How to Host a Virtual Lunch and Learn Your Audience Will Love

Thomas Paris
July 15, 2021
How to Host a Virtual Lunch and Learn Your Audience Will Love

Virtual lunch and learns are a popular way for companies, consultants, and not-for-profit organizations to reach and engage with their clients and employees. As a marketing, sales, or training and development professional, you invest a significant amount of time creating educational content to drive product onboarding, adoption, and customer retention.

Virtual lunch and learn sessions offer a personalized approach to customer and employee education, often leading to better learning outcomes. They involve smaller groups of people, allowing you to personalize the content to individual learning styles.

In this comprehensive guide to planning a virtual lunch and learn, we will look at how you can organize a successful session, choose the right topic, deliver a kickass presentation, and keep the audience engaged. Let’s dive in!

What Is a Lunch and Learn?

Lunch and learns are informal training meetings scheduled during lunch. Conventionally, companies organized these sessions for internal training, but marketing, sales, and customer success teams have also been using them to interact and share knowledge and expertise with clients. Lunch and learn sessions usually last 45 minutes to an hour, but depending on the topic and attendee dynamics, some sessions might run longer. We recommend you keep them short and sweet, and challenge your team to include only essential content.

Client-facing lunch and learn programs usually cover subjects like new product features, hacks, troubleshooting, FAQs, and industry topics. Employee lunch and learns often cover company-wide or department-wide policies, processes, software, products, and programs.

6 Steps for Hosting a Successful Virtual Lunch and Learn

A woman holds a pencil and clipboard to plan a virtual lunch and learn

Lunch and learn events tend to be informal and allow you the flexibility to customize the sessions for attendees. The success of a lunch and learn depends on how well the attendees engage with the presenter.

With that in mind, here are six steps to help you plan and host a virtual lunch and learn for your clients.

Step 1: Pick a Topic for the Session

Keep in mind the casual nature of the session when deciding the learning objective. Avoid making the session too knowledge-dense because engagement may drop.

You can look into your existing survey data or customer feedback for topic ideas. Crowdsource more ideas by asking your attendees what they would like to learn during the session.

You can also plan sessions around a company event. For instance, if you have released a nifty product feature, a lunch and learn might be just the right type of event for a limited release.

Step 2: Choose the Right Presenter

The session can quickly become yawn-inducing if the presenter is reading from their slide deck. Pick presenters who know the topic well and understand the learning goals. They'll be better able to develop an awe-inspiring presentation.

If you are addressing common client queries, get the customer experience or customer service manager to interact with the attendees. Similarly, if you are focusing on product training, a product manager or product marketer would be the best choice. For an industry topic, collaborating with subject matter experts is a better alternative.

Step 3: Structure the Session for Maximum Engagement

Lunch and learn sessions last about 45 minutes, and you can only cover so much. Design session that will compel the audience to engage with everyone voluntarily. Here is a sample structure for a virtual lunch and learn session:

  • Add a grace period: Let the attendees settle in during the first 5-10 minutes as they log in, get food, and exchange pleasantries. If time permits, you can also accommodate a small icebreaker to make the session more fun.
  • Move into your presentation: The moderator or presenter will go over the session agenda, and then the session will start. This will ideally take 20-30 minutes.
  • Leave time for questions: Lastly, open the floor for a Q&A. After you wrap up the Q&A, leave the meeting open to let attendees interact with each other or chat with the presenter.

Step 4: Communicate the Event Details

Communicate the event logistics early on to avoid last-minute surprises. Email the topic, agenda, date and time, and invitation link to the attendees. If you are using a lesser known video conferencing software, send detailed instructions on how to install and use it. Promptly resolve any queries your clients or team members have regarding the software.

Step 5: Plan a Lunch

Another key takeaway (pun intended) for these sessions is food. Unlike an in-person lunch and learn, where you can simply choose from catered lunch ideas, it gets tricky to manage the lunches for virtual sessions.

For virtual lunch and learns, we recommend working with a partner that can help you offer flexible yet extensive options. With Hoppier, you can create a memorable virtual lunch and learn experience by sending attendees a virtual credit card that they can use to order food and beverages from national chains and local restaurants, regardless of their location.

Vendor options for the lunch at a virtual lunch and learn

Hoppier allows your attendees to order their lunch from a pre-approved list of vendors. So, instead of collecting delivery addresses and placing orders manually, you can allocate lunch allowances to your attendees. All you have to do is set the activation date, budget, and vendors where attendees can order food and beverages.

A virtual credit card used to supply flexible lunch options at a virtual lunch and learn

You can reclaim the unused amount after the event so none of your budget goes to waste.

Step 6: Follow-Up With the Attendees

Make session recordings available for clients or team members who couldn’t make it to your live lunch and learn session. Run a post-session survey to collect feedback on what your clients liked and how you can improve the experience in future sessions.

