It’s a typical morning around here getting my three kids up, dressed, fed and the two big ones to school. I’m doing this a little bleary eyed and hoarse because I was working last night on my full-time part-time gig of Ghost Tour Guiding.
I work for one of the reputable tour companies in Edinburgh and I can say with honesty I LOVE my job. I know its not something everybody can do but if you are one of those special people in the world looking to do something a little less mainstream- this post is for you!
I’ve put together some handy tips from my own experience which could help you land your dream job of becoming a ghost tour guide.
Step 1- Take an interest in history. Now, this might seem unconnected to ghost stories but the more local legend and lore you can weave into your stories, the more authentic it will be. Ghost stories are just regular stories, the big difference though is that after the characters die… the story keeps going.
Start now! Don’t just go the internet (a web of conspiracy theories may lead you off the trail) get down to the library or if you are like me, talk to people. Get their stories. Let them tell you their history. You never know what little nugget might emerge. And never be afraid to ask if they believe in ghosts. That will usually spark up some interesting tidbit or at the very least will allow you to make deeper connections with other people. We’re talking about the afterlife here and people have LOTS and LOTS of different ideas about what happens after we die.
You really don’t have to know everything there is to know about all of the history (seriously who could do that anyway??). Just become an expert in your own local history. Even small nuggets of random history can sometimes come in handy- particularly if you get asked questions!
Also pro-tip – dates are important but even the pros get them muddled up sometimes- as long as you can recall events within a a larger timeline or an era- e.g. using “16th century” to describe your background is OK! It is sloppy if you use that little trick all the time though, so be sparing with it but try not to sweat it if in the early days you can’t recall every specific date.
Step 2- Keep an Open Mind. This is an absurdly difficult thing to do! We are all the product of our own unique upbringing and this comes with biases. Like it or not, if you are an adult reading this at any rate, your biases are already in place. You are gonna have to try with all your heart to quiet them! And if you can’t, you will have to do a REALLY good job of pretending (aka ACTING).
People sometimes say some pretty bizarre things when they are on a ghost tour or when they find out your are a ghost tour guide. But believing in ghosts is NOT a prerequisite. You definitely can do this job TOTAL justice and be a complete skeptic. A lot of people don’t realise that, though. Mostly, everyone will think you do believe in ghosts. You can correct them kindly and professionally if you like, or you can smile and listen to their wonderful stories. They will continue to add to your back catalog and the very best thing you can do is hear them out. This might mean holding back your judgement and your tongue. They aren’t crazy! They see the world differently than you do. If they think Granny is still in her old rocking chair and banging her walking stick on the floor in the middle of the night- for them– Granny is definitely still being her old cantankerous self. Roll with it.
This step is tough for those of you who really know your mind particularly the true believers among you. If that’s you, you may also need to reign it in to be accessible to the absolute skeptics. I personally find the best way to approach tour guiding is in the neutral zone. Unless asked, keep your opinions to yourself and always approach the paranormal with respect and those who revere them with dignity!
Step 3- Practice your performance skills. You definitely don’t need to be a trained actor BUT you will have to have a “stage presence”. If you don’t have any experience performing or talking in front of a group of people, you are going to need some… or at least the willingness to try. Start small- literally- start with small people if you can. Kids! They have short attention spans and you get instant feedback if you are doing well or totally bombing. Plus, when you tell stories to children you have to find the meat of the story and keep the extra descriptions short and basic. Trying out stories with children can help you find the real story and later on you can embellish for an older audience who will appreciate those little nuances.
Find opportunities to do presentations at work or school. Anything you can do to get yourself in front of a group of people and talking will help you become a real entertainer.
When you are working on material you will need to practice it on your feet and watch yourself in the mirror. As a storyteller its usually OK to have gestures you repeat but don’t over-do it. Find a few different positions for your hands to be in and play with your height, bending or crouching might be appropriate at certain points of your story. Moving in and out of your group with upright confident posture and then change it up when the mood shifts, going lower and do that “looking over your glasses” stare.
A big, big must as a performer is to look your audience in the eye. Connect with them personally. Get comfortable being uncomfortable and looking at uncomfortable people. It can be weird at first being creepy but soon it will become second nature!
There’s thousands of books out there to help you with performing. You will want to find what’s right for you, though. Luckily, the more you practice your techniques, the easier it will become a part of your natural persona.
Step 4- Never let the truth get in the way of good story. Study the art of crafting a good story. Read lots of books! See lots of movies. Find the patterns and the universal elements of a ghost story. The people on your tours will expect to hear them.
A good story teller knows how to delicately balance fact and fiction. Tread carefully, you don’t want to make up too much. If you do your audience will begin to distrust you, think its silly or get confused. Unless you are telling campfire stories to kids, you need to be believable for most of your tour. You will find the places to use your artistic licence and this is where you can let out your creativity. Keep the make-believe in the realm of believe-ability, though. You’ll want to find ways to use the fictional part to reinforce your story’s theme. Its definitely the icing on your story cake. Also, certain fictional elements can create a more dramatic conclusion and really hit home with the big reveal or the terrifying final moments… whatever. You need it- but not too much of it. A little goes a LONG way.
Step 5- Nurture your voice. It is the most powerful weapon in your storytelling arsenal. Start talking. Start singing. Start experimenting with your vocal range. You’ll need to work on your screams as well. Screaming is one of the best ways to get scares. You’ll have to work on how to control the tone of your voice through your range during the story and as you slip into a tempo, move in and out of it during particularly exciting parts of the story.
A big build up really works for a scream finale, but as time as gone by, I find that I personally use a quieter finale- it has an introspective and chilling quality. I much prefer a scream that is launched out of nowhere- its disarming… unexpected. It tends to get more laughs than the former but its usually confused and nervous laughter and after all your job is to keep your audience on edge. They need to trust you but they also need to be wary of you.
If you are lucky, you’ll already posses a terrifying scream. Have no fear if you don’t… practicing screaming is incredibly cathartic. You’ll not want to skip that step in your journey to becoming a truly terrifying ghost tour guide.
Discover your own voice and cadence, your seductive whisper, your rasping hiss, your booming laughter, your maniacal cackle, your accent(s), etc etc. Whatever you have to offer, perfect it.
Listen to other people tell stories. Go on tours. Go to the theatre. Go see comedy! Comedians are a great source of inspiration. Their particular tempo (like Billy Connolly for instance) will help your create your own pace.
And that’s it for now. I think you’ve got plenty to be getting on with there. Good luck!!
Remember, you are the guide; you are not the destination! You must give your audience the tools to discover for themselves what waits for them in the dark. And its a great feeling when someone walks away from your tour having had an “experience”. Not everyone wants to, not everyone will. Either way, tell good stories and people will have a great time regardless of what happens!