Lunch and Learns: How to Host One That Your Team Will Want to Attend

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Swetha Amaresan
Swetha Amaresan

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Who doesn't like free food? One way to get it is through a lunch and learn at work. These fun events set the table for engaging information-sharing sessions among service and support reps that just about anyone on your team will want to attend.

customer service rep's hand at a lunch and learn along with a photo of a sandwich

When it comes to hosting and creating lunch and learn presentations, the benefits are wide-ranging, but only when you have the right tools, tips, and topics in mind.

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In this post, we share a feast of best practices to make your company lunch and learn an event to look forward to.

What is a lunch and learn?

Benefits of a Lunch and Learn

Lunch and Learn Ideas and Topics

How to Host a Lunch and Learn

Lunch and Learn Tips

The primary purpose of a lunch and learn is for employees to engage in a formal curriculum that builds professional skills. However, these events can be used for other business purposes like promoting a new offering, educating the team on company policies, or communicating big changes within the organization.

An alternative to a lunch and learn could be sharing information via email, in a virtual training, or on a video. But by providing free lunch to the team in a communal setting, the company incentivizes attendance to the event which can lead to better retention of the information being shared.

Benefits of a Lunch and Learn

1. Efficiency

If you're running a small- to medium-sized business, then your support and service teams may not have time for individual or small group training sessions. And when your team consists of a handful of reps, you need them focused on customers rather than lengthy professional development courses.

This is where a lunch and learn can buy you more time in their day-to-day workflow without reducing productivity more than necessary.

Instead of conducting training during typical working hours, which eats away at productivity, lunch and learns are hosted during the lunch hour. These voluntary events work well because lunch is provided, the reps are paid for their time, and they get to learn new information in a relaxed environment.

2. Team-Building

Even though they operate in teams, customer service and support work is often done one-on-one with customers. And, if they do collaborate with other reps, most teams use an internal messaging system to communicate which isn't the most engaging or personable form of communication.

Lunch and learns, however, create an opportunity for employees to meet with one another face-to-face in person or on a virtual conference call. This type of connection can improve productivity and break down data silos within your organization.

3. Networking

If you're looking to attract new employees, a company-sponsored lunch and learn is an effective tool for networking. Unlike a formal interview, lunch and learns feel relaxed and allow potential candidates to have genuine conversations rather than recite their resumes.

In return, you'll build your candidate pipeline with interested people.

For example, I once attended a lunch and learn at HubSpot where we had the chance to eat sandwiches and have a Q&A with co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah. As an intern, this was an incredible opportunity to connect with an executive—an opportunity I normally wouldn't have been able to have by eating lunch alone at my desk.

The benefits of lunch and learns are evident when the content, presentations, and environment are primed for the occasion. Below, we've curated a list of tips and topics for creating the best possible lunch and learn program for your team.

Lunch and Learn Ideas and Topics

1. Cross-Training

It's easy to get wrapped up in your own team and lose sight of what everyone else is up to— especially if you don't have an incentive to take a break and see what is going on around you.

One of the most valuable uses of a lunch and learn program is cross-training: when an employee teaches their daily responsibilities to coworkers. Cross-training creates a bit of redundancy on the team so that more than one person knows how to do important tasks.

For small teams, this is huge as it helps everyone feel comfortable taking time off when they need it without the fear of coming back to a pile of work.

In addition, cross-training can include recaps of recent or upcoming projects as well as accomplishments for that specific individual or team.

2. Product Training

Product marketing is typically an external function that focuses on educating customers about new offerings.

But what about internal product training for employees?

Unless you're on one of the teams dedicated to building these products, you may find that you have no idea what your company is actually selling. Lunch and learns can be a great opportunity for educating employees on new products and services that are launching.

By educating the whole company on new, updated, and even existing offerings, you'll develop an ecosystem of internal brand champions who can sell and upsell, no matter what role they're in. And, rather than forcing employees to look at the products on their own time or delve into an online training course, you can have them learn in an open, friendly environment on their lunch breaks.

4. Employee-Led Workshops

Sometimes, an employee has a particular skill that they'd love to share with their coworkers. Similar to TEDx Talks, these employee-led talks can be rooted in whatever they are passionate about: from leadership, to best practices, to positivity in the workplace.

To implement this style of lunch and learn, send out a form and allow employees to submit their own topics for consideration. Then, when the big day comes, they can take the stage.

After all, it's a lot more interesting to gain new information when it comes from different sources, and your employees will love learning about new topics that can diversify their skill sets.

