Conference Crash Course: Unity of Function and Form in Footwear

Conference Crash Course: Unity of Function and Form in Footwear

By Susan Vogel

While our day-to-day work with associations require a lot of time at a desk, there are also times when we spend a lot of time on our feet. Throughout the year, we attend conferences, exhibits, presentations, and board meetings. AMC staff plan and implement more than 50 conferences, exhibitions, and board meetings annually. As anyone who has done this work knows, that means long days on your feet walking the concrete floors of exhibit halls and rushing down hotel hallways to make sure meeting rooms are ready and the board’s needs are met.

Footwear trivia: In 1945, actor Conrad Cantzen bequeathed his estate to The Actors Fund to be used for actors to buy shoes, as he believed a good pair of shoes made a good impression with the casting directors.

For those attending conferences, appropriate footwear is a big part of workplace wellness and conference survival. Shoes for a conference should keep our feet, knees, and back happy all day (from breakfast meeting to after-dinner reception), and the form and style should imbue a professional demeanor. But, balancing and unifying form and function can be a challenge during conferences and business travel.

For insight and inspiration,  we took our concerns to a few AMC experts to see how they keep their feet happy and ensure their shoes serve both function and form to meet the demand of pulling off a professional conference.

Scott says: Keep shoes polished and in good repair to evoke a professional image.
Title: CEO, AMC
Experience: 37 years
Conferences/events per year: 25
Pairs per conference: 1

Mens black shoes

First, we went straight to the top and interviewed expert Scott Engle, AMC CEO. Scott told us that he has two needs: the shoes must be comfortable, not only walking around the event, but also while sitting in a tight airline seat. He looks for good support with a pretty thick sole and adds gel inserts for more heel and arch support. He is also a frugal packer—he only brings one pair of shoes. As an ice breaker, he has asked people how many pairs of shoes they packed and discovered that it is not unusual for people to pack 5-6 pairs of shoes.

His advice to keep one’s feet happy is to forget about fashion trends (no high heels) and wear comfortable shoes, and, importantly, to keep shoes polished and in good repair (because ratty, scruffy shoes do not evoke a professional image).

When Scott attends events, he feels that walking around is easier than standing still. Plus, it gives him the opportunity to not only meet and talk with clients, but also to witness the good work being done by AMC staff to ensure clients and volunteers have an amazing experience.

Kari Messenger, one of AMC’s superstar meetings managers and board member of the Association of Women in Events, provides the sound advice to always choose comfort over cuteness. 

Kari says: Choose comfort over cuteness and when you get an opportunity to sit down—take it.
Title: AMC Senior Meetings Manager
Experience: 9 years
Conferences/events per year: 7
Pairs per conference: 4

comfortable womens shoes

Each year, Kari manages 3-4 conferences as the onsite logistics lead for AMC clients and also attends 2-3 professional conferences. After nine years of meetings planning and event management, she has learned that when you’re on duty for 14-hour days, if you get the time to sit down—take it. Those little breaks make all the difference for the wellbeing of her feet. Kari strategically brings four pairs of shoes: two for conference time so she can switch every couple of days, one nice pair if she needs to attend a board meeting, and one pair for going out to dinners and relaxing.

Julie Ichiba has 30 years of conference experience.

Julie says: Never wear brand new shoes to a conference.
Title: Director of Sales, AMC Professional Relationship Department
Experience: 30 years
Conferences/events per year: 24
Pairs per conference: 6

comfortable womens shoes

Onsite, she attends meetings with industry representatives and works with contractors and designers to set up the exhibit hall, registration booths, and other conference spaces and structures. A woman with fashionable footwear, she brings six pairs of shoes (2 low heels/2 flats/gym shoes/1 high heel). Julie recommends low wedges, as they are comfortable and stylish for most outfits. She cautions others to watch out for swollen feet. She brings an extra pair of shoes to the show office so she can switch during the day. Her wise counsel includes sleeping with feet elevated to reduce swelling and advises that “foot relief” cream can help. She also shared an old trade show trick:  at the end of the day flush your feet in the toilet (ice cold water brings the swelling down). However, we don’t recommend this because it’s not evidenced-based, and well…I think you know why. But we imagine that soaking your feet in cold water in the tub would be a bit of heaven after a long day. Her final words of shoe wisdom: never wear brand-new shoes to a conference!

We completely agree with our footwear-veteran colleagues. Comfort is important, but we believe we can have it all—both form and function. A beautiful shoe can be comfortable and keep our feet healthy. Sue currently only attends two conferences per year, but has been doing so for more than a decade. She packs only one pair of shoes: professionally appropriate flats for the flight that are easily removed going through security and with which she can sprint to the gate if she’s at risk for missing her flight. She wears a highly supportive shoe with a low heel during the conference, but looks for a little flare in color or design.

Your feet were meant to last a lifetime; the care you give them now will make you a happy person at the conference and your future self will thank you. To sum it up—choose your shoes wisely, keep them polished and well-maintained, sit down when you can, and give your feet a little love at the end of the day! 

Susan Vogel is a director of grants management on AMC’s Professional Relations and Development team.

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