Forget about putting your best foot forward. In the professional world, it's all about the handshake. While it may seem like nothing more than a fleeting formality, locking palms is serious business.
Studies show that the mere act of shaking hands makes people twice as likely to remember you, and with just a few quick pumps, you can say a lot about yourself: Too much oomph, and you appear domineering. Come on too soft, and exude incompetence. Fret too much, and you're headed for a clammy clasp that'll send your fellow shaker into instant recoil.
But the right shake, on the other hand, can convey openness, respect, confidence, and vitality. "It says 'I'm a person of substance, I'm to be taken seriously,'" says Marjorie Brody, author of several books on business etiquette and professionalism, including the recently released Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move?
PREPARE YOUR PAW. In her 25 years as an executive coach, speaker, and author, Brody has learned to appreciate the gesture's importance. "The handshake is the official business greeting," says the founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based Brody Communications. "It's absolutely your chance to make a first impression, and most of us just don't think about it."
That's why Brody Communications recently applied with Chase's Calendar of Events -- a directory of more than 12,000 special days, weeks, and months, established in 1957 and published by McGraw-Hill (MHP) -- to get some recognition for a good grip. So mark your calendars and prepare your paw, because from now on, June 28 is officially National Handshake Day.
To ring in this new, unlikeliest of special days, BusinessWeek Online asked some top experts for their take on one of the most overlooked aspects of business.
Like anything, proper technique will take you a long way. To launch a metacarpal encounter, Brody advises that you wait until you're about three feet away from the target before you extend your right arm -- at a slight angle across your chest and with your thumb up. Once you've made contact, lock hands, thumb joint to thumb joint, and commence pumping. But don't get carried away. You've got time for two, maybe three well-executed pumps before you should disengage.
Peter Post, great-grandson of the legendary matron of manners, Emily Post, and director of the Emily Post Institute, says the most important thing is to carefully moderate your squeeze. "A bone-crusher is not good, and a limp, dead fish is just awful," he says. "But a firm handshake is great."
In modern U.S. culture, be it in a business or social situation, Post says everyone needs to be shaking -- men and men, women and men, and women and women. "This idea that somehow women don't have to shake hands or shouldn't shake hands is for the birds," says Post, who writes a syndicated weekly newspaper column, Etiquette at Work.
But, even in the 21st century, getting palmy with a member of the opposite sex gives some men the shakes. That's because, once upon a time, a gentleman wouldn't make a move for a woman's hand unless she offered it first. Though that's not proper protocol anymore, many men mistakenly stick to this bygone tradition, which can make for an awkward first encounter, Brody says.
Her advice: "Women, automatically get your hand out there because so many men will wait for you."
Confusion also still lingers regarding the appropriate cross-gender grip. Brody says under no circumstances should a man "tone down" his shake, and, for that matter, neither should a woman: "It's not the bent wrist, it's not 'grab me at the fingers,' it's not 'kiss my ring,'" Brody says. Instead, she advises, both men and women can avoid appearing condescending, domineering, wimpy, or whiny by cultivating a single, solid, universal clasp.
Of course, the secret to a satisfying shake isn't all in the hands. Post says the whole purpose of this culturally-condoned extremity embrace is to set people at ease and help establish a relationship. "A good handshake is a handshake that makes a person feel welcome and appreciated," he says.
If, like the Donald, you're a bit squeamish about going palm on palm with a room of strangers (Trump is notorious uncomfortable with the germs involved in handshaking), Post says get over it. Refusing someone's outstretched hand -- or even showing a hint of reluctance to partake in a shake -- can really put a damper on an otherwise promising encounter.
For Marilyn Holt, whose work at Seattle-based Holt Capital frequently involves connecting business owners with venture capitalists, making a solid connection is particularly important. "If people think you're a worm when they shake your hand, they're not going to invest in your company," she says.
That's why she suggests getting the whole body involved. "Shaking hands does make a difference, but you need to follow through with other behaviors," she says. "Looking people in the eye, smiling, and saying hello are equally important."
You may also want to consider spicing things up with a few frills. Frank Maguire, a corporate speaker who was one of Federal Express' (FDX) founding executives, says he warms up his handshakes by adding an extra hand. While additions like that may seem small, or even over the top, they can go a long way. "Those are little gestures that make all the difference," he says.
To Maguire, the main concern isn't so much about style or skill as it is about awareness. "People just don't make an effort to put forth an impression," he says. "They're just not conscious of it."
So, since you never know when you'll be called to proffer up your palm, it's best to be prepared. Always dry your hands thoroughly after washing, and keep food and drinks in your left hand so you won't be caught off guard. And if your hands are sweat-prone, keep a handkerchief handy, for everyone's sake.
But in the end, good old-fashioned practice is the best preparation. "Most people are totally unaware of how their handshake comes across," Brody says. "Let's face it, we've never been trained." She suggests finding a friend, sharing a few shakes, and then getting some feedback.
Despite Brody's championing of the age-old ritual, the National Handshake Day pioneer won't have a chance to celebrate herself: She's scheduled for a solid day of teleconferencing. Anyone for a cybershake?