5. Recent or Upcoming Changes

When change is happening, you may worry about how well it will be received by the team. Rather than sending a lengthy, eye-glazing email that may be left unread—or worse, misinterpreted—consider delivering this information in-person at a lunch and learn.

A presentation during the lunch hour gives you a platform to communicate the changes directly and in the context of your company's mission.

For changes that could disrupt business operations, you want to address any confusion immediately. And, by relaying the changes in-person, you will do exactly that when people ask follow-up questions.

6. Diversity Conversations

No matter how far your organization has come, there's always room for improvement. This sentiment could not be more true than it is for diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion is an ongoing goal to work towards, an idea that is prevalent in HubSpot's own Culture Code. It, too, is a work in progress, but that progress began through ideas shared between employees.

Hosting occasional lunch and learn events that center diversity and inclusion can serve as an opportunity for interactive education on the topics. Rather than lecturing the room, plan for an open discussion. Employees can enjoy their lunch and share ideas and solutions around fostering a workplace environment that is inclusive of diversity while being in a safe space.

7. Practicing Good Health and Wellness

Sometimes, even standing desks can't motivate us to get up and moving throughout the work day (trust me, I know from experience.) Thus, it could be a good idea to cover health and wellness at your next lunch and learn.

Come up with options for employees who want to lead a healthier day at the office—both physically and mentally. You can start with short five-minute meditations that can be done right at a desk or you can share tips for doing midday workouts.

Encourage your employees to split up their routine with a bit of movement during the day or a work-from-home week when they need a mental break from the office.  In addition to these wellness strategies, consider the convenience of providing pre-made meals at your doorstep for your team. This not only promotes healthy eating habits but also adds a tangible perk that shows you care about their day-to-day well-being.

8.  Developing Leadership Skills

In most companies, the frontline customer support rep is an entry-level position. Employees may begin their careers as support reps, and may aspire to become customer service managers. A lunch and learn for developing leadership skills can help these employees achieve their professional goals.

Most leadership events utilize a guest speaker who talks about experiences they've had in their career. The speaker can either come from within the company or an external source. So long as their background and career path are relevant to your employees, guest speakers are a great tool for outlining essential leadership qualities.

9. Managing Time and Meeting Deadlines

Being able to plan out a workday and achieve goals on-time is a recipe for building trust with your coworkers and success on the job. And, when employees get their work done early, they have more time to develop professional skills.

These skills may be internalized for some reps, but others might be able to use more time developing the skill at a lunch and learn. This setting gives those having trouble with the skill enough of an incentive to carve out the time to learn about, well, managing time.

In the end, the hour or two spent away from the customer will be worth it because effective time management is also beneficial to your business. When service reps meet their daily quotas, your business stays on track for meeting its annual goals. By consistently hitting your targeted benchmarks, you'll observe immediate success while ensuring long-term growth.

1. Cover light topics.

Since you're hosting this program as a lunchtime alternative, it's best to avoid material that is harsh or serious. This is not the time for sensitivity trainings, company reorgs, or feedback sessions. Those should be scheduled privately and labeled as such.

Rather, this is a time to cover topics that are important, but may not take priority in a busy rep's day. Lunch breaks are the perfect time for employees to learn new skills, get educated on company products and changes, and partake in open conversations. You want them to leave the lunch and learn feeling refreshed and excited to complete the second half of their day.

2. Offer food and beverages.

As much as someone might enjoy the content of your lunch and learn, that's typically not what's going to entice them into coming.

Of course, it's not always financially possible to provide a full lunch meal for an entire team of employees. However, even purchasing snacks or light appetizers can be an incentive and can encourage more people to come. And, once they're there, they'll be hooked onto the conversation and will, hopefully, return in the future.

3. Schedule appropriately.

You can't expect that anyone will show up to your lunch and learn if you plan it a day in advance. Not only will you feel under-prepared, but employees might have already made lunch plans for that day. It's common courtesy to give at least a week's notice. That way, people can schedule the program into their day's schedule.

Additionally, as excited as you might be about planning a new lunch and learn program for each day of the week, you'll probably be overdoing it. This type of event should occur once in a while. Plan on holding one a month, and rotate the topics each time. However, understand that lunch should also be a time to relax. Don't be offended if people don't always show up to your programs, as it's equally important for them to use their break time for personal matters.

4. Create a learning objective.

Regardless of the topic you're discussing, you should set a learning objective before the event. This goal will anchor discussions and keep conversations on track and relevant to the topic. Even though the event should be casual, employees should still take away something from the lesson.

When setting a learning objective, don't overthink it. Keep it simple and clear for the entire audience. Remember that your employees are on break and aren't interested in diving too deep into a complicated issue.

