AEC Brown Bag Training: Unpack the Benefits for Your Team
When you get your AEC marketing or technical team together for a training session, a casual environment can encourage learning and provide a setting where team members can ask questions and share ideas. These informal meetings are a great way to involve everyone in your firm to learn about various topics as well as introduce new ideas and information. Let’s unpack (pun intended) the nuances of our suggested AEC brown bag training (aka “lunch and learn”).
What is a brown bag meeting?
A brown bag meeting is an informal training session or meeting to which attendees bring their own food or the company provides a meal. Its name suggests holding it during the lunch hour, but any time works. Sure, the term “brown bag” or “brown bag session” comes from attendees bringing their own lunch, but it’s understandable your coworkers value their lunch breaks. In that case, afternoon snacks for a 3 p.m. meeting could work nicely.
Types of brown bag meetings
There are many different types of brown bag meetings. Depending on the suggested topic, you may want to mix up the meeting types and see which works best for your team. Here are some of the most common types:
1 – Thought leader meeting
Hiring an outside expert or inviting an AEC in-house thought leader as a guest speaker is an effective way to provide instruction. This setting gives your team an opportunity to have a short question and answer session with the speaker. You should encourage your team to take notes and ask questions so they can take advantage of those who have the appropriate knowledge.
2 - Focused or market sector group meeting
We have found that breaking up into smaller groups either by project title/responsibility or by market sector allows your team members to ask and answer questions specific to their expertise level or the types of AEC projects your firm pursues. Everyone is welcome to participate, and the group will discuss the topic of choice. The goal is less about learning from one specific person and more about problem-solving and exploring different perspectives on a particular subject.
3 – Workshop meeting
Workshop meetings are a great way to get work done. These meetings also are a way to strategize and provide feedback as a group. Topics such as brainstorming lists of potential clients to pursue, writing AEC project descriptions, updating resumes, etc. are helpful to both the marketing team and attendees to get those tasks completed while others can give input.
4 – Immersive learning meeting
Immersive learning brown bags place individuals in an interactive learning environment, either physically or virtually, to replicate possible scenarios or to teach particular skills or techniques. Simulations, role play, and virtual learning environments can be considered immersive learning. Presentation coaching, public speaking, and AEC cold calling techniques are topics that would work well using this type of meeting.
How to plan for your AEC Brown Bag Meetings
1 - Brown bag meeting format
We suggest a one-hour session once a month or more depending on your needs. Holding the sessions at the office is quick and convenient. Creating an environment that is “distraction free” from phones, etc. is helpful to keep everyone on task.
2 - Offer credits/university
Work closely with firm management to include marketing training as part of a team member’s annual review. Create a master list of topics and resources available for your team. This list could include books, webinars, brown bag series, magazines, etc. Establish a set number of “credits” that each team member must accomplish for the year. Assign each of your brown bag sessions a certain number of hours to encourage attendance and learning. Click this link to see the benefits and organization of one of our clients that set up a “University” for their staff.
3 – Include everyone
Because AEC marketing includes every employee, the best training has options for technical, marketing, and administrative staff.
4 – Plan per audience
As mentioned above, planning your sessions per job title and role, or per market sector is very helpful to target the appropriate topics toward the appropriate attendees.
5 - Principal involvement and attendance
Getting buy-in from AEC management for your training series is crucial. Ask firm principals to be involved and supportive of the sessions. Without this commitment, others will be more likely to find excuses not to attend and participate.
6- Get feedback on topics and schedule
The most successful AEC training series includes gathering feedback from participants during the planning phase. Consider creating a list of proposed topics based on the needs you and your marketing team feel are needed. Then send out a survey to the appropriate audience and gather feedback. Have them rank their preferences. In the survey, include open-ended questions asking each participant to freely give feedback on areas he/she feels a need for more instruction. To get started, reference the 'common topics for brown bag meetings' lists in item 8, below.
7 - Make them interactive… not a lecture series
Who likes to attend a lecture? No one. Creating interactive sessions will make them more favorable to attend. Incorporating role play, workshop styles, and group discussions ensures attendees are involved.
8 – Use topics to implement and prepare for your marketing plan
Consider topics that will help you gather needed research information for your marketing plan preparation. Topics such as researching capital improvement plans, brainstorming the competition, and listing your firm’s strengths and weaknesses are examples of how to gather this information.
Common topics for brown bag meetings
As you begin brainstorming, you’ll find there are plenty of topics for lunch and learns. Below are some generalized ideas that can guide you.
- Creating chemistry in interviews
- Brainstorm a list of questions and answers
- Video tape a mock presentation
- Speak on an impromptu topic
- Cold calling training
- Brainstorm a list of questions for business development meetings
- Develop competitor profiles
- Create and prioritize a list of upcoming projects
- Develop a list of associations that clients are involved in and assign team member
- Brainstorm a list of “get to know you” questions that can be gathered and documented about each client (i.e., birthday, names of family members, hobbies)
- How to interact with a client during controversy
- Develop an elevator speech
- Business etiquette training
- How to work a room
Proposal writing and content
- Review and critique proposals as a group
- Develop a Go/No Go sheet
- Training for writing a successful project approach
- Gather information for project writeups and resume updates
The key to employee engagement and interest is being consistent in holding brown bag meetings and these topics are a great starting point for developing your calendar. Don’t be afraid to tap junior level staff in preparing and conducting sessions. Delegating these tasks not only helps ease the load of marketing staff, but it also provides leadership and speaking opportunities for eager, ambitious team members. And don’t be afraid to break up a training topic into multiple sessions if you or attendees feel more time is needed to learn. You’ll quickly find that a brown bag session not only enables staff to learn and improve their marketing acumen, but also encourages them to work as a team.