Student tour guides learn from Nashville's best storytellers at Ryman Auditorium

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Anyone who has taken a vacation can testify that the most memorable tourist spots are those with tour guides who tell really good stories.

That is certainly what Johnathan Akin, associate director of admissions, realized when he visited one of Nashville’s most storied tourist destinations – the Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry – as part of Lipscomb’s leadership building program Connect 2011.

It was an appropriate trip for Akin, as he oversees the university’s 14 student tour guides who give 10-15 tours per week on campus to potential students and their families each semester. After hearing the professional Ryman tour guides tell stories of Elvis being booed off the stage and of Emmylou Harris’ history-making recording in the Ryman that sparked the Gaylord company’s interest in revitalizing the venue, he decided it would be good for Lipscomb’s tour guides to learn more about the value of stories.

“Our number one goal is just to be authentic,” said Akin, who arranged for his student tour guides to go to the Ryman and meet with their tour guides and learn some tricks of the trade.

The students went through the Ryman tour and met with the tour guide manager John Dowell to get extra pointers and advice. Each Ryman tour guide develops his or her own stories to tell in an interesting way, often leaving the exciting punch line to the end. Dowell advised students to treat every guest like it is their first time on campus, because it probably is for at least one person in the group. A good tour guide needs to capture attention and most of all, have passion, he said.

“It was really all about the stories,” Akin summed up.

So he encourages his student tour guides to tell their own stories of a typical Lipscomb University experience, such as an interaction with a professor, a nocturnal mission to spray paint the Bison, what they like or don’t like about the dining hall or what they do on the weekends.

Pointing out the student seating for Battle of the Boulevard or finding the location of their own mission trip on the Missions Center map are just two ways student tour guides can make a campus tour personal and relatable, Akin said.

“When families visit the campus, the recruiters have already given them all the raw information. The tour guides whole purpose is to show the campus from the students’ perspective,” Akin said.

The visit to the Ryman was just one of many activities the student tour guides do throughout the year to train for their jobs. The guides have weekly meetings where they try out new stories on each other, refine them with advice from the whole group and practice telling them several times. Veteran student guides mentor the newer tour guides, and each student must pass evaluations over the course of the semester.

Akin plans to send them on additional field trips to other Nashville tourist destinations to pump up their story-telling skills.

The student guides will put those skills to good use beginning Jan. 10, when campus tours start up again for the spring semester. If you are interested in a campus tour anytime in the spring semester, call 877-LU-BISON or go to