If you plan to make this activity a regular one, create a group on your social media channels or messenger apps like Slack. An active community allows you to streamline communication, engage your clients or team, and increase attendance for future sessions. Encouraging a conversation among the community helps you see frequently discussed topics, which you can use to plan your upcoming sessions.

Choosing the Right Topic for Your Virtual Lunch and Learn

A man holds his laptop and looks excited

You may already have plenty of ideas in mind that are perfect for the session. But, how do you pick the right topic for your virtual lunch and learn?

Generally, any standalone topic that can be covered in a webinar or at an event will be suitable for a virtual lunch and learn. It depends on how you contextualize and structure the topic. The key is to keep the presentation interactive and the content easy to digest.

With that in mind, here are a few topic ideas to help you get started:

1. Virtual L(a)unch

Before doing an elaborate virtual product launch, consider providing a glimpse of the product or some product features to a specific set of users. You can make it exclusive by inviting power users or high-value clients to do a quick product tour, learn what they think of it, and answer their queries.

This pre-launch event helps you build anticipation and gives you new content ideas that you can use during the big launch.

2. How-To Session

Are there any features in your product that nobody’s aware of? These features, when unlocked, can instantly improve the product experience for your clients.

Hosting a how-to session can help you do that. Within 20-30 mins, you can give a demo of how to use the feature and how it can help them. If you serve multiple industries, you can cover one industry per session to make it more focused.

3. Client Successes

Let your clients share their experience with your offering and how it's helped them reach their goals or solve their problems. You can do an interview with the client or let them do a presentation. (We’ll cover this in-depth in a later section.)

4.  Informal Q&A Session

An informal fireside chat that lets you interact with attendees is a sure-fire way to improve your rapport. You can plan some questions in advance and reserve time for impromptu questions that stem from the conversation.

5. Industry Trends

Bring in an industry expert to make the session more informative. The expert can share their thoughts on industry trends, make predictions, and answer client questions. You can also host a discussion where both presenters can brainstorm and come up with new ideas. Collaborating with an expert brings a fresh perspective to the table for your clients.

Designing a Kickass Presentation for the Lunch and Learn

A woman writes with a marker for a business presentation

Your presentation is perhaps the most crucial element of your lunch and learn event. While virtual sessions offer flexibility and convenience, they are also notoriously prone to low engagement levels. Passive participation can mean that your attendees are checking their phones, daydreaming, or are generally distracted. Interactive presentations solve this by getting the audience involved and keeping them engaged.

Here are five tips to help you deliver kickass presentations for your virtual lunch and learn session.

1. Start With an Emotional Hook

The best way to involve the audience from the get-go is to use an emotional hook. It could be in the form of an anecdote, story, or other storytelling device to compel the audience to listen intently. In this presentation, Seth Godin starts with the story of the Wachowskis coming up with the Matrix franchise to drive the point of how execution is as important as conceptualization.

While you can start the presentation with a question, providing value before asking attendees to participate is always effective.

2. Include a Short Video

Keeping the audience engaged during lunch and learn sessions might be a task. Think of what you can do to win their attention back, assuming that attendees will get distracted.

A simple way to keep their attention is to use a short video about your topic. It could be an explainer, a how-to, or a video snippet of an industry expert’s views. Videos help keep attendees engaged while strengthening comprehension.

3. Make It About the Attendees

Find ways to relate what you’re presenting to the audience. When explaining something, relate it to a problem clients or team members face, and how they can resolve it with the information you're providing. For example, for a how-to-themed session, you can take up a very common issue and show how they can solve it using your product.

Case studies are very powerful in this aspect because they factually show how someone in a similar niche solved the exact problem the attendees are facing.

4. Use Humor

Humor exudes confidence and charisma. It also builds anticipation as attendees are now listening intently to find out when the next joke will land. Adding a little levity with wordplay and puns, observational humor, and topical jokes, works well because it invites chuckles without making humor the central theme of the presentation.

In this popular TED Talk, positive psychologist, Shawn Achor uses deadpan humor throughout the talk as a way to convey key points.

5. Become a S.T.A.R. Presenter

To ensure that your presentation leaves a mark on the attendees’ minds, keep at least one S.T.A.R. moment in your presentation. Coined by Nancy Duarte (CEO of Duarte Design), a S.T.A.R. moment is the big idea that gets people talking about it long after your presentation is done. It’s not corny or obvious — instead, it's something that prominently stands out. Duarte has identified five S.T.A.R. moment devices to help you come up with your own S.T.A.R. moment:

  • Memorable dramatization: It’s a prop or demo that dramatizes the presentation. In the video linked above, Seth Godin throws a water balloon in the audience to dramatize the talk.
  • Repeatable sound bites: Think of customized app notifications or ad jingles that remind you of the app or brand whenever you think of or hear them.
  • Evocative visuals: It could be a compelling image that gets etched on the memory of the attendees and gets linked back to your presentation.
  • Emotive storytelling: Creating a story around the central theme of your presentation makes it memorable.
  • Shocking statistics: Mention only those stats that will get people talking about it. Think of the eight-second attention span stat. Although the stat is not completely valid, it gets people talking about it because it manages to raise a few eyebrows every time you mention it.

