How to Design a Lunch & Learn Program

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Close-up of catered lunch with business employees in background
Close-up of catered lunch with business employees in background (Image: kasto80/iStock/Getty Images)

Lunchtime shouldn't be a time for "switching off." Lunch-and-learn events, sometimes called brown-bag seminars, “switch on” opportunities to explore helpful topics that often fall by the wayside for lack of time. When well-designed, these programs guide participants through a structured but flexible agenda with ample time allotted for conversation and discussion. Whether the goal is skills-training, sales and marketing, wellness coaching or community engagement, focus on a topic that you can tackle comfortably within 45 minutes -- and then design every aspect of the event to suit your objectives, from food to venue to handouts.

Articulate why you are launching a lunch-and-learn program, clarifying who you will be addressing and what benefits you hope to impart. For example, “Teach staff how to better handle stress” or “Show architects the benefits of using our pavers.” Recruit the help of a few good people to coordinate your event’s details and share your mission with them.

Whether the program is a single event or one of a series, having someone act as MC, to briefly introduce the topic and the main speaker, helps give a sense of organization and continuity to the event. This person shouldn't be the one giving the talk or presentation itself, though. It's preferable to have a featured speaker or presenter, someone with some special credentials in the topic. This doesn't have to be a luminary in the field - a lunch-and-learn in the workplace about the advantages of learning martial arts, for example, could be presented by an employee who has been studying martial arts for a while.

Work with the presenter to narrow the topic to fit within a half-hour to 45-minute presentation and allow meaningful discussion to take place afterward; if the event is being held in a workplace, tailor timeframes to meet the firm's schedules. One good way to fine-tune a topic is to ask your intended participants what they would appreciate learning. For example, instead of broadly talking about health and wellness, focus on their widespread interest in weight management. If the interest in your subject is deep and wide, plan a series of lunch-and-learn events to cover different points of interest one at a time.

Plan the presentation that you will facilitate at your event, including any supporting audiovisuals and handouts. Create an agenda that begins with an introduction of the topic and why it’s important. Provide relevant examples ideally from your workplace or community and then lead a discussion of current versus desired scenarios. End with a wrap-up.

Establish a place and time for your event. Pick a gathering place that will accommodate your participants comfortably as they eat and interact. Whether at an office, hotel or restaurant, the room should have good acoustics and be large enough to accommodate flip charts and audiovisual equipment, if used. If your event is meant for the community at large, secure a larger venue such as a community center or similar facility.

Plan your menu. Decide whether you will have food catered to your event, or whether your participants should bring their own lunch and refreshments. Some employers have regular lunch-and-learns where participants bring their own lunches and the employer provides the refreshments. If catered, you will need to establish a way for participants to RSVP so you can get a headcount prior to ordering lunch for your event.

Promote the program. Broadcast it via traditional and electronic media to your potential participants. Include details of your event’s objectives, structure, time, place and benefits.

Secure needed supplies, such as flip charts, markers, adhesive notes, paper, pens, giveaways, registration sign-in sheets and handouts.

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