How to become a true believer

A key question many of us face, in any career field, is:  When people don’t initially believe in what you’re saying, how can you get people to believe? Really believe? Believe enough that they’ll change behavior?

Find a way for them to experience your issue for themselves. Truly experience it.

Push beyond exposing people to someone else’s story or testimonial. That’s not really experiencing it for themselves. Instead engineer a situation or event where people go through an experience, and feel the results with as many of their senses as possible — yes — touch, sight, smell, taste, sound. And engage both emotion and logic.

Certainly for some issues this is easier to do than for others. It might be easier for simpler behaviors. But with creativity, we should try to find ways.

This week I had an experience that changed my belief in this way. And from a very unusual source for public health inspiration — wine glasses! Here’s what happened …

I’ve always been skeptical of catalogs selling varietal-specific wine glasses. Like many people, we’ve used “white glasses” and “red glasses” from Crate & Barrel, plus a few special glasses that obviously must be different shapes for champagne and after dinner drinks like port and vin santo. I thought the huge number of Riedel varietal-specific glasses were just a way to give people a reason to buy more glasses. After all, most people with higher disposable income already have enough glasses for their needs. So to get them to buy more, you must create a reason to make them think they need to buy more. Wa-la — why not tell them they need different glasses for all the variety of wines they drink?

I believed this was only a marketing ploy until my husband and I were in Austin this week and attended a demo of varietal-specific wine glasses, run by the patriarch of the Riedel glass family, at Max’s Wine Dive. We got tickets mostly because we would get sets of Riedel glasses worth more than the cost of the tickets (the brand was a factor, varietal specific was not), learn a bit more about wine, drink some good wines, and have a fun night out. A classic reason based on economics (that logic would be my husband’s reason, honestly!) + emotion (my reason – Riesling, Pinot Noir, yum, fun!). 

Well. Did our world of wine ever change this week!

We were given a set of four glasses specifically designed for Rieslings, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Sauvignons. Georg Riedel had us sample the Riesling and Chardonnay in their proper glasses and both were fantastic wines. Although both are white wines, each has very different flavors to deliver and he explained how the chemistry of the wines is paired with the physics of different shaped glasses. I admit I was still skeptical at this point. Then we poured the Riesling in the Chardonnay glass, and the Chardonnay in the Riesling glass. Wonderful wines now became … yuck! One turned bitter, the other lifeless, flavorless. People looked around at each other in amazement.

This went on for over an hour, sampling wines in glasses tailored to deliver a particular varietal’s strong points, then pouring the wine in other glasses. By the end we must have tried every wine in every glass. For the first time ever, I completely enjoyed a Cabernet Sauvignon. The tannins were de-emphasized and the flavor fully blossomed. It was an eye-opener, that I might actually like cabs. It seemed everyone around me savored and lingered on that wine. Then, we poured the Cabernet Sauvignon in another glass. People sputtered, spat, spit!! Ick!! A beautiful wine was destroyed in this other glass.

Through the two hours, the demo was focused on engaging all of our senses. We even used sound, when he demonstrated the exchange of carbon dioxide with oxygen in a decanter. And the logical appeal came from the information about how we taste, what each wine naturally and uniquely delivers with taste, and how each glass is designed to enhance each varietal’s unique qualities. I could hear my husband’s calculator-like brain that likes numbers literally clicking when Georg Riedel asked us to think about how much we might spend on wine over a year, and how many of those do we like and not like. It’s hit or miss sometimes. What if you could increase the hit rate? So there were points to appeal to the different things people in the audience might value.

If someone tried to “sell” me on believing this by just talking to me about it, or if I had only read about it, I would not have “bought into” it. We’re marketed to so much in our American consumer culture, we must set up defenses against some marketing and messaging. We defend ourselves against messages that are trying to do some good for us, such as public health and safety messages. It takes much more than just talking to us or showing us other people tasting wines to believe in this for ourselves — to truly internalize the experience so we adopt a new belief for ourselves.

Mr. Riedel may have to do a little bit more work on my beliefs though — I do wonder if the demo chose the four glasses that highlight the most dramatic flavor swings from “yum” to “yuck.” Maybe other glasses don’t deliver so much advantage? And maybe the wines we drank were a carefully-chosen factor. With Rieslings, for one, there’s a huge range from super sweet to very dry. Couldn’t this be affected by the glass? Surely we’ll do our own demos with the glasses in our kitchen cabinets. Blind taste tests would be fun, to see what happens. Public health education folks may recognize my questions and conflict as a Stages of Change issue. There’s some more convincing to do — some barriers to overcome — before I would choose to purchase even more glasses. I’m now thinking about it due to the demo, but not ready to take action yet.

But one behavior did clearly change already. We used our new Riesling glasses from the demo already — last night we made spicy Indian food in honor of Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights (for India, it’s like Christmas, New Year’s and Fourth of July all rolled into one big exciting holiday). Riesling is perfect to tone down the kick of spicy foods. It’s especially good with spicy Asian foods.

But you probably won’t believe me until you try that for yourself.   ;)

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