Being A Great Host

Plant tours can be among your best ways of getting your message to the public. Here’s some advice for conducting them successfully.
Being A Great Host

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Many operators cringe at the thought of conducting plant tours. Images of 100 third-graders running amok around dangerous equipment race through their heads. Or maybe worse, skeptical ratepayers show up with odor complaints.

Either way, plant tours can be a source of anxiety. But the reality is you can enjoy plant tours and embrace the opportunity to forward your cause. A large percentage of average folks have little or no idea what goes on at a treatment facility, so the element of surprise works in your favor.

The key is preparation. Your first consideration is the safety of your group. Second, you want your tour to be interesting and informative. Third, you want to make a good impression. Thorough planning of content and execution will ensure that your tour is a memorable learning experience.

Consider the audience

Plan your tours based on the group demographic. You would not give the same presentation to third-graders as to a new town manager.

For the younger set — say, grades three to five — you want to portray wastewater treatment as a natural part of everyday life. At that age, kids are fascinated with new, unusual, and yes, gross things. I get more “oohs and aahs” from this age group by picking up a shovelful of grit than from demonstrating some electronic wizardry. It’s important to instill in kids that when we flush the toilet or use water in any way, a fascinating process begins. They may not understand all you show them, but at the least you will reveal to them a reality of life they had not encountered.

Middle school children can be a challenge. Sensationalize the facts if you can. Tell them how many miles of pipe are in the collection system. Say your standby generator has the horsepower of five muscle cars. Use comments that spur the imagination: “Can you imagine how much water flows through that 48-inch pipe? You could fill a swimming pool in five minutes!”

High school and college students are likely to care about opportunities the industry could hold for them. Explain the industry’s diversity. After the tour, conduct a session over snacks with a PowerPoint presentation or drawings on a grease board. Encourage questions and discussion. Mention that the industry has a rock-solid future, with an aging work force.

Attend to the basics

No matter who is touring, you’ll need some basic preparations. Again, safety first. Slips, trips and falls are the most common accidents in the industry. Make sure floors are dry, cordon off dangerous areas, and keep all areas well lit. If youngsters are visiting, make sure there are enough chaperones. Protective eyewear and hardhats enhance safety — and make kids feel a little like big shots.

Most tour groups are surprised at how little the smell bothers them. I make an exception for grit removal systems. Well before the tour, open all doors and run the ventilation fans. Or just stand in front of the structure (upwind if possible) and point out the machines through the open doors.

Follow the flow of the plant as much as possible: This helps your audience understand the treatment process and see the water quality sequentially improving. Have imhoff cones and settlometers set up at the various stages, showing samples before and after. It can be interesting to show offline process equipment: It helps them to visualize the size and the inner workings of the process.

Practice makes perfect

Make a few dry runs before hosting a group. Practice your presentation at each stage of the process. Note additional information you may want to share, based on how attentive your group seems to be. Avoid rambling about some detail if your group seems bored. Punctuate the highlights of each stage, then move on.

Consider using different presenters for different parts of the tour. A new personality keeps things fresh. Especially with older groups, you’ll want the person most experienced in a particular process to present that part of the tour.

On the day of your tour, dress neatly. Avoid overbearing cologne. Make sure your breath is minty-fresh. Speak loudly and clearly, and make eye contact with everyone as you go along. Welcome questions, and smile a lot.

The best plant tours are well prepared, yet don’t feel too regimented. A couple of humorous anecdotes can’t hurt. Know your material, and relax. Conduct yourself professionally, but remain approachable. Remember that you are a diplomat of sorts, and maybe an inspiration for the next shining stars in our industry.

About the author

Marcel Tremblay is chief operator at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution Concord Wastewater Treatment Plant in Concord, Mass. He can be reached at


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