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Body Language / Handshake 101: Avoid Cold Shoulders like Recent President Obama & Russian President Putin Meeting

Categories: Professional Development

Do nonverbal signals really matter?

Well, according to body language “experts,” the recent meeting and greeting/body language between President Obama and Russian President Putinspoke volumes.

In an article on, these experts said the following:

“There’s no real warmth.”

"It was very odd. Obama is treating him like he was greeting a doorman."

"The handshake is very tense.”

"They're not communicating here … They’re just going through the formalities."

I must admit, I didn’t read as much into their gestures that were broadcast around the world as these experts did, but I do know that overall body language – and especially the handshake – do speak volumes whether in political or business situations.

Here are four pointers to keep in mind:

  • Pay attention to personal space. In the U.S., we like approximately 3 feet. This varies – further in many Asian cultures, and closer in Mediterranean and South American cultures.
  • Make eye contact. This means looking at each other without staring the other person down.
  • Come in with your handshake thumb joint to thumb joint (web to web), clasping firmly (regardless of gender), but not bone-crushing.
  • Pump your hands one to three times, not the supposed 18 times that were used by Obama and Putin. It was as if no one wanted to be the first to let go.

Most people haven’t gotten feedback on their handshakes. Why not practice today and get some critiques from friends and colleagues – before your next client or prospect meeting.

Here are more tips on body language from an article in the September 2013 issue of Spirit Airlines’ magazine. In an article called “Motion Detector” the author shared four tips for increasing the impact of your nonverbal signals when speaking:

  • Make sure you use appropriate gestures - if you pretend you are holding a ball in your hands between your waist and hips, depending on the point you are making, this ball would increase or decrease in size.
  • Boost your self-confidence - Before your next presentation or sales call, do some jubilant arms-in-the-air “I am the champion” posturing – this motion will make your brain match the body language … increasing your self-confidence and reducing stress.
  • Keep your head held high - Don’t tilt your head. While this gesture conveys to others that you are listening to what they are saying, it doesn’t work when in a larger business setting when you are trying to deliver some type of call to action.
  • Own your space - pacing back and forth doesn’t convey confidence. Move strategically to specific spots, and hold your position to convey a thought, then visit another location in the opposite direction to connect with an audience member there.

More details about effective presentation skills and the do’s and dont’s of body language can be found in my book Speaking is an Audience-Centered Sport. BRODY also offers presentation skills training.

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