Simple and Surprising Ways to Make Walking Meetings Work! with Sam Attard

April 8, 2015 6:00 AM

There have been a plethora of studies demonstrating the perils of sitting at work all day (here’s a great summary from Washington Post of all the research findings). And, importantly for creative professionals and entrepreneurs, some of the negative effects of sitting relate to productivity, your job performance, and ability to think creatively.

Most of these reports end with the advice to use a standing desk, which I fully support, and the advice to take walking meetings, which always leaves me perplexed.

Frankly, I have enough of a problem not tripping over the sidewalk when I’m casually walking by myself! The thought of trying to walk and have a legitimate conversation with a colleague, client, or investor seems like too much for my brain to handle.

But, it turns out that not all meetings are created equal. There are some cases when taking a walking meeting simply makes better business sense compared to a traditional meeting, while there are other situations where my fears are legitimate, and walking is just getting in the way.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re interested in boosting the effectiveness of your meetings and taking them on the road.

Take your meeting on the road when:

  • You’re developing a creative vision or are mapping out the beginnings of a project. Walking meetings are great for the times that you need to think outside of the box, to dream up a strategic vision, or to get a new perspective. There is some really great research out of Stanford that looked at the effects of walking (indoors and out) on creative potential and working memory. They found that walking inside or outside improved people’s abilities to think creatively, to generate novel ideas, and, most importantly, to generate “high quality” novel ideas.  When you’re first embarking on a project, you’re not crunching numbers or getting into the detailed specifics. Instead, you’re having a free-flowing conversation to explore new possibilities. Walking meetings can help you generate those novel ideas  instead of getting bogged down in old thinking and specifics.

  • You have a great product, course, or ebook, if only you could choose a name! The major intellectual work has been done, you just need to tie a bow on it. Take advantage of the fact that getting outside and out of your usual work space can help you be creative and land on new possibilities, rather than re-hashing the same old ideas. In addition to coming up with a new name, walking meetings are great for those meetings where you have a very specific and directed reason for your meeting. Limit your walking meetings to these “one item agenda” meetings to ensure that you and your partner can pay attention to the task at hand, even with the added distractions of people, noise, and movement.

  • You’re having a targeted conversation about performance, office issues, or working out a problem.  At first it seems flippant to take a walk when you are talking through a performance review or deciding whether to continue working with a vendor, but taking a walk during these harder conversations is actually quite emotionally intelligent! Studies have shownthat sitting next to someone rather than across from them reduces defensiveness and allows us to work in a more collaborative spirit. Taking a walk instead of meeting in the usual office can help you and your partner view the problem as a team, rather than adversaries.

A note of caution: Don’t use the walking meeting if you’re firing someone, reducing their hours, or otherwise have a truly serious issue that might warrant privacy. Be considerate of how your walking partner will view the situation and determine if taking the meeting on the road will help or hurt your objectives.

Walking meetings are not suitable for:

  • Crunching the numbers or reviewing figures. As soon as you have an excel or powerpoint to show – walking meetings are a no-go. It’s okay to whip out your phone and show your partner a screenshot or a drawing when you’re taking your walk, but keep the number- and picture-heavy meetings where they belong: in the office. If you’re not convinced why this is not the time to hold your walking meeting, here’s a simple visualization exercise: you, a stack of papers, and a gust of wind. You know where it leads.

  • Catching up on a lot of business. If you call a meeting and have more than 2 or 3 big items to discuss, don’t make it a walking meeting. The beauty of the walking meeting is that it is a more free-flowing conversation. Being outside, there are more distractions and noise. If you have too many agenda items, you’re likely to get lost as you go through your laundry list of issues and forget something. Instead, save the walking meetings for simple, directed conversations with clear objectives.

  • A team meeting. Walking meetings are best served for one-on-one meetings, and sometimesyou can get away with having a third. But definitely no more than three! The reason is simple: you are taking a walking meeting to facilitate collaboration. If you have a third or fourth person joining – they’ll have to keep stepping behind you or off into the grass so they don’t run into other people. They’re getting left out, missing important information, and are definitely not feeling the collaborative spirit.  Even worse is the case when the group is fractured into two because of these space considerations, and you can’t keep a handle on the agenda of the meeting.   If you’re taking a walk on a very wide path and can comfortably accommodate three, that is great, but otherwise, keep your walking meetings to two people to get the best bang for your buck.

If you are ready to call a walking meeting – here’s how

Those of us that have been called on walking meetings before are a little wary. Because we’ve been on the walking meetings where nothing gets done, where we are shunned as the third wheel, where the meeting lacks focus and you spend the entire meeting saying “left or right?” “left or right?” instead of actually getting anything productive done. If you are ready to call a walking meeting, here’s how to put your partner at ease and have a productive meeting:

  • Name the time & the objective. When you first call the meeting, state the beginning and end time, as well as your objective, so your partner knows that you have a plan. You can improve the likelihood of a  positive response by saying in the email why you are requesting a walking meeting rather than a standard sitting one.  For example, “because spring air helps me think better”, or “because we need some out of the box solutions to this issue.” Having a positiveproactive reason for your walking meeting helps your partner see the utility and vision you have for proposing the meeting.

  • Know your route before you go. If you called for a 20 minute meeting, use google maps to find a route that takes 5 minutes less than the time you allotted for the meeting. There are a few key reasons why you want to do this. First, one of the worst things that could happen on your meeting is that you walk for too long and end up rushing back to get to your next appointment. Second, you want to set a route that is approximately 5-10 minutes shorter than the duration of the meeting to account for travel time on the escalator, a potentially slow walker, and a wrap-up when you get back to the office to determine your next steps.

  • Tell your partner that you’ll be directing the route. When you are on your walking meeting, the last thing you want is to have your partner be worrying or thinking about the route, where you’re going to go, or how long it’s going to take. You want their minds to be free and clear and able to concentrate on your agenda for the meeting. Good thing you followed the advice above and have a route mapped, but share it too! You want to tell your partner at the beginning of the meeting that you have a plan, so they can rest easy. For example,  “I have a loop in mind that usually takes me 30 minutes or less. Is it cool if I take the lead?” Believe me, your partner will be grateful.

 We know that moving more throughout the day is not just good health, it’s good business. It’s time to take walking meetings from idealistic dreams to productive and effective reality.

I’d love to hear from you….What was the best or worst walking meeting that you’ve ever had? Did this article convince you to incorporate more of them into your schedule? 

  Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,


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