“Why aren’t they coming?” a frustrated colleague asked me when employees were shunning the lunch-and-learns he’d been organizing. It’s a question common at many companies—and the answer is always simple and the same:
“Because the sessions are boring,” I replied. Who the hell wants to spend a midday break suffering through a stupid presentation about some lame subject that has nothing to do with nothing?
When done right, though, these can be great chances for colleagues to learn, interact with each other, and stuff their faces. It all begins with the most basic question:
Do we need to provide food?
God, yes! Would you invite someone to your home for dinner and serve a PowerPoint slide as the main course? If you want workers to attend, capitalize on everyone’s favorite four-letter F-word: Let them eat cake, or whatever, for free. (And hey, remember that some people don’t like murdered animals on their plates. And hey, hey, people also love raffles. Just sayin’.)
What topics should we feature?
I don’t know. But your employees do. Survey your people, but keep in mind that they will lie. If you ask, “Do you want to learn more about such-and-such department?”, people will reply “yes.” Don’t believe them. What they really want is to discover how the work of that department matters to them.
That’s because lunch-and-learns are not ultimately about the presentations. They’re about your audience. If you can’t draw relevant connections to how material will impact someone personally or professionally, or at least make it interesting, then put down your pencil.
For example, rather than describe the function of a department, focus instead on a problem worth brainstorming. Which would you rather attend: “Learn About What Staffing Does” or “Why Can’t We Get the Candidates We Want?”
The VP of such-and-such department thinks it would be great to—
Nobody cares. Trust me on this: If senior leadership is choosing topics, employees will attend only if voluntold. At one company, top management proudly touted a high participation rate after several hundred personnel joined a session on writing performance objectives.
The “success” of the assembly probably had nothing to do with the fact that division heads “strongly suggested” that their people participate. It’s not as if people would show up simply to show face, right?
Who should present?
Someone who actually wants to present. Someone who won’t put others to sleep with PowerPoint bullets. Maybe that person’s even sitting beside you. There’s usually no reason to hire an outside consultant—you probably already have employees who possess the right knowledge and would be super-excited to share it.
If you do bring in external speakers, make sure they don’t slide into sales pitches. Nothing—seriously, nothing!—is worse than watching some sleazeball trying to sell something under the guise of education.
Speaking of education…
A great lunch-and-learn is an act of infotainment. It should be fun! Given that people could instead tune in to Plinko on The Price Is Right, you need to ensure that people don’t feel like they are “giving up” their lunch break.
Also, don’t print out the slide show to “help” employees follow along. Everything worth viewing should be clearly visible on a screen. Besides, you know that shizz is going right into the recycling bin the moment people leave the room. Better still, consider ditching the slide show altogether! Either way, a simple one-pager will usually suffice.
Most importantly, make sure the information is something people don’t already know, or can’t simply find on the intranet, or wouldn’t fit just as easily—if not better—in an email.
This isn’t about you.
Again, it’s about the attendees. Make sure to leave enough time for questions. The more interaction, the better—and not just between a presenter and audience members. One of the best aspects of lunch-and-learns is that they’re great opportunities for coworkers to spark or build relationships.
OK, but if the presentation is great, do we still need to offer food?
Oh my God! If you can’t invest in sandwiches for your employees, don’t expect them to invest time for you. They love bread.