Don’t overlook the importance of a hearty handshake

In this day of technology overload, it’s the personal relationships that will serve you well and help differentiate you and your message

Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe something as straightforward as a handshake can reveal much about a person.

When I was 7 (my daughter’s age) my father, from humble Irish-Catholic origins, began insisting that I practice shaking his hand. He worked in sales, and when he arrived home he would lock his eyes with mine, and with a warm, wide smile hold out his large hand and introduce himself to me. I would, as instructed, look him directly in the eyes and offer up my tiny mitt. We would then engage in a firm, vigorous shake.

Ever since those early lessons, I have always believed in the importance of a strong handshake. You should be present and in the moment for this critical introduction. What’s your impression if someone gives you the “dead fish” instead of a hearty shake? In my mind, if they can’t take the time to do it properly, they aren’t interested in me or what I have to say.       

I recently met a friend at a Bedford restaurant. She was late, and I spent the time casually watching the crowd behind a glass of wine. I was surprised when a family of four entered, sat down at a nearby table and immediately began staring into their tablets. Their heads all tilted down, each one engrossed in their own individual device. They were together, but the only common connection was to Wi-Fi.

There is something about directly engaging another human being and listening to their ideas; reading their body language and gauging their level of interest that is invaluable. A deep sigh can offer a hint of boredom; locked-in eyes can signify interest.

We offer up so many little prompts during a personal encounter — cues that can get lost in translation in an instant message. And when we do connect in person, so many of us are guilty of keeping that wireless device just within reach and checking it repeatedly. Is the number of devices we own a badge of honor or another, cooler version of Linus’ security blanket?

Not long ago, a prospective client approached me about training their sales force.

“Where would you like me to start?” I asked.

“With the handshake,” was the manager’s reply. “I want to make sure they’re presenting the right image when they meet clients.”

Technology overload

When I first entered broadcast journalism, email was relatively new and I would receive about 20 or so a day. When I left, I was cascaded daily with hundreds that would overflow my inbox. Most of them were pitches from agencies I never had any connection with, and as a result I rarely gave them a look.

People constantly ask me how to get coverage for an event. First, you must have a solid, compelling story that would be enhanced by great visuals; but second, it’s about going back to the basics — making a connection. Take the time to make them care.

Remember that old Ma Bell commercial “Reach out and touch someone.” Anyone can send an email, but not everyone can forge a relationship.

In this day of technology overload, it’s the personal relationships that will serve you well and help differentiate you and your message. And honestly, has anyone ever really closed a deal on Facebook?

The other day I was grocery shopping with my daughter, and we ran into a colleague in the produce aisle. I introduced her to the grownup, who kindly placed his green peppers into his cart and extended a hand down to my girl. I could tell she was a bit nervous, but bravely held out her tiny hand, made superb eye contact and responded, “It’s very nice to meet you too.”

She then turned to me with a dazzling smile full of accomplishment — I couldn’t have been prouder. No matter what she blossoms into, that skill will always serve her well. It all comes back to that simple, yet critical first impression — the handshake. Just remember to make it a good one.

Tiffany Eddy, former news anchor and co-host of “New Hampshire Chronicle” on WMUR-TV, is principal of FocusFirst Communications ( and public affairs director for Granite State College.