7 Creative Ways to Engage Your Audience in a Virtual Lunch and Learn

A man holds a burger and looks into his phone screen for a virtual lunch and learn

You can make your virtual lunch and learn sessions more engaging for your clients or team members with these seven ideas.

1. Lead With a Live Virtual Performance

Notice how a sound engineer plays music before the band comes on stage. Similarly, you can lead with a 5-minute virtual live performance featuring standup comedy or an acoustic set to entertain the attendees as you wait for everyone to arrive and get ready. You can also go with a TED Talk or play a Spotify “soundcheck” playlist to keep things simple.

Since B2B virtual sessions can get monotonous, starting with a live performance sets a positive tone for the rest of the session. Live performance also creates an incentive to join early so that you can start the session on time.

2. Make Your Own Meme (MYOM)

A fun way to kick-off the session is to run a make your meme contest (we hope the acronym catches on!). There’s a meme for everyone — even for people who don’t like memes.

You can have each participant create one meme that describes them better than anything. There’s a ton of entertaining content they can “borrow” from meme generator websites like Imgflip.

Attendees can then share their memes on your dedicated chat channel saying, “This is me.” This can be a very entertaining activity that also gives you valuable information about your clients’ or team members' knowledge gaps. For instance, software can be particularly challenging for some people. MYOM allows attendees to share their challenge with you in a relaxed, low-pressure environment, leading to better learning outcomes.

The only thing you need to ensure is that the session is fun for everyone, so set up some rules around the content: Be respectful of other attendees’ sensibilities, and keep content SFW (safe for work).

3. Assemble Your Entourage

Having two or more presenters on board will make the session more exciting and engaging. Whether you are explaining new product features, hacks, or troubleshooting techniques, having multiple experts share tools and tricks of the trade is helpful.

A session moderator or MC and tech support can help make your virtual lunch and learn run  more seamlessly. The moderator will facilitate the session by taking care of polls, quizzes, and feedback. Tech support can help resolve technical difficulties while you keep the show rolling!

4. Encourage Active Participation

“Are you alive? How does it feel to be alive?” James Hetfield of Metallica always asks this question before the main solo to the song Battery kicks in. It's intended to get the audience’s adrenaline pumping and incite a reaction.

Similarly, encouraging active audience participation keeps the session fun and yawn-free. Here are two simple ways to get started:

  • Break down the session into chunks: Since virtual lunch and learn sessions are casual, break it down into multiple chunks of 15-20 minutes. After each session, conduct a live poll or ask questions to improve retention.
  • Create breakout groups: You can create groups of attendees and engage them in solving a problem or discussing the concept after a long session. Most video conferencing and virtual event platforms offer this feature.

5. Invite a Customer for Social Proof

A popular marketing hack, social proof can be a powerful way to get your clients excited about your value proposition. Inviting a customer to join your virtual lunch and learn session can help you sell your product or service more effectively. Let your special guest know that you may call on them to ask about their experience with your product or service. This will create social proof and help build trust among attendees.

Several studies conducted on social proof show that people are more likely to place their trust in you if you’ve already won over other people.

After all, our buying decisions are largely driven by emotion rather than cold logic. Couple that with our social roots and what do you get? Social proof. In his book, Behind the Cloud, Marc Benioff mentions how inviting a customer for sales lunches and asking them to share their experience helped Salesforce increase sales.

6. Share More Case Studies

Show, don’t tell is one of the best used storytelling techniques in writing. Instead of explaining the concept, you let the audience experience it through actions and examples.

Case studies help you condense key learnings into memorable takeaways. Instead of describing how your product works, show them how users solved critical business problems with your solution.

Case studies are particularly useful if you’re helping clients deploy software or drive adoption. It helps them overcome deployment barriers by learning from other organizations’ success.

7. Gamify the Session

Gamification can allow you to gather more information with quizzes and interactive sessions. Gamification works because participants are rewarded for behaviors you’d like them to exhibit. This creates a feedback loop that can be incredibly useful to understand how you can help your clients or team.

While you can experiment with gamification tech, you don’t need fancy tools to gamify the experience. You can introduce contests and leader boards to make the quiz sessions more competitive. Competing in groups allows attendees to engage with each other and introduces a social element to your virtual lunch and learn program. As a reward, you can send a gift to the winners or use Hoppier to let them choose their own gift.

Over to You

Virtual lunch and learn sessions are still new for most organizations, making them ideal for experimentation.

As mentioned earlier, avoid making the session too knowledge dense and keep it interactive to ensure your attendees remain engaged.

If you want to host a memorable lunch and learn for your customers or employees, book a demo with us to discover our unique food and beverage options for a memorable event.

Here’s to an effective virtual lunch and learn session!

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