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Quality programming is often something all incubators and co-working spaces want to provide for their members. Ranging from a workshop to a panel, these organizations seek to provide programs to educate and inform entrepreneurs.
As someone who works and spends the majority of my work day in these types of spaces, I’ve seen a wide array of these types of events. Some are well-executed and informative, and some fall flat on their proverbial faces.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to a few compelling presentations or panels where I walked away feeling inspired or better informed, but most of the time, I’m left asking myself, “Was that really worth my time?”
I want to focus on the infamous lunch and learn, often an hour-long presentation given by an outside organization or service provider (lawyer, accountant, banker, etc.) to a group of entrepreneurs during the lunch hour.
If you work for one of these organizations, or happen to be a community manager at a startup incubator or co-working space, this post is for you—here’s how to make your lunch and learn programs suck less.
Obvious? Maybe. Petty? Think again. Food is the ultimate incentive for hungry entrepreneurs who probably don’t want to leave the building for lunch, and definitely can’t afford to eat out everyday. Not sure what to bring? Ask the Community or Events Manager. Don’t skimp on the lunch budget either—skip the pizza, and order BBQ. 😉
Don’t assume that high-growth startups need the same things as small businesses.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been to a lunch and learn where a lawyer or banker will talk about services that don’t apply to the types of high-growth (often tech-based) who are in the audience.
Professional Services Rep: “I bet you’re all thinking about how you manage benefits for your staff.”
Entrepreneur: “Um, I’m a single founder.”
Banker: “Let’s talk about SBA loans!”
Entrepreneur: “We don’t have any inventory, we’re a software company.”
Lifestyle businesses like pizza parlors, salons, or retail companies often require different services and resources than scalable technology-based startups. As a service provider or mentoring organization, it’s imperative for you to understand the difference.
Don’t “talk down” to entrepreneurs.
If you’re a service provider, don’t play into a teacher / student dynamic—assuming that you’re here to help these lowly founders out of their startup misery. Instead, position yourself as an industry expert who can provide value to a startup company:
Our marketing firm can help drive traffic to your app.
I can help you find better talent for your company.
I can clean up your financials before your next round of capital.
Don’t speak the entire time, and leave plenty of room for questions.
Like any class, the best lunch and learns are more of a discussion than a lecture. Break it down like this: welcome, let people grab lunch (10 minutes), presentation (20–30 minutes), Q/A (20 minutes). Start on time. End on time. If people want to talk to you offline after the presentation, allow for that, but also allow people that need to leave to do so. There’s usually one or two talkative audience members that will derail your presentation by “asking a question” that’s really just a comment.
Don’t sell, educate.
Most founders aren’t dumb, we know when we’re being sold to. One of the worst lunch and learns I’ve attended was essentially an infomercial for a health drink. All that was missing was the, “Wait, there’s more!” line and toll-free 1–800 number. It was an absolute waste of my time.
Focus on delivering meaningful, easily digestible advice for your audience. And please, try to be green and DO NOT print off your entire slide deck. Instead, create a one-pager leave behind with the summary of your talk, value to the startup company, and your contact information. Keep it simple.
FOR COMMUNITY MANAGERS
Advertise early and often.
Post on your spaces’s shared community/events calendar (Don’t have one? Jump on it.), billboard, and include in your weekly events email and social media. Regular reminders are OK, within reason. Hurting for attendees? Actually invite people in-person the day before or the morning of.
Provide a private space.
If a presenter is competing with ambient noise, foot traffic, and other distractions, they’re probably gonna have a bad time, m’kay. Closed conference rooms or classroom spaces are best.
Ask for a copy of the presentation beforehand.
What’s one of the best ways to stop crappy lunch and learn presentations before they start? Ask for a copy of the PowerPoint and/or handout beforehand. Here’s an even crazier idea — send them a link to this article before their presentation. In all seriousness, having a document you can send to potential lunch and learn presenters to inform them about your members — who they are, what kinds of companies they run, best practices, etc. the better the presentation will be.
Get feedback from your members. One of the best way to ensure your delivering quality programming to your members, is to ask for feedback. You should be managing RSVPs online via some service like Splash, Eventbrite, or a simple Google form, so send a quick email to those that attended immediately afterwards to ask them what they they thought of the program:
Rate the event on a 1 to 5 scale (1 being the most sucky, 5 being awesome-sauce)
What did you like most about this lunch and learn?
What didn’t you like about this lunch and learn?
Would you invite this presenter back again? Yes / No
Scared your feedback email will get lost in a sea of other emails? Make folks fill out paper forms before they leave the room.
Ask for a small programming fee.*
Alright, hear me out on this one. Just like online dating sites, having someone pay up front tends to bump of the quality of talent on the other side. Same thing applies for the presenter: if they buy lunch and pitch in say, $100, for your co-working space, you know they’re serious.
So, why the asterisk?*
No, this isn’t the MLB Hall of Fame. Feel free to treat this on a sliding scale depending on the type of the presenter. Maybe one of your members is really good at online customer acquisition and wants to share some tips and tricks for his/her peers. No need to charge them. Large legal firm coming in to talk about term sheets? They can afford it and should be investing in your space. This also helps cover the hours of administrative time setting up and advertising the event.
So Matt, you’ve talked about what sucks. What works?
Now this is just one example, but one of the best lunch and learns I went to wasn’t really a presentation at all. Entrepreneurs were free to come, grab lunch (calzones were a fantastic choice) and learn about a national mobile app competition. Once we grabbed lunch and sat down, one of the two reps for the competition sat down with us, asked us our names, companies and our 30–second elevator pitch. After that, she proceeded to take 10 minutes to tell us about their organization, what kinds of applications they were looking for, and answered a few questions from our table.
After that, she said that she was off to several other co-working spaces in town, and asked for recommendations on where else to visit. While these folks were from out of town, they talked on our level (literally, sat down instead of standing and presenting), offered useful information, were respectful with our time and had amazing collateral materials. #NailedIt
So what do you think? How can we collectively improve the quality of lunch and learn-style programming? Share thoughts in the comments.