How you shake hands sends a message

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Trump Handshake

“How you shake hands sends a message – Every interaction communicates something”

Last week, I had the privilege to be master of ceremonies at the first Cork University Business School (CUBS) conference.

The speakers included top business leaders and entrepreneurs, including Marissa Brown, one of Ireland’s most successful businesswomen, sharing their visions and their stories.

And it’s precisely how they tell their stories – how well they communicate – that I imagine will largely mark each one of the speakers as the successes they are.

Research shows that when you line up people with equal competencies, the better communicators will always have the competitive edge.

As a former CNN reporter and anchor, I learned the power of communications through the lens of journalism. I later managed international campaigns for politicians like the first female parliamentary candidates in Iraq and opposition parties in Egypt, and on issues like increasing immunisation awareness in Cambodia.

Today, in my current role with Fuzion Communications , I see communications as a solid combination of style and strategy.

What does that have to do with you? 

Without any further preamble from me, find someone and shake their hand.

What did you get?

Did you deliver a warm, firm embrace, fingers curling around the other person’s hand with the pads of your fingers making contact with their hand in a meaningful way?

Did you clasp for a full second, or two? Or did some of you find that you shook hands with a limp, dead fish? Or who got the arm wrestler, the squeezer?

Why do I make a big deal about a handshake?

Because it’s often the very first thing we do when we’re introduced to someone and many of us don’t have any idea about whether we’re doing it right.

But, make no mistake, how you shake hands does send a message. What does shaking hands with the arm wrestler or the dead fish say to you? Every time you interact with someone, you are communicating something either by design or by default.

Communication is not a soft skill, it’s a critical skill

Thankfully, communications is also a skill that can be learned – and put into action for better results – in every part of your lives.

Any time you have what I call a ‘communication event’ you are either moving your relationship forward or backward with another person.

For instance, applying skillful communications is critical when you first have a big idea. How are you going to pitch your product, platform or service? Even more than market research and projected figures, the story you tell will dictate whether or not you connect with your intended audience.

How do you take the kernel of an idea, or, as you mature in your field, the depth of your knowledge, and best communicate to various audiences?

It takes emotional intelligence and training.

Content and delivery

There are two main facets of any communication event: content and delivery, and there are teachable strategies around each.

Before you create any content, you need to apply a strategy for your audience, intent and message – in that order.

Here’s what you should consider:

1. Audience – Who are you addressing? Are they new hires or veterans? Senior management or the executive board? Women, men or both? Do they prefer Elvis or the Beatles? Tea or coffee? PCs or Macs? Every audience is different. Try to get inside their heads.

I sometimes ask clients to write down their agenda and then write a second agenda from their audience’s point of view.

Then I have them throw out their own agenda and begin again from the second one!

2. Intent – Your intent is never simply to inform. If you’re only doing that, put your information in an email and hit the send button.

You must be trying to motivate or inspire your audience to some sort of action, so define your goal very clearly. Too often I see this one overlooked and the goal becomes too broad or ill-defined.

What is it exactly that you want your audience to do after you’re finished speaking? Even if it’s just to agree to another meeting, that’s OK. Be very specific.

3. Message – Only after you have deliberated the first two points should you move on to craft your message. Like intent, this must be clear too. Write it down in one sentence.

Here’s the definition I learned from organising campaigns: A message should be ‘brief, memorable, repeatable, emotional and data-backed’.

Your message is your “call to action“, your spoken declaration of your written intent. State it clearly and state it often. Don’t assume your audience is getting it.

The delivery

Once you’ve crafted your content, how do you deliver your message?

Think of a presentation as being supported by three legs of a stool: words, para-lingual and body language.

1.Words – Use powerful, colourful, imaginative words. Don’t waffle or equivocate. Be bold. Choose active verbs not flat ones.

For people who say words are less than 10% of communications, try watching a foreign film without subtitles and tell me if you understand 90% of what’s going on! Words matter.

2. Para-lingual – This mouthful just means the way we say our words – the tone, the pace, the volume, the pitch.

These are tools we naturally vary when we’re talking to family and friends, but they often get left behind when we deliver “business stuff”.

When we don’t use them, they leave us sounding robotic, rote, dull and lifeless.

3. Body language – Unless we’re master poker players, our bodies are always ‘leaking’ our emotions – and people are always reading us.

How do you hold your arms or hands, and does your listening face look interested or bored? Other people notice, so take ownership and get trained to appear more engaged.

Reaching your audience

Like it or not, both Donald Trump and Brexit proponents discovered how to communicate potentially complicated messages in simple ways to reach their target audiences.

While critics may argue that those simple messages also played on constituents’ anger or fear, imagine what can happen when one creates simple, captivating messages that seek to inspire and motivate people to positive action?

Gina London - Fuzion PRGina London is an award-winning former CNN correspondent who now serves as director of Strategic Communications at Fuzion.

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