We all know how easy it is to become stuck in a routine, especially when it comes to workday meetings. If you’ve noticed your team members becoming less engaged and less inspired at work, here’s an invitation to mix things up with something you may or may not be familiar with: a lunch and learn program. A lunch and learn is a terrific way to bring people together to learn new skills, show your appreciation with a complimentary lunch (who doesn’t love that!), and encourage team building. Not to mention it’s a great way to host talks about wellness, DEI, and other topics to better support your team. In this post, we’ll show you how to host one for your very own organization, team, or clientbase.
You’ll also learn:
- What makes lunch and learns different from your routine meetings and formal training sessions
- Tips and tricks for adapting a lunch and learn program to your virtual team
- Lunch and learn topics that will inspire your team and encourage a growth mindset
But first, let’s start with a handy definition.
What’s a “lunch and learn”?
A lunch and learn is a non-mandatory event that combines training with company-provided meals. Companies can hold lunch and learns for their own employees, but it’s also common for companies to coordinate lunch and learns for existing or prospective customers and clients.
Although lunch and learns don’t fall under the umbrella of formal training sessions, they do require a fair amount of planning. In the next section, we’ll walk you through the process of planning a successful lunch and learn, so that you and your attendees can get the most out of your time together!
Your step-by-step guide to planning a virtual lunch and learn
1. Define your objective and audience.
To start, get clear on your main objective. Are you looking for more cohesiveness across your organization? Consider a cross-training session, in which one person teaches members of other teams a bit about what they do. Perhaps you want to create more opportunities for conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion. You might bring in a speaker who’s an expert in DEI.
Know what your goal is, so that you can meet a real need and deliver a worthwhile experience.
2. Select the right topic.
To plan an engaging keynote for your lunch and learn, think about your audience. Ask yourself: How can I add value to their lives? Don't be afraid to venture beyond what we traditionally think of as “professional development.”
In our modern world, people are eager to establish better work-life balance, develop so-called “soft” skills, be an ally for marginalized groups at work, and more. (More on topic ideas below!)
If you’re the speaker, think about your zone of genius (a.k.a. where your skills, talents, and strengths converge). How can you best tap into your expertise? People can sense when your heart’s not in it, and that can definitely have an impact on their own level of engagement in the lunch and learn.
3. Provide free meals to your attendees using a food delivery service.
Companies like Hoppier, Doordash, and Grubhub make it easy to provide on-the-house meals to your virtual attendees. For example, Hoppier works by generating virtual credit cards, which your virtual attendees can use to order meals from a list of approved vendors. Employees can choose their own lunch and get what they really want, and you get to show them appreciation for sharing their time with you.
You can control spending by setting an allowance per attendee, as well as a time window to use the funds. We were also impressed with the feature that allows you to reclaim unused funds, so that nothing gets wasted!
4. Schedule your lunch and learn.
The best part of a lunch and learn (besides the free grub, of course) is that they’re not a big time commitment. Try to keep it within the 30-45 minute range, but remember: Because you’re working with a short amount of time, you need to be ultra intentional about how you structure your virtual meeting. Trim the fat, so to speak, and keep your talking points relevant.
You’ll also benefit from having a facilitator to keep the event on track, especially if you’re also fielding questions from the (virtual) floor. Pro tip: Clockwise is a free time orchestration tool that schedules meetings so that they’re least disruptive for everyone’s calendars — even those who live in different time zones!
Need some ideas? Here are some potential topics for your next lunch and learn
Now, let’s get into some lunch and learn ideas. First things first, think about your audience. Are you speaking to customers or clients? Are you speaking to the people in your organization, department, or team? Keeping your audience in mind, you can tailor your lunch and learn to better suit their interests, thus boosting attendance and providing real value.
- Support your employees making the transition to remote work with actionable WFH advice.
With more people working from home due to the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to provide folks with the training to use Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and whatever else you use in your day-to-day.
- Host a cooking class (and have attendees follow along at home).
What better way to engage people than an activity that involves all five senses? A cooking class is an ingenious way to deliver the “lunch” part and the “learn” part in one, easy go. Cooking may not have anything to do with your company (unless you’re in the culinary industry), but life skills can make great team building activities!
Check out TeamClass, a company that specializes in virtually led classes (they provide the webinar and deliver the kits to your employees!). They have options like mixology classes, cookie decorating classes, handmade pasta classes, and more.
- Plan a series of lunch and learn events about how to make time for wellness.
It’s likely that your remote employees already have wellness on their mind — they just don’t know how to break down their health goals into actionable steps. Consider bringing in an expert to explore topics such as meditation, digital wellness (which includes things like healthy social media habits), how to address sleep issues, and more. There are so many routes you can take with this one, so consider asking your team for what they’d be interested in!
- Explore personal development with a Ted Talk-esque virtual event.
Personal development includes everything from time management to wellness to communication skills. You can explore parenting, financial wellness…you name it! It’s a rich and broad area worth tapping into.
Take it to the next level by inviting authors of personal development books to speak to your remote team about the ideas and themes in their work. Many authors are happy for public speaking opportunities! If it’s within budget, you might even send a copy of the book home with every person who attends. Not only does that further incentivize attendance (on top of the free food), but it’s a way of investing in the growth of your employees.
How long is a typical lunch and learn?
In an office setting, lunch and learns usually take place over the employee lunch break — so normally 30-45 minutes. Even with more people working from home and taking their lunches at their own discretion, keep your lunch and learn within that range.
What about icebreakers?
Despite what our school days taught us, including an icebreaker is not a must. Although it can be an effective method of putting people at ease, it can actually have the opposite effect on introverts. You also don’t have much time, so it’s best to skip the pleasantries and dive right into the presentation!
What’s an easy way to provide lunch to remote attendees?
You can look into food delivery services like Grubhub and Doordash, both of which have corporate programs that make it easy to provide lunch for your employees. Hoppier is another great company that lets you provide virtual credit cards with an allowance limit so that your employees can order their own lunch.
How do I structure a lunch and learn?
Because lunch and learn sessions don’t normally last more than 45 minutes, it’s important to structure it simply. Start off with a quick introduction of the speaker and topic, dive into the presentation (keep it digestible with only a few key points), finish your presentation by leaving your audience with clear takeaways, and include a Q&A if time allows.
What kinds of tools do I need to host a virtual lunch and learn?
You only need two tools: a video conferencing software and a food delivery service. Bonus points if you use a graphic design platform like Canva to create an eye-catching invitation to your lunch and learn!
Lunch and learns are perfect for companies who want to foster a growth mindset in their employees — without relying too much on formal training programs to provide the time and space for learning. They’re also great for bringing people together and taking part in team building activities in a relaxed setting.
Consider trying out a lunch and learn program for your own team, and remember to have fun with it! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to stick with conventionally professional topics. Give yourself and your team the freedom to get curious. You never know how a seemingly “random” idea can spark innovation among your organization!