhibition should address as many learning styles as possible.
Audio buttons are a simple way to engage visitors who would rather listen to information than read it. Buttons do not require the overhead and maintenance of handheld devices like audio wands and headsets. Although some museums have experimented with cell phone tours, signal strength can be an issue, particularly in large buildings.
Audio tour buttons might be the answer for your museum. The following tips will help you create your own audio tour button project:
1. Decide which stops in your permanent or temporary exhibitions you want to focus on. You might want to roll out the buttons in stages, or introduce them all at once. Once you’ve decided on the scope of your project, consider finding a sponsor to fund it.
2. Write scripts that are SHORT. The museum visitor’s attention span is not as long as you think it is! Try to keep each script less than 30-45 seconds each. Read it out loud and time it to be sure it’s short enough. You can read faster in your head than you can speak.
3. Ask local “celebrity voices” to record the scripts for you, such as radio personalities or local business owners. If people will likely recognize the name, but not the voice, have the person introduce himself at the beginning or end of the script, or post a sign acknowledging the speaker. If you are planning a series of stops, vary the voices so the audio tour doesn’t become monotonous.
4. Select digital message repeaters that can accommodate your plans for each stop. There are single button or multiple button types. Examine your options carefully to be sure you have the right amount of buttons for your script. You might want to order them after you have written all your material, just in case your research takes you on an unexpected tangent. You will also need a speaker to project the sound from the file to the visitor. The buttons themselves do not come with the digital message repeaters, so don’t forget to buy them too!
5. Purchase recording equipment. At the very least you will need a good quality microphone, such as the Yeti microphone by Blue. Mixing software such as Cyberlink Power Director 10 will allow you to edit the recordings.
6. Consider adding layers of music or sound effects. You can purchase sound effects online from a company like SoundDogs.com, which has a searchable database of thousands of sounds. Background music tracks are also available for purchase from a variety of sites. At StockMusic.com you can download a limited selection of music for non-commercial use for free if you provide credit on a website or blog.
7. Build a simple wooden box that will accommodate the number of buttons you want for each “stop” on your audio tour. Select a finish that fits into your space. You might want something that coordinates with the exhibit, but doesn’t “blend in” so well that people don’t notice the button(s). Design each box with enough space for a label to let the visitor know what she will learn if she presses the button.
8. Tuck a flyer into each tour map to highlight your new audio tour buttons. Issue a press release and update your social media sites to let people know your audio buttons are live. You might want to consider building a special event around your unveiling as well.