I read a blog yesterday about improving your body language. Since writing my book, I have been working on all my communication skills and it is essential to be aware of your body language. If your message is strong but your body language is weak, the message is lost. The blog said,
When first introduced to a leader, we immediately and unconsciously assess him or her for warmth and authority…. So the best leadership strategy is to embody both sets of traits—and to do so early and often.
What body language conveys authority? Good posture, taking up space, a firm handshake and a purposeful stride.
The part about the handshake resonated with me. I don't know how it came to me, but when was preparing to do my first panel interview for the Rotary Scholarship, I resolved to stride confidently into the room and greet each person with a firm handshake and a smile. Perhaps because handshakes have always been scary to me (I have sweaty hands), this action took a lot of buildup. It made an excellent impression, however. In every interview since, I have made sure to give a good handshake.
First impressions matter a lot. Everything from your grammar to your handshake give cues to your audience about your character. If handshakes are scary for you too, try practicing them with a friend. One great way I get to practice is by participating in Toastmasters. Every time you get up to speak, the Toastmaster leading the meeting shakes your hand to welcome you and shakes your hand to finish. It's a way to recognize each other and add formality to the role you are taking on. It's a reminder that you are a professional (in whatever field you practice), and that you should be treated as such.
Handshakes have become less common in some crowds, but I think it's an important way to bridge generations and reminds you that you should be taken seriously. Give it a try sometime!