Thinking, talking, and walking are inextricably linked through history. It is only a recent idea that we meet around tables, seated in chairs. We want to help you rediscover and share the value of walking meetings.
Aristotle was said to walk as he taught, founding what we now refer to as Ancient Greece’s Peripatetic School of Philosophy. This name was derived from the colonnade or walkway in the Lyceum in which he taught. The Sophists, philosophers predating Socrates, were wanderers. They traveled place to place on foot delivering talks.
The link between deliberation and walking recurs in philosophy, literature, and poetry. In central Europe, Hegel walked, as did Kant, Kierkegaard, and poets such as Wordsworth.
Walking inspired the productivity of these great people and it can benefit you.
Walking meetings offer
- Physical activity that fits into the day
- Energized and more alert participants
- Different environments to inspire new ideas
- Time outdoors, in nature, and with fresh air and light
- Improved physical and mental well-being Studies show that encouraging employees to take 2-3 minutes every hour to get up and walk around can help increase calorie burn and potentially contribute to weight loss and other metabolic changes.*
- Walking and talking side by side cuts through hierarchical and status distinctions and sets people at ease
- Enhanced relationship building
- Creativity and new solutions
- If the group is larger, several conversations happen at the same time and people can move around easily to talk to others in the group
- Enhanced group identity and strengthened team spirit
- Meetings that no longer feel like a waste of time
- Process as helpful as product
- Utilitarian purposes can be added, such as fitting in errands
Purposes and Benefits of Meetings
- Educate and inform; educate about things in the environment while experiencing and demonstrating them. Different experts can speak at different locations.
- Problem solve; Problem solving can be enhanced by the physical activity of walking (“thinking on your feet”), as well as informal interactions among people.
- Enhance creativity; creativity is enhanced when people are physically active, and stimulated by variety in events and visual, auditory, and other senses.
- Socialize and build team spirit; relationships are developed while walking and team building occurs while involved in informal activities. The spontaneous mixing that occurs on a walk can enhance interactions.
- Make decisions; walking meetings help prepare for decision making and can result in more options for consideration.
- Resolve conflict; walks can help resolve conflicts for pairs and small groups. For larger groups the walk improves team interactions and helps generate solutions.
Who the Meeting is with
One on One Meetings
Meeting as a pair tends to be easy. Walking breaks down the barrier of a desk and chair, and lets people communicate more equally.
Small Group Meetings of 3-5
Meetings with three or more can be affected by the width of the sidewalk or path, variations in terrain, and possible physical barriers. This size group is flexible, as discussion can occur while walking, or if desired the group can stop along the walk.
Medium Size Groups of 6-15
Meetings with larger groups tend to result in more than one conversation while walking. If the whole group is to be involved, make time to stop and gather as a whole.
Larger Groups of 16 or More
These tend to require more planning, with a strong leader and potentially a few assistants if needed. There will be conversations while walking, then planned stops for presentations.
Age, Ability, Interest
Age can have an impact—children can become restless if the group moves slowly or stops often. For walkers of differing abilities, some adjustment in speed may be necessary.
For informative meetings, invite speakers, such as people from the neighborhood to talk about neighborhood issues, business leaders, elected officials, and experts.
To get more participants at a public or community walking meeting, publicize the meeting—newspapers, neighborhood newsletters and magazines, fliers, emails, and social media outlets can all bring more people to the walk.
Where to have the meeting
- Natural settings such as parks or trails
- Urban settings, which are both stimulating and convenient
- Indoors is possible given large enough hallways or spacious areas like convention centers or malls
- Attention to the route is important—avoid noisy roads
- Determine the start location, course, and finish location. The starting point can be a gathering place such as a coffee shop, school, or just an outdoor spot. The course can be set ahead of time for larger groups, or can be more spontaneous for smaller groups. Returning to the start is easiest, especially if people have driven, but it is possible to finish elsewhere if people are using transit, walking, or carpooling.
When is the meeting?
Winters in some locations can be challenging, but advising umbrellas and rain or snow gear helps. You can even meet in a downpour!
Time of Day
Afternoon can help revive dwindling energy, and evening walks are possible seasonally or if there is enough street lighting.
For very small groups, you can be more spontaneous in deciding where to go. With more people, determine a comfortable place to gather such as a coffee shop, restaurant, or covered area.
Determine whether the walk will return to the start, and if not, how people will be able to get transportation. Estimate the time and consider how to adjust the walk to fit the allotted time.
Roles: Leadership, Recording
A leader/organizer is not needed for smaller groups, but may be necessary for large groups. Very large groups may even need a leader with several assistants.
If there is need to record the discussion or decisions, designate someone to take notes or use a recorder.
Discussion in small groups can occur simply while walking. With larger groups, the gathering time can be used to let people get to know each other, and to preview the goals and course of the walk. Because people will be involved in multiple conversations while walking, plan to have stopping points to gather periodically. This can be a time to focus on something in the environment, or to have a speaker lead a discussion.
Ask for verbal feedback after the walk or use a simple questionnaire.
Dealing with challenges
For small group meetings, some ambient noise can actually increase the privacy of the meeting. For large meetings in areas with high levels of ambient noise, you can rent a bullhorn to enable speakers to be heard clearly.
Ask people to turn off cell phones before the meeting, because people often feel even less inhibited taking a call during a meeting held out of doors.
Think about a route or loop that accommodates the size of your group. Larger groups often will prefer to do most of the conversing at specific points in the walk which enables the group to gather together.
Diversity of Walking Paces
Splitting the group into slower and faster mini groups can address this concern.
Following an Agenda
Include stops to punctuate the meeting, with each stop representing the transition from one topic in the agenda to another.
Examples of walking meetings
One on One Meetings
- Walk with friends or family members
- Walking with a good friend is a way to fit in physical activity and good conversation.
- It is enjoyable to walk with one’s significant other either for exercise or to travel to a destination and talk along the way.
- Walking with teenagers can be an easy way to improve conversation; walking side by side can be less inhibiting.
- One on one meetings at work
- Meetings with supervisors can be done while walking, as well as those with coworkers.
Small Group Meetings
1. Family meetings
- Many families meet around a table; why not take the show on the road and talk about family plans while on a walk through the neighborhood or nearby park? It can be a good chance to share time together without the stifling posture of the dinner table.
- Walking while planning
- When planning an event, a walking meeting can be a way to build new relationships as well as generate ideas.
2. Medium Size Groups of 6-15
- Walk to work with your politician
- This can start with a casual gathering in the beginning and at the end. During the walk it is helpful to mix so different people have access to the elected official.
- Neighborhood meeting
- A small group can gather in a coffee shop to talk, and then neighborhood residents lead the walk along their favorite route.
2. Larger Groups of 16 or More
- Walk with the mayor
- A group of community members, city employees, and the Mayor can gather for speeches at the start. Then the Mayor and citizens walk through the neighborhood and discuss community needs.
- Neighborhood tour
- This can start in front of a school or community center, with one leader and several assistants. Then tour the neighborhood, with the leader stopping the group often for comments on the environment. Ideally there will be a lot of mingling during the walk.
- Walking discussion
- This can bring together a large group with elected officials, government employees, neighborhood activists, and community members. At the beginning and during several stops along the walk, speakers can present on their topic of expertise.
- Walking debate
- Similar to the discussion, but at each stop a different speaker presents their point of view.
Walking Town Meetings
*National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, n=3,626
Source: Feet First