How to Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich: A Speed Session Preview


by Shannon Keleher | Posted on June 4, 2013

New this year at the NRPA Congress and Exposition are Speed Sessions. These are 40 of the most exciting, fun and innovative sessions delivered in just 20-minutes.  But what the heck are the Speed Sessions all about?  

In this post written by Shannon Keleher, Recreation Manager for the City of Gainesville, Florida she shares what is behind her session, “How to Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich.” Trust us, it is delicious but in a different way! 


Imagine your staff walking into a conference room for a staff meeting and instead of the expected agenda they see a blank sheet of paper and a pen.  “What’s this for?” people start to ask as you stand there smiling waiting for everyone to arrive.  “Where’s our agenda for today’s meeting?” they ask.  


“Today, your task is to write a set of directions telling me how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”  Imagine the looks on their faces.  I can assure you, they are priceless. 

Do you know how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? This Speed Session will unveil more to it than you think!


We know that communication is essential to success and that it is comprised not only of words but of body language and vocal tone.  It is simply the exchange of information.  It sounds so easy yet a “lack of communication” is often cited as one of the biggest challenges in any workplace or personal relationship. 


Why is it so hard to communicate effectively?  In our minds and to our ears the directions we give and the information we share is so clear.  Why then are the results we are seeking often so elusive and blamed on a “lack of communication?”


In an effort to uncover the secret code to effective communication, sell the code and make my first million dollars, I decided to ask my staff to describe how to do something that most of us have probably done hundreds of times; make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  It sounds easy, right?  


Stop and think for a minute about how you would do it.  


The main ingredients are easy: bread, peanut butter and jelly.  It’s the details that will challenge you.  Stop here and write the directions; how long could it take?


Did you remember a plate? A knife?  Did you remember to open the jar of peanut butter before trying to get some out?  If you chose a squeeze-bottle of jelly did you remember to turn it upside down before you used it?  If you didn’t communicate those things to me, how was I supposed to know I had to do them?


Are you starting to picture what the conference room looked like at the end of this “experiment?”  


Using this example can you think of a time when you thought you were communicating clearly and realize now maybe you weren’t as clear as you thought you had been?  What was the situation?  What was the outcome?


If you have ever heard that communication is the problem, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich may be the solution.  I challenge you to try it and share YOUR results with me!


Don’t miss Shannon’s Speed Session in Houston at the NRPA Congress and Exposition on Wednesday, October 9 starting at 10:05 a.m.


About Shannon Keleher:  

How-to-make-a-PBJ-Sandwich-writer Shannon Keleher has a BA in Elementary Education from Transylvania University, a MBA from the University of Central Florida, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Educational Leadership at the University of Florida.  She has worked in education and recreation for more than 20 years and is looking forward to at least 20 more. She is certified as a CPRE, AFO, FL Teacher (K-6), WSI, WSIT, LG, and LGI.


How true Shannon! I once had a sociology instructor give a similar example; "I am from another planet and need to take an elevator to the fourth floor of a building. Tell me what to do." I never thought to use this with staff members to make a very good point about communication. Our next staff meeting with be a fun one. Thank you for sharing!! by Sally W on 06/05/2013

I actually participated in this group exercise. I have to admit that it was fun and a real eye opener! I actually got to make the PBJ sandwich based on the instructions written by the staff. Let me refraise that; "I thought I was going to make a PBJ sandwich! I would be a starving person if I only went by the instructions I was given. In some cases, I was only left with bread in my hands, because of missing steps or lack of communication. This is a very creative, low cost exercise to do with your staff!! I would highly recommend it. by Kristy on 06/05/2013

I'm sure this exercise was very valuable with your staff. As I sat here reading the blog, I came to the realization of just how poorly we do communicate at times. We assume people understand the direction we are giving them, taking for granted that they are "reading between the lines," or just understand us. Like turning the squeeze bottle upside down to get the jelly out is a known action that has to be taken. The Speed Session is sure to be a great learning tool and experience for all who attend. by Mary on 06/05/2013

In 1973 my second grade teacher had us do this as a writing exercise. I remember it fondly and actually used it for a staff training exercise on communication. I work for a rehab agency with individuals wirh an intellectual disability. In the staff training, I made it a bit more challenging. Groups needed to work with one another to write out the instructions. Once completed, the instruction sheets were swapped out to different groups. Each group was then instructed to pick one member who would build the sandwhich based on the instruction sheet they were given. The builder was also given a challenging barrier such as they could only use one hand, wear grossly blurred glasses, sit in a wheelchair, etc. Turned out to be a very big eye opener for my direct care staff and how they approached communicating with the folks they work with daily. It also provided/promoted a lot of laughter and comradery! by Ceci on 02/08/2014

true by gabby landreth on 03/16/2015


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