Regardless of Title, Your Shake is Your Brand

Ick Handshake.jpg

A while back, after weeks of shopping for a new car, I finally decided to pull the trigger and called a salesman with whom I’d been talking. I liked this guy: He had been persistent but never pushy, knowledgeable but not a know-it-all, and in the end he gave me the best price. When we finally inked the contract, we both smiled and stuck out our hands to shake.

And that’s when I almost called off the whole deal. Rather than delivering a warm, firm grip, that reinforced my impression of this successful and confident businessman, he awkwardly clutched my four fingers and lightly, well, squeezed.

If you’re thinking “Ick,” then I’ve described it well.

While I kept the car, I can’t erase the memory of that less-than-reassuring final gesture that instantly–maybe unfairly–made me question the whole interaction.

Of course handshakes and greeting rituals vary across national borders. But when it comes to shaking here in the U.S., the guidelines are pretty straightforward–and fairly rigid.

“Your handshake is your brand and should not vary from men to women,” says Bluestone’s Certified Etiquette Instructor Danielle Kovachevich. “In fact, because you’re making physical contact with another human being, this isn’t the time to get creative or else you might catch your counterpart off guard.”

So, Kovachevich says, regardless of job title, we all should review a few guidelines to ensure our handshake is appropriate and professional. Here's her advice:

  • Our right hand should be in a vertical position with the web area between thumb and index finger firmly touching the web area of the recipient.

  • We never bend the wrist or grip only the fingers.

  • We keep our grip firm, but not bone-crushing.

  • For a professional handshake, we give two smooth pumps (from the elbow, not the wrist.)

  • For a more social handshake, we give about three smooth pumps.

  • A good handshake should come with good eye contact.

  • We avoid giving a cold, wet handshake by keeping our drink in the left hand.

Bottom line: No matter our line of work, our handshake is a critical physical demonstration of our professional brand. When we’re meeting people for the first time, our handshake can determine whether the conversation, relationship or sale moves forward. When we end an interaction, it determines the feeling with which we send off our counterpart.

“If you’re not sure if you’re getting it right, try out your shake on a few close colleagues or relatives, checking the guidelines above,” says Kovachevich. “It may seem like a big investment in the smallest of gestures. But in reality, it’s an investment that will pay dividends every day for the rest of your life.”

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog posts at “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

Really, No Questions?

If you open your talk up to Q and A but get no takers, try asking yourself a question to get things rolling.

If you open your talk up to Q and A but get no takers, try asking yourself a question to get things rolling.

You had them on the edge of their seats the whole talk. They nodded at your insights and laughed at your jokes. But suddenly, when you announce you’ll take questions...crickets.


What seemed to be a soaring success suddenly feels more like a flop. Though it’s hard not to feel the audience is using its silence to give you the hook, don’t dash off just yet. The final moments of your talk are a big part of the impression you’ll leave. Here are some tips for avoiding an awkward silence when no one asks a question:

Give them time to prepare. Often the switch from speech to Q and A is a bit abrupt. You may be such an engaging speaker that no one is even thinking about questions yet. Just before your conclusion, consider offering a remark such as “I’m going to take some questions in a moment, but first I want to tell you one more quick story.”

Have a plant in the audience who can kick things off.  Before you get started, ask a friend or even your host to jump in if no one else volunteers a question at the end of your talk. Often audience members just need someone else to break the ice and they’ll come around with their own questions.

Ask yourself a question. This tactic is especially useful for CEOs or other leaders speaking at town hall meetings where employees may be reluctant to stick their necks out. Simply fill the awkward silence with something like “One question some of you might be asking is ‘Will the company continue to match our 401k contributions?’” or “Something I usually get asked is ‘What kind of feedback have you had from customers?’” It might give someone else the courage to jump in. At the very least it helps you fill the emptiness.

Offer one final comment, then concede the stage. If you’ve tried the above and the audience STILL doesn't jump in, offer one final insight. This should be a brief comment you’ve saved just for the end to tie up your talk, show you’re not rattled, and leave on a positive note. Then do leave the stage. But later follow up with audience members or your host about the lack of questions. Perhaps an overheated room or the alluring scent of lunch arriving next door made the audience impatient. Or perhaps you weren’t as engaging as you thought. Regardless, that’s one question worth asking---and having answered.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

Why You didn't Get Quoted

Wondering why you didn’t get quoted after your last interview? You may have Unquotable Executive Syndrome.

Wondering why you didn’t get quoted after your last interview? You may have Unquotable Executive Syndrome.

A few months ago I met with an executive from a large bank who was frustrated that his boss’ repeated media interviews almost always had the same disappointing outcome.

“Is he wandering off message?” I asked. “Giving up company secrets?”

No, my pal responded. The problem was, he rarely made the story at all.

Ah. Unquotable Executive Syndrome.  It’s a widespread malady, usually afflicting higher level executives.

Unquotable Executive Syndrome is the result of a failure to articulate messages in a way that resonates with the reporter and in turn the reporter’s audience.  There are three specific mistakes executives make that almost guarantee they’ll be cut from the story. Here they are, along with some corrective measures to prevent Unquotable Executive Syndrome in the first place.

Mistake #1: Talking too much. Ironically, the more anxious an executive is about an interview, the more likely he or she is to blather on once it starts. Sometimes the reporter only gets in one question before the exec launches into a filibuster, running out the clock. By filling the silence, interview subjects might feel they’re in control. But if the reporter doesn’t get what he or she needs, everyone’s time is wasted.

Remember the interview is a conversation, not a monologue. Responses should be complete, but not exhaustive. Shoot for 30 seconds for a video response, 45 seconds for radio and 60 for print. Live audience answers should be about 60 to 90 seconds. And all responses should always include a message.

Mistake #2: Not answering questions. The premise of any interview is that one person asks questions and the other answers, or at least addresses them, even if they’re not pleasant.

While it’s acceptable (actually imperative) to bridge or transition from an answer to a message, it’s not OK to ignore the questions and spew message after message with disregard for the interviewer. Interview subjects who do will at best be cut from the story. At worst, they’ll find their entire evasive interview uploaded to YouTube for public ridicule.

Mistake #3: Being boring. By far this is the most pervasive cause of Unquotable Executive Syndrome. It’s typically observed in executives who are so afraid of straying from their messages that they come off like robots programmed only to recite industry jargon and clichés.

Reporters need sources who bring to life the key points of stories with interesting, memorable language. They don’t want forgettable rehashes of predictable positions. Of course, “getting real” on the fly is more than a little dangerous. The best course is to prepare ahead of time with three or four messages and a number of “message enhancers” for each. Message enhancers include colorful language, short stories, personal examples, quippy one-liners, meaningful stats, contemporary references or pithy analogies.

Executives who load their interviews with interesting message enhancers will almost certainly guarantee a spot in the story—and likely more stories in the future. Even better, they’ll be quoted on message and in ways that resonate with the reporter’s audience. And after all, isn’t that the whole reason for investing time and money in the interview in the first place?

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.