How My [Awesome] Shoes Nearly Ruined My Presentation

One woman’s quest for stylish, professional, and un-crushing footwear

A few months ago, I was hired to give a full-day training program to a group of 25 executives on how to master their public speaking skills. So I did what any other business professional would do: I targeted my materials to the group. I planned out each and every moment, piece of content, and individual or group exercise for the day. And then, an important detail not to be overlooked – I chose my shoes. Black Mary Jane-style shoes. Thick 3-inch heels. Conservative. Stylish, professional, yet comfortable enough to stand in for the greater part of an 8-hour day.

Or so I thought.

Fast forward to the day of the training. At 9:00 am, we start with a bang. Great content, enticing visuals, the connection is being established. Excellent.

At 9:45am, we’re moving right along, well into the first exercise, and everything is going exactly as planned. But wait…what’s that weird sensation creeping into my feet?

The Mary Janes (a.k.a. “The Crushers”)

The Mary Janes (a.k.a. “The Crushers”)

At 10:30, we reach our first break, and I practically crawl to the washroom, where I haul myself up onto the counter (right next to the sink), my feet absolutely throbbing, and pray for a miracle so that I can stand up for the next 10 minutes, no less the rest of the day.

“Is it time to go home yet?”

So in this case, “stylish,” “professional” and “comfortable” did NOT live in the same world. But did any of that even matter anymore? Not much did at that point, because the only thing that was going through my mind was “my feet hurt and now I have to put my shoes back on and stand in front of this audience in a very professional way while pretending that little needles aren’t sticking into my feet and blisters aren’t forming and what the heck am I going to do and is it time to go home yet?”

Not necessarily the mindset you need to really ace the day. Especially not when you’re shifting from foot-to-foot in order to alleviate the pain, while simultaneously talking about the importance of not shifting from foot-to-foot while giving presentations because it’s distracting to the audience.

Consulting the sisterhood of the high-heeled shoes

When the day was over, I was very concerned about future trainings. Surely I wasn’t the only woman in the speaking industry who had ever experienced this. It can’t be that ONLY men can get by on their feet all day long. I asked my [female] training colleagues what they’ve done in situations like this, and here were some of the answers that I got:

  1. “Sometimes I just take my shoes off, but that’ll only be a few hours into the program, once the audience and I have already connected, and they don’t seem to mind.” (Not for me)
  2. “I always wear flat shoes.” (Blech)
  3. “Oh, THESE? They’re SOOO comfortable. I’m SOOO lucky to have found them.” (Liars!)

One thing was for sure, though. No matter how many people I spoke to about this, no one has ever rushed into a washroom, sat up on a countertop, and taken off their shoes in dismay.

Ultimately, I made it through the day. I put the participants through some individual and group exercises, which gave me a few opportunities to sit down. At lunch, I sat down. Eventually, my feet either got numb or I had reached my upper threshold of pain and just got used to it, and I was able to make it through the day – complete with very positive evaluations. It seems that no one was able to see the black, acrid, pain-laced smoke coming out of my excruciating shoes except for me (oh wait…I mean my stylish, professional and comfortable shoes).

Thank goodness for small miracles.

4 ways to take care of our busy, heel-loving feet

So honestly, what’s a girl to do? Are we really supposed to wear only flat shoes? Because come on, if you want to wear a dress or skirt, it’s gotta be heels. Am I right ladies?

As you can see, I take this very seriously. Anjali Chudasama, a colleague, science geek and shoe afficianado who has mastered the art of running in heels (in airports, not marathons) pointed me towards the website JustStand.org, that said: “Standing is like walking: It increases energy, burns extra calories, tones muscles, improves posture, increases blood flow and ramps up metabolism.” So if standing can do all that, we most certainly need to be kind to our feet. Anjali then put it into further context in a late-night email – you know, the kind where you talk at length about REALLY important stuff like shoes, and said: “Your feet handle the entire weight of your body and the weight of your purse, bags or suitcase if you are lifting those things. That is a lot of weight on a small surface area especially with heels. I don’t blame you for worrying your shoes as much as your presentation! ”

So it turns out, I wasn’t crazy. Nor was I the only one thinking about this.

Anjali then shared 5 ways to take care of your feet, to keep them safe from harm, while wrapping them in beautiful shoes:

  1. Make sure you wear your size. Seems obvious, but apparently lots of women squeeze into shoes that are a size smaller, which is a big no-no.
  2. Always have supportive straps up to your ankle and/or a covered shoe with a peep toe for very high heels. The more support that your foot has, the comfortable it is. And slip-on high heels are never a good idea (who knew?)
  3. Remember that feet swell after hours of standing and wearing heels. Also take into account of water retention during certain times of the month, so buy your shoes accordingly.
  4. Get the Dr. Scholl’s (or other brand) grips to put at the bottom of your shoes to prevent slipping, and the gel inserts to give your feet comfort.

Good rules to live by.

The next full-day training: My do-or-die do-over

Awesome, but still painful

Awesome, but still painful

I gave another full day training program a few weeks ago, and tried a different tactic. Flat, comfy shoes on the way to the client, during the set-up, at lunch, and at the end of the day. My next most awesome heels during the training. Complete with supportive straps. And gel inserts.

How did it go, you may ask?

I wish I could say that my feet were bathed in a soft glow of warmth and comfort, as if I was walking on a cloud, for the full 8.5 hour day.

They were not.

To be fair, I got a solid 3 hours of comfort out of these babies before the pain started to kick in. But by that point, we had reached lunch. I scheduled some group work in the afternoon, which afforded me a little more sitting time. Very thankfully, it was not nearly as bad as what I had experienced a few years earlier. There was no shifting from side-to-side. There were no needles sticking into my feet. And there was definitely no sitting on random washroom countertops.

