How and Why to Host a Brag Lunch

A brag lunch is a supportive place for women (and others!) to practice talking about how awesome they are. In this article, you’re going to learn how to host and facilitate your own brag lunch. 

Teenage me holding a bunch of trophies and certificates
In ninth grade, I won all the science awards.

Several years ago I had an eye-opening experience when I was getting to know a group of women I worked with. After the initial introductions, they wanted to know more about my career and achievements. As their questions continued, I felt uncomfortable, and worried it sounded like I was bragging. I have been deeply socialized, as a woman, and as the daughter of a Southerner, that One Does Not Brag. 

Then I realized I wasn’t uncomfortable! These women genuinely cared about what I’d done and wanted to understand and celebrate my accomplishments. It felt very very good. I wanted more women to feel that same sense of support, encouragement, and pride. And so, I created the brag lunch. 

A brag lunch is a supportive place for women to practice talking about how awesome they are. In this article, you’re going to learn how to host and facilitate your own brag lunch. 

Are brag lunches just for women? 

Nope! I started with a group of women, but the techniques I’m sharing are useful for lots of folks. Having a woman only space can be especially helpful for women because we are socialized to be humble, and walk a tightrope between confidence and humility. However, there are lots of folks, both underrepresented in their fields and not, who could get a lot out of a brag lunch. In fact, a lot of the techniques I share here I learned helping my straight, white, and very humble, husband write better brag sheets for his own performance review. I’m going to refer to women in this article, but feel free to substitute other demographics. 

Wait, Nadya, you want me to brag? I’m uncomfortable!

Oh trust me, I know. I was too. I still am, sometimes. But you have done great things, and they deserve to be seen. Plus, a brag lunch isn’t just about you. It’s also about helping others. You've got this! 

Why are brag lunches great?

Being able to fully explain the impact of something you’ve done and accept the admiration of others is a good thing. You need to be able to tell your story whether it’s for a performance review, a job interview, a media opportunity, or the proverbial elevator pitch. Owning what you're great at helps you get a chance to do more great things. In many environments, your achievements won’t get the recognition they deserve, if you don’t tell a clear story that shows their value.

Plus, they’re fun! It feels good to have people take a genuine interest in you and cheer you on. It’s a whole lot of fun to help others tell their stories and see them go from reticent to owning their awesomeness.

Logistics: OK, I’m in. Let’s do this!

1. Set aside some time. Lunch times are great but if you have time zone differences, just find an hour when folks can get together. 

2. Get yourself a group of women. If there are more than say five, break them into smaller groups of three to five. You want enough listeners to coach effectively, but enough time for everyone to get a turn.

3. Pick a bragger, or ask for a volunteer. The bragger talks about something specific she has accomplished recently. Clap! That was hard and she did something great. 

4. Now the workshopping begins. Ask questions to draw out the full impact of the story. (See below for some prompts.) 

5. After five or ten minutes of workshopping, have her tell the story again, with all the goodness that has been drawn out with the group. Clap! 

6. Repeat steps 3 to 5 for the rest of the group. 

How do I help my my teammates brag better? 

At a brag lunch you get to help each person own their awesomeness. You’ll see them light up as you help grow the story from pretty sparks to full on fireworks. Here are questions to get you started.

  • What was it like before and what was it like after? People often forget to explicitly state context they’re familiar with themselves. Help them make the transformation clear. 
  • What did other people say? I was chatting with a coworker who told me he’d led a major facilities project. Only when I probed did he tell me that he’d won two awards from two different departments for that project!
  • What was the hardest part of doing it? What was the conflict or challenge, why is this accomplishment noteworthy? 
  • Why are you excited about this? Why does it make you happy to talk about this? A lot of time this gets to real value of what the bragger did but that they haven’t articulated well. 
  • What does the bragger’s target audience care about? Is your company on a cost savings drive or looking for ways to beat a new competitor? Does bragger’s boss or grandboss have specific goals they’ve shared? Help the bragger show the value in the language that their listener will understand and care about.

Sample Session with Bragger and supportive Brag Lunch Team

Bragger: So I’m pretty happy that we implemented a new search algorithm. Our product manager has wanted that for a long time. 


Lunch Team: Why did the PM want it? 

Bragger: Well the old one was really slow, and it didn’t return a full result set all the time. 

Lunch Team: That sounds like a problem, for sure. How does yours work? 

Bragger: Oh, it’s five times as fast, and doesn’t ignore some results like the old one did. 

Lunch Team: That’s incredible. You said, “we implemented.” What was your part in this? 

Bragger: Oh I researched and identified the new algorithm and built a prototype to prove it would be a good solution. Two other solutions had been tried that didn’t work out. After the PM and engineering manager approved the approach, I was the tech lead on it and worked with the team to implement and test it.

Lunch Team: Wow! You did a lot. So what happened after it was implemented? 

Bragger: Well after we shipped it, our net promoter score went up quite a bit and we saw that customers were using search more, which is what the PM wanted.

Lunch Team: What did other people say about it? 

Bragger: The PM was really happy. She nominated me for a Spot award. 

Lunch Team: Did you get it? 

Bragger: I did! And our new algorithm is actually more cost effective, so our team got a recognized for the cost savings at the all hands. 

Lunch Team: So, you designed and implemented a solution that improved customer satisfaction while reducing costs. And you and the team were recognized for it. Why don’t you tell us again what you did? 

Bragger: Our search results were slow, inaccurate, and expensive. I was the lead engineer who designed and implemented a new algorithm that reduced search time and costs, a problem that others had tried and failed to solve. I won an award for this work and I think it is a good example of why I should be promoted to principal engineer. 


A Good Brag Tells a Story

In the beginning there was a problem or an opportunity. The heroine faced a challenge and overcame it with skills she had or learned. Now, the problem is solved and the world is a better place. 

At the end of Star Wars: A New Hope, when Leia’s friends asked her where she’d been, she could have said, “Oh, I ran into some guys and they blew up the Death Star.” But, because she’s Leia, she probably said, “The evil Empire had to be defeated. I knew we had to blow up the Death Star and defeat Darth Vader. So, I traveled to a planet at the end of nowhere, overcame captivity and torture, teamed up with a Jedi, a farm boy, and a smuggler, and delivered the right people to the right place to blow up the Death Star before it could destroy any more planets. Now we have a chance to defeat the Empire and live in peace.”

Your dot release

Organize a brag lunch, even if it’s just you and your bestie. You’re awesome and you deserve to tell your story well. Let me know how it goes! You can hit reply to email me, or comment on this post.

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Jamie Larson