The first time I came across this bizarre concept of walking meetings was a few years ago when I interviewed an entrepreneur named Lisa Messenger. As we were chatting, she told me that she likes to do her meetings while she is walking — either on the phone or with the person she’s meeting walking with her. I dismissed the idea at the time like the ignorant millennial I was back then. It seemed kind of silly really.
Walking takes more time, is less convenient and involves doing exercise on top of a routine gym schedule (if you have one that is). The next time I came across this idea, it was different. I’d started a new role in my career and it was a few days in. I was adamant; I was going to quit.
One of the managers I didn’t know offered to catch up with me. It was another routine day and I sent the typical calendar invite request to him from my email address, with a place to meet, and a suggestion of coffee. At the scheduled time of the meeting, I walked over to his desk.
“It’s time to catch up, chief.”
He then responded with something I’d never heard before:
“Let’s do the meeting while we go for a walk around the city.”
He earned a lot more money than me, so I said yes not knowing what to expect or why it was necessary to walk and talk. There was no plan to the walk initially and I was like a puppy dog learning to pee outside for the first time. As we reached each intersection, his body would signal which way we were going and I’d go the same way. We did one square block of the city and then did a second block of a different part of the city.
The topic of conversation on this walk was supposed to be a “How you finding everything?” type of talk. The truth was it wasn’t what I expected and I was thinking of quitting.
Normally, in this situation, I would never open up to someone I barely know let alone a bloke who was quite introverted and the opposite of me. This meeting was different.
There’s something about walking and discussing an important topic that gets you out of your head and forces you to open up. Traditional meetings are held in boxed up rooms with fluorescent lights as if the police are interviewing you for murder. The environment feels confrontational, not overly comfortable and not conducive to opening up about tough issues like quitting your job. This walking meeting changed all of that.
I told the person I barely knew about my experience and tried not to pretend everything was okay. Instead of hiding, not only did I open up, but I asked him for his advice and assistance.
It’s as if the method of meeting chosen affected how I showed up and my willingness to share.
He gave me some very good advice and he ended up being a mentor for the rest of the journey. Had I of not had that walking meeting, I know I would have definitely quit and I’m glad I didn’t.
This incident that was brought about, in part, to the idea of a walking meeting disappeared into my long-term memory. A few weeks ago, I was reading a book and a line stood out to me that brought the concept of walking meetings back out on to the main stage again. The book stated that research showed the following:
Humans are prone to open up more when they are moving.
That passage in the book was something I not only highlighted, but I read over it more than ten times. Other than my firsthand experience, it turns out there was someone else in the world that could explain the phenomena of walking meetings and why they have so much value.
Tied to the same idea, when I was doing lots of interviews as a manager, someone gave me the advice that I should try and interview candidates in places other than meeting rooms.
When I took the advice and implemented it, I found candidates to be less nervous and more open with me which led to me being able to make easier hiring decisions.
After these few experiences, I believe that walking meetings are powerful because:
- You’re not eye-to-eye with the other person
- Movement changes your level of energy
- Walking is less confrontational than a meeting room environment
- Being outside and seeing nature relaxes us
So, next time you want to schedule a meeting, make it a walking meeting. You don’t have to necessarily put it in the diary and stipulate that it’s a walking meeting, but when the other person shows up at the agreed meeting place, ask them if they want to walk and talk.
You’ll be surprised how different outcomes from meetings can be achieved when you add the simplicity of walking outside in the world.