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business models, strategies and technologies

“Walk and talk” in Covid-19 times

Structures for responsible personal interaction get brought into new relief in Covid-19 times

People all over the world love to (mis-)use English catchphrases, often because they’re considered to sound smart. The finer points of what such phrases actually mean – both directly and (in particular) implicitly – often get profoundly lost in translation.

Walk and talk?

One such phrase is “walk and talk” – which I recently found myself suggesting as a seemingly responsible way to hold a face-to-face business meeting in these corona times – outdoors, with no physical contact and with appropriate social distancing.

“Walk and talk” is far from new – see here for example. I know it as a well-worn cliché, but it’s new to me in its practical form, and the current social distancing context also introduces a new dimension. So I wondered which words provided the most accurate description of what was happening. What we were actually doing? What were the criteria – for effectiveness, for personal boundaries, for success, for appropriate mutual consideration?

“What” and “how” – precision formulation

To be successful or useful, any key process requires precision in thinking and formulating. “Walk and talk” was originally a film/TV storytelling technique, before ít got hijacked and repurposed by stress-obsessed suits as well as various wellness brigades. Here in 2020, this particular phrasing boils down to encapsulating and “selling” some of the basics of human interaction – which makes it intriguing.

If we delve a little into what the words actually say, “walk and talk” is limited to being a description, the focus is on format and intentions – there’s no sense of movement and process. It’s a static descriptor that stifles … turning opportunity and personal dynamics into mere cliché.

There are two basic components – the “walk” and the “talk”. But which is the primary? Which is the noun for “what” is happening, which is the adjective that describes the “how” about doing the “what”? Is the walking aimed at facilitating the talking, or vice versa?

Exploring alternatives

Questioning the validity of a particular solution isn’t much help unless one provides an improvement – or something that’s just obviously better. So here’s a querying-mind exploration of some alternatives, explaining where the emphasis and agendas lie in different wordings.

  • Consultation in motion – movement as the prime focus – but “motion” is very non-specific (doesn’t give us any mental images)
  • Outdoor interaction – is it the movement involved in the walking that’s important, or is it the fact that it’s not taking place within a tiny, germ-laden enclosed office space? Would the walking be just as valid/beneficial if done by the side of a motorway – or is there a “nature” element hidden in there somewhere?
  • Out & About (O&A) meetings – explicitly mentioning that it is a form of meeting, but one released from the restrictions (= current dangers) of enclosed spaces. Too easily confused with AA meetings?
  • Talking heads, walking bodies – highlighting the body/mind juxtaposition and highlighting the actions being undertaken during the process. But too many words/too long
  • Talking walks – focus here is on the “walks” as a framework static entity, with the “talking” as a subsidiary descriptor
  • Talking walking – both components have (visibly) equal weight, both describe process rather than result – but the driver here is the “walking” side of the equation (= exercise agendas)
  • Walking talking – both components have (visibly) equal weight, both describe process rather than result – but in this version the driver is the “talking” (= communication agendas)
  • Conversational co-walking – keeping the “talk” intentions light and unburdensome, and with a visible “co-” element that highlights there being two/several parties involved, and thus a smidgin of shared responsibility for how it goes down
  • Discourse walks – focus here is on the talking, with the walking as a mere vehicle. The explicit aim here is for the dialogue to be more “philosophical” – no mere chitchats or shooting the breeze
  • Discourse walking – as above, but with greater emphasis on the process rather than the event
  • Social distance/SD walking – featuring an explicit corona-conditions component that lays down expectations about spatial interaction and boundaries
  • Distance discourse – featuring a muted corona-conditions component, with the emphasis on the talking, and the walking no longer specific. But FaceTime, Zoom and Skype provide exactly this …
  • 2-metre discourse – zooming in on the specifics of corona-related conditions, with the emphasis on the talking (and the walking no longer even mentioned)
  • 2-metre W&Ts – retaining the familiar “walk and talk” format, and whacking in corona-based specifics and a fancy acronym
  • GWTs – = “Gap Walk & Talk”, to highlight acceptable social distance as the prime difference
  • Ambulant discussion – sounds more like hospital treatment …
  • Mobile mulling – “mulling” validates the unfinished, the sense of process and of thrashing something through. But lots of people won’t know the “mulling” word …
  • Mouthing and moving – highlighting the actions being undertaken during the process. Although it’s a big part of “talking”, the mouth is still only one component in personal communication – and the almost-similar “mouthing off” is pretty negative
  • Dialogue in motion or interaction in movement – almost mundane versions of the “poetry in motion” descriptor, and too long to catch on
  • Assisted walks – this focuses on who takes prime responsibility (assister or assistee?) for the “event”  – but it also sounds too much like a physiotherapy exercise designed to overcome diverse mobility challenges
  • Perambulatory personal exchange – “consultant-speak” – it’ll never catch on


This was all a little experiment in descriptive procedure naming. There are limitations incurred by how directly we’re willing to address corona/Covid-19 issues – which is why I haven’t included things like Keep Away Walks/Keep Away Talks. The only ones in this list even worth considering are:

  • 2-metre W&Ts
  • GWTs
  • O&A meetings
  • Walking talking
  • SD walking
  • Conversational co-walking

However, the familiar “walk and talk” does have serious first-mover advantages as well as Titanic-style momentum, and I kinda’ doubt it’ll get dethroned – unless a new government diktat about social interaction structures lands on our plates. The lack of precision inherent in “walk and talk” probably loses out to its comfort-factor familiarity.

Making it up as we go along

At this point in Covid-19 disruption, everybody’s making stuff up as they go along. The resulting radical upending of familiar procedures and structures seems to be a great motivator for substantial rethinks, along with once-in-an-era opportunities to do things differently – whether born of fear, necessity or government edict.

All of which are more powerful drivers than woke-driven fashion-of-the-month morality positions. In the words of Werner Herzog:

The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot