How to run a virtual brown bag

Practice your presentation skills in a safe and comfortable way

I’ve always assumed that public speaking events are for experts. Professionals who’ve already got 15+ years of real experience under their belts. But really, anyone can do it. The infamous Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park is a space where anyone with an opinion can have their voice heard. And with the growing popularity of online spaces like Clubhouse, you can set up your own virtual soap box anywhere.

Brown bags are a great way to dip your toes into public speaking. They’re essentially a group lunch but one of you gives a brief talk on a topic you’re interested in. These sessions are easy to run and tend to be short, which is less intense for both you and the people you’re talking to.

Below I explain the method I’ve used to set these up in the past. I’ve also included examples you can use as a template.

Find your audience

This doesn’t have to be a room with hundreds of people. Small groups like your work colleagues, your classmates, or an online community. It could even be with only one other person. If you have a unique story to share, there’s going to be someone who wants to hear it.

I’m fortunate enough to be a part of a community of designers. We’re always looking for new ideas for events and meetups so this seemed like a great place for me to start.

Choose a topic

The beauty with choosing your own topics is that they can be anything you like. From your work methods to a personal hobby, there’s always a story you can share that will be unique to you.

You can also find out what to talk about from the people around you. I was unsure what to talk about so I posted a poll in my community with some options for topics.

Asking my community what topics they’d like to see.

Once I had an idea what to talk about, I needed to organise a time to do it.

Book a time and place

Unlike a typical conference talk, you don’t need anything fancy for a venue. Whatever tool you’re already using for virtual meetings is great. If you want to run one of these in person, a communal space like a meeting room or your living room works too.

Lunchtimes are good because they’re a short amount of time in a day where people are out of ‘work mode’. The goal isn’t to get everyone there, so don’t worry if a couple of people can’t make it due to overlapping meetings. There’s always another day.

You could also record the meeting for them to watch back later. You can use something like Zoom to record your meeting, then share the video through a platform like Vimeo. This isn’t essential but it’s nice for anyone who couldn’t make it to the meeting.

Prepare your talk

Another perk of brown bag sessions is that they don’t need a whole lot of effort to plan. You don’t even need a deck. Often you can share your screen as you’re talking or open files as you need them.

For the talk I gave, people wanted to see my personal Notion dashboard. The main preparation I did was removing any sensitive data from my pages, but even this wasn’t essential. It took me about ten minutes.

I do recommend having an outline of what you’d like to cover. This way you can see how much time you’ll take and which things are most important. Even a few bullet points could be enough here!

Start the call

This part is pretty much the same as your standard video meeting. Nothing ground-breaking! For my session, I used Zoom and shared my screen whilst clicking through my Notion pages, answering questions when people asked them.

Me walking through my current Notion dashboard

If you feel like it, there are some things you can do to shake up that “typical meeting” format:

  • Play some quiet neutral background music
  • Remind people to bring snacks or a drink
  • Prepare an activity you can all do together

Tell people about it

After you’re done, thank everyone who came and let people know how it went. I created a page in my portfolio with all the resources I mentioned as well as a recording of the session. I then shared this link into my community channel.

Posting in the channel before and after the event

Your talk doesn’t have to stay within your group though! Share clips and screenshots to your social channels. Write a bullet-point list of the things you talked about or share links to things you mentioned. Create a guide for other people to follow.

Talks like this are fun and exciting, especially if you’re the one giving it. There are no goals or expectations, only you talking about a topic you love. Start small and build up!

UX Designer and Researcher · Writing about pushing our design boundaries · Passionately curious 🐱‍🚀 · amyrogers.design

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