Tip #63: Gustatory Engagement: Taste

Some of you may be thinking that the sense of taste really does NOT have to be addressed in a training program. However, if you really want to create a positive learning environment, food can play a huge role. There are a number of reasons for this, so I’ll just list the first four that come to mind. First, most people like to eat. Second, food is a traditional means of social bonding. Third, many people associate food with love or nurturing relationships. Fourth, chocolate can stimulate the same feel-good endorphins that make people feel loved.

Those who provide training in the private sector may typically offer continental breakfasts or at least coffee and rolls in the morning, and cookies and soda in the afternoon. Your participants may even expect this and complain loudly if it is lacking, especially caffeinated beverages in the morning!

The experience of those who train in the public sector is dramatically different, because there is typically no provision for such gustatory amenities!

That is why I bring candy of all kinds, including nut-free and sugar-free candy, to all of my workshops. It is an unexpected treat for the participants that creates a very positive and relaxed mood- especially if you have a variety that respects different tastes and dietary restrictions.

Sometimes, I will tell the story behind the candy. There is a tradition that when a Jewish child first begins to study the Torah, which is an important religious book, the child is asked to touch the Torah and then dip a finger into honey, to learn that learning is sweet. Now you know the origin of my sign off line! It seems an appropriate welcome to the participants and a way to reinforce their taking the time to invest in themselves and their learning.

Over the years, I have noticed different regional, generational, and personal preferences for candy. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there was a run on the watermelon Jolly Rancher hard candies! In Wausau, Wisconsin, people couldn’t get enough of the caramels! In some locations, no one wants the dark chocolate Hershey squares, while in others, that’s what the discriminating candy lovers desire. Baby Boomers really get a kick out of “old fashioned” candy mixes that include Bit of Honey and other candies they fondly remember from their childhoods.

However, in ALL locations, you can’t go wrong with Hershey chocolate nuggets, both with and without nuts! I should have taken out stock in Sam’s Clubs years ago, because of all the bulk candy I purchase there! Just remember to select individually wrapped candies and bring your own plastic stacking candy bowls!

Of course, there are considerations regarding the transport of candy- especially in warm months or warm climates. I made the mistake of bringing chocolates to Alabama in the summer and leaving them in the car for fifteen minutes. I came back to chocolate soup! Even in Wisconsin I have learned that I need a cooler to keep the candy intact during the summer (especially the sugar-free hard candies, which actually melt faster than chocolate candies).

In the winter in Wisconsin, I can keep the candy in my car or in my garage. The only caveat is that I have to warn participants not to bite into them immediately, because they may lose a tooth in the frozen candy!

So, bowls of candy on the tables, and caffeinated beverages and food in an easily accessible location, can create a welcoming environment. Cold water at each table is also a kindness, particularly if it is replenished after each break. Your participants are your GUESTS, and providing these food treats is a relatively simple and inexpensive way to establish a warm and relaxed learning environment.

If you keep the candy bowls filled and pay attention to the candy wrappers (so you can see what the individual preferences are!), you can also reinforce a caring relationship with individual participants! But don’t move too quickly to refill those bowls, because participants will network when they go to candy-pick from other table’s candy bowls! You will also notice participants bonding by seeking out favorite candies for each other.

Food can be used as a positive reinforcement or reward during a training session. I like to hand out Tootsie Roll Pops to reward participants who “Pop UP” during kinesthetic comprehension-checking exercises. Cracker Jacks provide a happy surprise reward, and if you would like to motivate real competition between participants, just offer small bags of peanut M&M’s as the winning prize! A word of warning: to avoid creating conflict, it is wise to ultimately give everyone a treat!

If two participants or table groups are feuding or simply disagreeing with each other, one way to lighten the mood is to ask that each offer the other some candy!

I also use food as a rite of passage. In Madison, Wisconsin (my home base), the participants in any of my training that lasts for three or more days get a choice of the type of Kringle (a wonderful Wisconsin coffee-cake-like treat!) they want for the last day. They can select from a huge assortment of fruit and/or nut and/or cheese Kringle, and I always bring at least two to be sure to meet everyone’s needs. This also requires remembering to bring a knife to cut the Kringle, plus napkins. In Kringle-less locations, donuts are an easy replacement.

A discussion regarding food in training programs would not be complete without mentioning lunch. Particularly if the lunch is provided as a part of the training program, you want to encourage the planners to avoid heavy meals and turkey on the menus! Both will put your participants (and possibly you!) to sleep afterwards. After lunch, your participants will appreciate finding mints in the candy bowl.

A positive gustatory experience can generate open, relaxed, and receptive learning engagement.

This ends our exploration of ways to satisfy the sense of taste. Next week, we will conclude our exploration on the ways to engage the senses with a discussion on how a trainer can satisfy the sense of smell for those olfactory learners!

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