5. Find a good presenter.

Your lunch and learn presenter can make or break your event. If they're dull or unrelatable, employees will zone out and lose focus. That's why it's important to find a strong presenter who understands the needs and goals of the team.

The best presenters come from within your company. That's because these people understand the roadblocks that your team faces on a daily basis. They're familiar with all of the company's operations and they know how to motivate your employees.

6. Provide a post-event space.

After the event, some attendees may want to discuss the topic further. It's important to provide these people with space where they can continue to dive into the lesson even after its conclusion. By doing so, you're demonstrating a genuine investment into the program you just hosted.

If your event has a speaker, ask if they would spend time answering follow-up questions. Or, if it was a group event, leave resources and tools available for employees to conduct the lesson on their own. So long as employees are still meeting their daily goals, you should encourage them to continue developing their skills.

7. Consider your remote employees.

If your company employs remote team members, it's imperative that you don't neglect them when creating lunch and learn programs.

When developing an event, be sure to consider how remote employees will participate. Use messaging tools like Slack or Zoom to include all of your team members and give everyone a chance to be part of the experience. For international companies, this will connect employees who work in different time zones and may not collaborate on an everyday basis.

Overall, the point of a lunch and learn is, literally, to have lunch as a team and learn something new. So, don't get too bogged down in the details of planning the program. Simply, offer your employees the tools and space they need to do something both fun and productive during their lunch break.

Lunch and Learn Tips

In addition to the ideas we shared above, here are a few tips for hosting the best lunch and learn that your team will actually want to attend.

1. Make it voluntary.

You'll need to review your state laws to determine how you can use your employees' lunch hour legally. It's a safe bet to err on the side of caution and make the lunch and learn event voluntary. That way, your teammates will not feel pressured to attend if they'd rather use their break for some personal time.

If you plan to discuss company business, conduct a training, or provide professional development, consider having an asynchronous option for employees who choose not to attend. That way, they can spend their downtime on the clock reviewing the material.

2. Crowdsource topics.

Nothing is worse than spending hours prepping for a lunch and learn only to hear people admit they only came for the food. This sentiment is shared by those who find the lunch and learn topics to be unhelpful or irrelevant.

You can avoid choosing poor topics by crowdsourcing ideas ahead of time from the team. Send out a survey, stop by reps' desks, or ask for feedback in one-on-ones that can help you determine what your team needs to learn so you can present only the topics they're excited to hear about.

3. Keep it under two hours.

Time is of the essence, so much so that time is alluded to in the name of this event—lunch and learn. Most people take an hour or less for lunch, so that would be an ideal duration for the event. However, the logistics of serving lunch and allowing people time to enjoy their meal before engaging in an activity can eat into that hour pretty quickly.

Reserve an additional half hour to account for this, but don't go more than two hours as you'll risk losing the attention spans of your attendees.

4. Structure the sessions effectively.

Moreover, you'll want to make sure the structure of your lunch and learn works with the type of content you'll be presenting. For example, you wouldn't want to have a physical icebreaker activity at the start of a lunch and learn as people will want to eat once the food has been served. Instead, opt for a simple conversational ice breaker that people can do while they chow down.

In addition to this, think about the format of your session. Will you be using slide decks or will physical paper copies of information be passed out? If you're hosting a virtual lunch and learn, is it possible to utilize break out rooms for small group discussions? All of these details will make your event memorable in a positive or negative way, so take care to plan them out.

5. Heed dietary restrictions.

Lunch and learns are intended to be low-stress, engaging, and welcoming environments where everyone in attendance can participate. This includes the type of food served for the lunch portion of the event. Be sure to solicit dietary preferences before the event so you can accommodate everyone's needs. You can use something like HubSpot's Feedback Software to send quick surveys and collect this data.

Free food can be a distraction if the content of the lunch and learn is not actionable. Sure, you want your attendees to enjoy their meals, but they should leave with a bit more than a doggy bag.

6. Deliver actionable takeaways.

Be sure to recap key points from the speaker or presentation at the end of the lunch and learn. This might be a simple call and response during the event, a follow up email, or a pamphlet with actionable takeaways that people can take back to their desk.

7. Ask for feedback.

Once the event is over, ask your reps how it went. You can assess a lunch and learn on a few topics like:

  • How helpful and relevant the information was
  • How engaging the group discussions were
  • Whether reps felt connected to new and existing teammates

Even if you're new to lunch and learns, gathering feedback and acting on it will help you become a pro in no time. Your team will look forward to the midday break you put together and even retain some critical information with the support of their peers.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in August 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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