Tips for a warm welcome

It’s so simple – impossible to see why anybody ever has a problem with it.

A warm welcome © Zumamedia Arts

Giving a warm welcome is a matter of

  • standing in the right place,
  • looking in the right direction,
  • smiling,
  • giving a friendly greeting, and
  • being sensitive to what different people want.
  • Simple as that!

Let’s take these points one by one.

DO stand in the right place

Work out the point where people might pause because they’re not sure if they’re meant to be there, where to go next etc. So if you’re building’s a church, stand visibly on the edge of or just outside the porch; if it’s a house, stand on the doorstep; if it’s something like a museum, stand in the entrance hall, but well forward, near where the visitor first crosses the threshold.

DON’T stand at the street entrance, or look too pressing – you’ll frighten people off.  Don’t stand too far inside, or no-one will see you.

DO look in the right direction

Catch the visitor’s eye just when they catch yours. Don’t look away too much but don’t stare them out.  This is all very Desmond Morris I realise (Man Watching, and The Human Ape – remember it?), but still relevant. The natural moment for starting a conversation is that mutual click of eye-contact.

DON’T, whatever you do, maintain a conversation with another steward, or anyone else, during this process. Say to the person you’re talking to, or who’s talking to you, “Excuse me, here are some new visitors”, and turn away.  Be completely ruthless about this. Personally, I find it the biggest turn-off of all, when I visit somewhere new, and the people there to greet me are laughing and chatting away to each other without a care in the world.

DO smile

Funny that one has to spell this out. But all evidence seems to show that mutual smiling – Desmond Morris again – creates an immediate bond. Make sure you’re the one who starts it off! However bored, tired, fed-up-with-it-all you are, keep smiling.

DO give a friendly greeting

The most obvious is the best: “Good Morning, welcome to St John’s” (or wherever).

And then choose from:

  • a) “Have you visited here before?”
  • b) “You’ve brought some fine weather with you”
  • c) “Lovely to see you, thank you for visiting us”.

Or, of course, make up your own phrase.

DON’T say (even if it’s true):

  • “You’re our first visitors for some time”;
  • “You’ve brought the rain with you”;
  • “We’re very crowded at the moment”.

DO be sensitive to what people want

Some visitors will indicate by their body language that they want to march quickly round on their own, and won’t welcome any history or guidance from you. Whereas for others, some background to the place will be just what they want. Be sensitive about it: “Would you like me to tell you something about the building or would you rather look round on your own?” If you’ve got a handout or potted history, offer it. Tell them how interesting it all is. If there are refreshments available say where.

If possible, DO get people to sign the book

Maybe. The important thing is to keep accurate statistics so that visitor numbers are well recorded, both locally and centrally.  I find not everyone wants to put their name and address in a book, so I don’t press. But if you do want to press give a good reason: “We’d like your details for keeping you up to date with events here”, or something like that.
And finally...

DO say a warm goodbye

When people leave, say “Thank you very much for coming” or similar.  Maybe ask where they’re thinking of visiting next and offer directions. Part of a warm welcome is to finish up with people thinking they’ve had a nice visit.

If all this sounds childishly obvious, I’m sorry. But as a visitor on Heritage Open Days for many years now (as well as a steward), and a visitor to historic properties all the year round, I find the above simple steps DON’T automatically happen. But when they DO, life seems just that little bit sweeter.