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.

Media Won't Cover You? Cover Yourself.

Years ago when I was the lead spokesperson for Boston Edison, the company went through a brutal six-month stretch during which it was pounded in the press for an unusually high number of power outages and accidents---and THEN suffered an ugly labor strike.

So when I heard that, in the wake of a series of Florida hurricanes, our crews were heading south to help restore power, we made a serious round of media calls. I wanted to be sure every local TV station and newspaper got the word that, in this case, we were the good guys, stepping up to help those in need.

Sure enough, on the day our crews were leaving, a bank of TV cameras and print photographers showed up in the parking lot to capture pictures of the caravan rolling off company property toward the freeway.

But that was it! Not a single Boston media member conducted even one on-camera interview about why we were pitching in. And none of them bit on our offer to arrange phone interviews with the crews once they arrived in Florida.

I knew we needed to get a bigger bounce out of this event to offset the negative press we'd been taking on all year. So, I decided we would make our own news.

At the last minute, my colleague and I flew to Florida to meet our line workers, hired a video crew and followed our employees around for two days as they chain sawed fallen trees, installed new power poles and strung the electrical wire that would help Florida get back to normal. We interviewed our workers as well as locals, and captured tender moments of storm-weary Floridians hugging and thanking our crews.

Then we rented satellite time from the local public TV station and offered free feeds of the video to every news outlet in Boston.

That night and all the next day, on every Boston newscast, our guys were the heroes. Why? Not because they did any extra work (they were going to do it anyway.) But because we had video of it and we made it easy, free and irresistible for the media to use it.

If you have a great story that the media won't tell, try making it easier for them. Hire a crew to shoot video, then send it to media outlets in edited and unedited form. Include suggested news copy in the form of a short broadcast script or print story. (Sure, most journalists prefer to write their own, but they'll still appreciate the head start.) 

But don't stop there. Leverage your own platforms for coverage with the audiences that matter most to you. Put a version on your website, play it at employee events and post it to social media so supporters can easily pass it along to their own followers.

After all, if you've got a great story to tell, the media and your other audiences will want to hear it, see it and share it. And if you make it easy for them, they'll do just that.   

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 "Let's Be Clear,visit bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.   

How to Nail the “Morning After” Call

A follow up call to a reporter can be a tricky thing. Here are some ways to make sure it goes well.

A follow up call to a reporter can be a tricky thing. Here are some ways to make sure it goes well.

It’s always nice to follow up with a reporter after a story runs or airs, especially if you’ve established a rapport and want to keep it going. But those “morning after” calls can be tricky and if you’re not careful, unravel a lot of good will.

A follow up call to a reporter can be a tricky thing. Here are some ways to make sure it goes well.

In newsrooms where I’ve worked, reporters welcomed calls from sources saying thank you and offering feedback on the story. Often those calls helped fortify the reporter-source relationship. But once in a while they had the opposite effect, making the reporter think twice about trusting the caller as a future source or worse, prompting negative coverage the next time around.

Here are some tips to on how not to blow the morning after call.

Don’t complain about the tone of the story without specifics: If you do, you’ll annoy the reporter, gain nothing and be written off as a whiner.

Instead, bring up any actual errors or significant imbalance. Be clear about whether you think the issue needs correcting now or simply for future stories. And be sure it’s significant enough to even mention. As much as reporters pride themselves on accuracy, they don’t appreciate nitpicking.

Don’t thank them for making your side look great. Reporters strive for accuracy. If you caught a break and came off better than deserved, don’t gush. The last thing you want is for the reporter to second guess the charitable portrayal or worse, overcompensate by burying you the next time.

Instead, thank the reporter for a FAIR story. “Fair” may seem like lukewarm praise to you, but fairness is the Holy Grail to journalists.

Don’t forget that you are talking to a reporter. Just because one story ran, doesn’t mean another one isn’t already or couldn’t soon be in the works. Don’t use bad language, badmouth someone or confess to anything you’ll later regret.

Instead, be professional.  And know that everything you say is still on the record.

Don’t ask for anything. Most reporters are extremely busy. If you want to stay in their good graces, avoid asking for copies, reprints, raw tape, or anything else that requires administrative legwork that someone else can better provide.

Instead, give something. No, don’t send an actual gift. But you can offer something of value: their next story. Pony up a fresh and worthwhile story idea or provide a heads up on something coming down the pike and you’ll lay the foundation for a beautiful relationship going forward.

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.