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Hosting Strategies

There are many different ways to plan and host a Lunch & Learn. Your utility can choose to focus on the issues and accomplishments unique to your organization. Or, you can choose to partner with a like-minded organization to co-host a Lunch & Learn. Partnering can both provide additional resources for planning and implementation, as well as add credibility on issues that cross water provider boundaries.

For example, one way to maximize resources and expand the event’s reach is to partner with neighboring water providers to host a regionally-focused Lunch & Learn. Not only can each contribute its own ideas, strengths, connections and resources to making the event a success, partnering also can be an opportunity to showcase aligned multi-county or regional policy agendas.

When brainstorming potential partners to help co-host a shared meeting, think broadly and strategically, and think about the ultimate partnership you could develop that goes beyond the Lunch & Learn session itself. Use this opportunity to capitalize on who you know and with whom you have established relationships. This is the perfect time to call upon them, to strengthen that relationship and to offer to do meaningful outreach together.

Reach out to potential partners early in the planning process so they can be involved in shaping the Lunch & Learn. Prepare a draft outline of the Lunch & Learn (including potential goals, issues, messages/calls to action and guests), but be prepared to be flexible to allow input by your potential partner.

Key Steps for Planning Your Lunch & Learn

Form a planning team:

Work with your partners/co-hosts to form a planning team. Together, you can select a project manager to oversee planning and budgeting, and then figure out who will have the major areas of responsibility, such as:

  • Content: Identifying goals, developing key messages/calls to action, building an agenda, identifying utility participants, preparing presenters and supporting visuals (if used)
  • Guest research/outreach: Researching guests to invite, making invitations and following up to confirm and convey reminders
  • Logistics: Arranging the room/location, conducting a site visit, coordinating lunch and transportation (if needed)
  • Day of Support: Providing day-of support to help ensure the Lunch & Learn runs smoothly

Set your goal(s), messages and discussion topic(s):

The Lunch & Learn provides an avenue and opportunity to engage policymakers and community influencers in the issues that are most important to your utility and your customers. A successful Lunch & Learn begins with identifying your goals and measures of success in hosting a session, primary messages and calls to action, and then building your meeting around these.

Here are some sample Lunch & Learn topics to consider:

  • How your utility safeguards water quality and public safety, and factors that impact water treatment (including new/costly regulations)
  • Your utility’s stewardship of local water supplies and environmental resources, including programs and initiatives to help customers use water wisely both during a drought and beyond
  • What it takes to deliver a safe, high-quality water supply, including future projected supply challenges from climate change (or other factors) and your utility’s plans for overcoming these
  • Upcoming capital improvement projects and how your utility is working to safeguard the water system for generations to come
  • The ratemaking process for regulated water utilities and factors that impact rates among different communities
  • Your utility’s positive impacts related to consolidation and water quality

Brainstorm potential guests:

Brainstorm and research policy maker(s) and/or community influencers to invite. Review their background, particularly on the issues important to your utility, to determine their potential interest. Also consider your team’s relationships or contacts that might make inviting them easier.

Select your participants:

There are several different participants to consider:

  • Host(s): This may be your CEO, district manager or other high-profile utility executive. Ideally, this is someone who already has a relationship with your guests and can help them feel immediately at ease and welcomed.
  • Presenters: Identify two to three subject-area expert(s) within your utility who are also compelling speakers. The number of speakers will depend upon the total time available for the Lunch & Learn. (See “TOOL: Sample Internal Agenda and Run of Show”.)
  • Coordinator: The person(s) providing day-of support to help the session run smoothly. They also serve as a timekeeper to make sure guests finish and/or are delivered back on time.
  • Optional messaging sweep: It can be helpful to identify one person without a primary speaking role who is focused on making sure messages and calls to action are clearly communicated. This person’s role is to listen to speakers and guest questions, and to communicate or reinforce messages, as needed.
  • Optional photographer: You may wish to have a photographer available to take photos of your group interacting with guests. Photos can be used as a friendly touch to send along with a “thank you” after the tour or in your utility’s outreach materials.

Choose a setting:

Brainstorm settings that can be used to demonstrate or support your discussion topics. A Lunch & Learn can take place at your utility office (or a guest’s office) but may be more compelling as a field visit to a special location. These may include water treatment facilities, environmental restoration sites, water efficient landscape gardens, reservoirs or groundwater wells, capital improvement sites, etc.

Conduct a setting/site visit:

As soon as you identify the potential setting for your Lunch & Learn, be sure your planning team visits the location to check the venue and potential logistical issues. For example, consider whether and how the location can support your topics and messages, whether it conducive to a focused conversation and has an area to site for lunch.

Identify a timeframe:

In general, Lunch & Learn sessions are best held on a weekday, avoiding holidays. We suggest identifying several potential dates and times, and then checking dates with your guests before setting a final date for the meeting.

Consider transportation:

Make it as easy as possible for guests to participate in the Lunch & Learn by providing transportation to and from guest offices (or a central location, if inviting multiple guests).

Invite your guests:

See “Tips for Inviting Policymakers and Influencers” in this Tool Kit.

Develop your internal agenda/Run of Show (ROS):

See “TOOL: Sample Internal Agenda and Run of Show” in this Tool Kit.

Prepare your team:

While Lunch & Learn sessions are a more informal method for outreach, their success depends upon your entire team having a clear understanding of the session’s overall and messaging goals, as well as their role in achieving them. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Once you select your participants, host a planning meeting to review (and adjust, if needed) the draft Run of Show, including draft goals, messages/calls to action and presentation topics. Walk through the Run of Show and further develop talking points. Also, brainstorm potential questions guests might ask—those you want them to ask, as well as questions you hope they don’t ask. Work together to develop potential answers.
  • Two weeks prior to the Lunch & Learn, host a prep meeting to review the final Run of Show, messages, talking points, potential questions (with answers) and each participant’s role, answer any new questions and confirm their arrival time.

Prepare materials:

While you don’t want to overwhelm guests with handouts, it may be helpful to develop several posters and/or a folder of information for guests to take with them that reinforces your messages. For example, materials may include:

  • External agenda with meeting flow, list of guests and contact information for your team
  • Poster board(s) for use in explaining more complex topics
  • Folder with background information about your utility and the issues

Plan and order your lunch:

Consider box lunch options that include foods that are easy to eat without utensils such as sandwiches, chips, drink and a cookie. Be sure to check in with your guests about any dietary restrictions or requirements.

Confirm your guests:

One week prior to your Lunch & Learn, send a final confirmation to your guests with important reminders about the session’s date, time, pick up location (if needed), what to wear (comfortable walking shoes or sunscreen, for example), what to expect (an agenda for the session) and list of hosts and guests.

Conduct the Lunch & Learn session

Remember to follow your internal agenda/Run of Show and talking points but remain flexible should your guests wish to explore additional topics or “uncharted” territory. Make sure your timekeeper closely watches the time and flow (and traffic, if you are providing transportation) so that the Lunch & Learn finishes on time. You can also make the experience social by sharing real-time photos of your guests, as well as quotes and comments they share during the visit (be sure to get their approval first).

Follow up with a written “thank you” and continue the momentum

After your Lunch & Learn, continue the momentum by sending thank you letters to guests (along with a photo, if applicable) with follow up information about the issues. Offer to keep guests updated and your utility as a resource for further information.