Again I say, thank goodness for small miracles.

The search for the Holy Grail of Shoes continues….

Next month I’ll be speaking at a conference, and will need to spend one hour on stage, and the rest of the day on and off my feet. I’ve got my eye on the Holy Grail of Shoes….a burgundy, shiny, 4-inch, platform pair of awesomeness that I’d LOVE to wear. Although to date, these beautiful shoes have only afforded me about 30 minutes before the needles find their way to my all-too-tender feet. My wardrobe team (otherwise known as “me”) is still taking this issue under consideration.

Until then, the search continues for the “perfect” pair of shoes. The practical ones that allow me to be stylish, professional and comfortable at the same time. The beautiful ones that all those *other* women say, “Oh these ‘ol things? They’re SOOOO comfortable! I’m SOOO lucky to have found them!”

In short, the miraculous ones.

Got any leads?

 

Showing 12 comments
  • Monique Caissie

    OMG, you made me laugh out loud. When it’s a full day, to hell with fashion!!! They’ll have to love me for my content. Personally, I’m so busy looking at your lovely face and listening to your measured and wise words, I never really look at your feet. (BTW, did you hear about Cannes refusing a woman on the red carpet for wearing flats. I’m a non-conformist and a feminist!) I’m in the camp of “Go flat or go home!” LOL

    • Suzannah Baum

      Aw…thanks Monique! This whole topic has set up such a firestorm of comments about the shoes: How to make it work in heels, bringing several pairs throughout the day, and many others, like you, who go with flats all the way. Oh, to be a slave to fashion like this! And I did hear about what happened at Cannes. That’s a bit crazy, I have to say. p.s. With your audiences, I’m SURE they love you for your content. 🙂

  • Gill Leithman

    Genius content once again Suzannah! And hilarious.
    Thank you for the shoe tips. Seems like I may need to rethink things!

    • Suzannah Baum

      Thanks Gillian! Good luck with the re-thinking. 🙂 For me, it’s a work in progress!

  • Sheila Hannibal

    It is a little difficult to write at the moment. The tears of laughter are pouring out of my eyes and running down my
    face. What a way to start my day ! Your writing is so visual and remind me of my own days of bloody, excruciatingly painful feet. I wore stunning, high fashion HIGH heels to my training classes and work until one day,
    at the age of 55, a light bulb went on. “If they are looking at your feet, you are doing something wrong !”
    My feet show the signs of the torture I put them through, but it became flats for me. Lucky for you they are in vogue now. All the top designers are showing them……………..Wear them to start, if you really think you need them. When your audience is engaged and enthralled by you (about 5 mins. should do it) change to comfy.
    BTW………..your writing as well as your speaking is awesome. I am still chuckling.

    • Suzannah Baum

      Thanks Sheila! Words from a wise person who’s been around the block a few times. 🙂 I don’t want my feet to show the signs of torture! One day I’ll finally be strong enough to have the right attitude, and “go flat or go home!”

  • lynn fishman

    I recently finished a ten day conference which required some high heels, mostly wedge heels, that I find more comfortable. I also have several pairs of nice flats. I would alternate my shoes during the day from flats to heels. That seemed to work. Are high heels ever comfortable? I think not…

    • Suzannah Baum

      A ten day conference? You’re a warrior! You’re right, wedge heels ARE more comfortable, and flat shoes can be appropriate when walking a conference floor. I LOVE when I’m speaking in a room at the head of a conference able, because then they can’t see my feet anyway. 🙂 But what’s been working for me is to start the day in heels, make all the good impressions, and then switch to flats at lunchtime…because we’re all buddies by then. As for keynotes — well, the shoes STILL have to be fabulous (which doesn’t always equate to comfort), so that’s a work in progress…

  • Denis Boudreau

    Moments like these, I’m so glad to be a black matte, flat-soled, air-cushioned, incredible-comfortable doc martens boot wearing dude.

    • Suzannah Baum

      Denis, to you and your comfortable shoes, I say… show-off! 🙂

pingbacks / trackbacks
  • […] 3. Speaking of backups… Is your wardrobe going to facilitate your awesomeness? When I know that I’ve got a full day of speaking, training or networking in front of me, I’ll bring backup shoes. Of course, this depends on how long you anticipate to be on your feet. If you’re giving a presentation at work for 30-60 minutes, and know that you’ll be spending the rest of your day sitting down, then this step isn’t necessary. But if you’re speaking at a conference, and you intend to walk around the conference floor, walk to an outside restaurant for lunch, or if you’ll be standing on your feet in fabulously-stylish-but-not-meant-for-standing-all-day shoes, you’ll need some backups! Because really, once those puppies start hurting, you’re sunk for the day. (Have you read about my shoe misadventures sitting in a bathroom stall at 10am praying for the pain t…). […]

  • […] Speaking of backups… Is your wardrobe going to facilitate your awesomeness? When I know that I’ve got a full day of speaking, training or networking in front of me, I’ll bring backup shoes. Of course, this depends on how long you anticipate to be on your feet. If you’re giving a presentation at work for 30-60 minutes, and know that you’ll be spending the rest of your day sitting down, then this step isn’t necessary. But if you’re speaking at a conference, and you intend to walk around the conference floor, walk to an outside restaurant for lunch, or if you’ll be standing on your feet in fabulously-stylish-but-not-meant-for-standing-all-day shoes, you’ll need some backups! Because really, once those puppies start hurting, you’re sunk for the day. (Check out a previous post about my ridiculous misadventures sitting on a countertop in a bathroom stall at 10a… […]

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