by Christine Clapp, founder and president of Spoken with Authority

In April 2022, I presented at the National Association of Law Placement’s Annual Conference in New Orleans wearing bright white sneakers. Before the pandemic, I would never have worn them to speak at a conference.

To be completely honest, I didn’t really have a choice. The day before my presentation, I went to the opening conference reception and traversed the French Quarter on foot to go to dinner . . . in leather shoes I hadn’t worn in over two years. Even though I wore them comfortably before the pandemic, they caused painful blisters on both my feet. Rookie mistake!

The next morning, to get dressed for the first full day of the conference and my speaking role, I put on my olive-colored sheath dress and matching blazer as planned. Then, I applied unicorn patterned Band-Aids to my heels (thanks Rachael), put on soft cotton no-show socks, and donned the bright white sneakers I had intended to wear at a few casual evening events. In early 2020, this get-up would have made me feel less professional and even embarrassed. In April 2022, however, I admired the gleaming athletic shoes and strutted out of my hotel room with confidence and gusto. 

Coincidentally, my conference co-presenter, Rachael Bosch, and I were speaking about finding your authentic speaking style. During our session, she wore a flowy white blouse and pleated navy skirt . . . with Vans style slip-on sneakers. Not only were we both comfortable and able to engage the room more easily than in heels, our footwear was a great reflection of the fun and energy we intended to bring to the session. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to wearing uncomfortable shoes when I present. 

At one point during our session, Rachael and I asked attendees in an anonymous poll if they could be authentic at work. Only one person said “no.” Ten percent of respondents said “yes,” 43 percent said “most of the time,” and 43 percent said “it depends on the person / situation.” I bet the number of people who said “yes” or “most of the time” was higher than before the pandemic.  

Anonymous poll results for question "do you think you can speak authentically at work?"
Poll results from our April 2022 session at the NALP Annual Conference

I think I was comfortable wearing the bright white sneakers at the conference presentation because the pandemic forced me, and perhaps all of us, to be more authentic. During Zoom calls, my colleagues and clients saw my living space, my kids, my dog, my casual clothes, my unvarnished face (though I may have used the Zoom touch-up-my-appearance feature), and my hair without a recent cut or color. The online pandemic experience made the transition from leather heels to white sneakers at an in-person event less scary. And, the choice seemed to resonate: I received several compliments on the sneakers and comments from other attendees about how they were inspired to make more comfortable and authentic clothing and footwear choices for their next presentation too. 

What about you? Did you become more authentic during the pandemic? Are you embracing that authenticity as you return to in-person events? For me, more authentic looks like these bright white sneakers. What will it look or sound like for you?