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What is a brown bag session?

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There are many ways in which you can make your workplace a more user-centred environment. Sharing, listening and collaboration can be the backbone from which you start implementing more user-focused techniques and thinking throughout your company.

I want to break down just one of the simple techniques you can start using today: UX brown bags, aka lunch & learns.

Why are they called brown bags? They‘re information sharing sessions which take place over a 60 minute lunch – you can either bring your own food or have it supplied. And what are lunches sometimes provided in? Brown paper bags.

Brown bag sessions are a way to promote learning within the company you work for, and absolutely anyone in your wider team can be invited.

How to run a successful brown bag session

  1. Get a sponsor. You need a sponsor who’s openly invested in extra learning, personal development and team building. Someone with influence in your department will also be beneficial when trying to promote attendance.
  2. Supply food. Tasty treats can go a long way in convincing people to attend.
  3. Make it regular. Book your meeting room and set up regular calendar entries which you can send to anyone who’s interested. Hold sessions regularly, and colleagues will start to make time to attend.
  4. Use a variety of internal and external speakers.
  5. Try and make sessions interactive with quick and fun tasks.
  6. Share your topics. Examples of a UX brown bag include:
    1. UX is not UI
    2. Types of UX testing techniques and how to use them
    3. Types of researching techniques and when to use them
    4. How to analyse qualitative and quantitative data
    5. UX deliverables
    6. UX in Agile
  7. Make sessions exciting and leave your colleagues wanting to know more.

Simple. Now you’re ready right?

I’ve attended a few different types of brown bag sessions, on a plethora of topics, and presenters seem to forget to think about their audience. User experience is everywhere, so don’t stop having a user-centred focus when moving from online products to running personal development sessions.

It seems to me that most presenters, as subject matter experts, skip over what they believe are the basics. Understand what the audience’s expectations are and why they’ve taken time out of their busy day to come and listen to you. Also, identify why you’re running the session in the first place.

Clearly explain your subject matter so that your listeners care about what you say and go away inspired to act on what they’ve learned. I like to base my learning sessions on Sinek’s Golden Circle.

Start by explaining why you believe that this is a subject worth sharing. Then, guide the audience and build their trust by showing how you come to certain conclusions and what process you’d follow.

No matter what you call it (brown bags, lunch & learn, or something else) a workplace where ideas are shared across functions is a workplace well-placed to deal with new challenges.