Conference Education Value Soars With Walk & Talk Discussions

Kids help phone walk Calgary 2014 by Thank you, on Flickr

Many conference organizers are being asked to step up their content delivery game.

One-way “Sage on the Stage” presentations to audiences held hostage for an hour or more won’t cut it in today’s conference environment.

“A body at rest, stays at rest.”

A Brain At Rest, Stays At Rest

Same thing goes for a brain at rest.

If you’re not familiar with Dr. John Medina’s Brain Rules, that’s a good place to start learning more about brain science and its impact on education and engagement at conferences.

Dr. Medina’s Brain Rule #1: Exercise Boosts Brain Power explains how inactivity impedes learning and thinking. Research shows that as participants become more active (especially, aerobic activity that boosts oxygen flow to the brain), mental acuity increases.

While jumping jacks during the general session might not be such a hot idea, getting people up on their feet and moving around should deliver a noticeable uptick on cognition. How about a “half-time” break during the General Session?

Looking for that next big idea? Take a walk

Continuing on this same “activity boosts thinking” thread, I read about a fascinating study at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. Studies were conducted with 176 subjects (primarily college students) where they tested this theory:

Does walking lead to more creative thinking than sitting?

Their answer: A resounding YES.

Key findings from this study:

1. Previous Research Confirmations

Previous research already confirmed a link between regular aerobic exercise and protecting cognitive abilities, but this time, they wanted to see if simply walking might improve some types of thinking.

2. Walkers Outperform Sitters

In experiment after experiment, the walkers outperformed the sitters in creative thinking, generating at least 80% more ideas. Increases were less pronounced for restrictive thinking exercises.

3. More Walking = Stronger Creativity

Observing several experiments in a row, where some students sat for all, some alternated back and forth between sitting and walking, and some walked for all, the more these subjects walked, the stronger the creative output. They measured creativity not just by the number of ideas generated, but by their feasibility.

4. Walking Anywhere, Anytime Improves Learning

Some students walked outdoors, while others walked on treadmills. Interesting, but there was no discernable difference between these two settings. As research lead, Dr. Marily Oppezzo noted: “While being outdoors has many cognitive benefits, walking appears to have a very specific benefit of improving creativity.”

Perhaps a Walk & Talk within a session?

While weaving in small group discussions within education sessions helps attendees think through how they might apply what they’re learning, what if you gave them the option to “Walk & Talk” with a neighbor? You might map out a few routes that fit the time allowed.

Wouldn’t it be great if convention centers had color-coded “walk & talk” routes? Walk the red-line for a 15-minute Walk & Talk, the blue for 20-minutes, and so on. Go a step further, and color-code walking routes on your trade show floor. That concept is stirring up visions of sponsored water coolers at various points on the route.

According to the study, walking before a meeting that requires creative thinking could be as beneficial as walking during the meeting. Perhaps you might encourage everyone to go take a walk after lunch and give them 30 minutes of open time before the afternoon breakout sessions begin?

Have you incorporated Walk & Talks at your conference? What other ideas can you share to make these even more appealing and effective? 

Adapted from Donna’s Meeting Innovation post on Cvent’s Event Planning blog. © 2014.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  1. Beth Kanter says:

    I have been incorporating walk and talks into my workshops for years, especially when we are in a beautiful place. Movement helps the brain. Recently, I gave a walking keynote about the benefits of walking as work:

  2. Donna Kastner says:

    Loved your post on Walk & Talks. I even watched the video of your “Follow the Leader” presentation at Microsoft. Brilliant!

    Walk & Talks unlock a wealth of ideas, but notetaking can be tricky. That thought prompted another idea. Maybe Siri could tackle notetaking – she can! Here’s how:

    Thanks again for stopping by to share your insight!


    1. Beth Kanter says:

      That seems to be a common concern about note taking, but I’ve found that the walking helps boost memory and if I leave 10 minutes after the meeting to jot down notes .. then it is covered.

  3. Joan Eisenstodt says:

    I struggled with a response to this, understanding that ‘of course’ there would be accommodation for people who don’t walk. And perhaps the intent is people who roll too!

    One of the challenges of a walking and talking meeting is a difference in abilities & stature such as height difference, deaf or hearing, walking or rolling or simply inability to walk and no wheels to use, sighted or not.

    I know that there can be accommodations. It is my fervent wish that when we talk about anything we consider those whose abilities might make it challenging .. such as the issue of taking notes (which I guess one could record in a video or voice or would google glass solve that?)

    We need to be more aware of and ensure the ability for all to participate equally.

  4. Donna Kastner says:

    You’re absolutely right – we need to be more aware of and ensure the ability for all to participate. Perhaps a better approach might be to include this within several choices, opening up more opportunities for meaningful dialogue and engagement around learning concepts for all participants.

    Thanks so much for opening our eyes up to these important considerations.


    1. Joan Eisenstodt says:

      Donna – Thanks for responding. I think that almost all things are adaptable .. if people think ahead of time about the applications and the audience and the contingencies! It’s the lack of thinking through the options .. and doing some Q-storming(tm) that makes a difference. – Joan

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *