Shake Hands Like JFK

Did you know that John F. Kennedy commissioned an entire study to determine the most effective handshake? And with good reason!

More than just a sign of friendship, your handshake speaks volumes about who you are as a person. A soft hand shake can indicate insecurity. A quick-to-let-go handshake can convey arrogance. Kennedy knew that he would be shaking hands with the world’s most powerful men and women and as such he wanted to get it right. We should endeavor to do the same.

 We all know that first impressions last and it is often your handshake that makes the first impression.

Step 1: Look the Person in the Eye

The position of your eyes is almost as important as the hands themselves. In fact, many leading business men and women will tell you that it is your eyes that convey the most about you during that initial point of contact. If you look down to the ground you are telling the person that you are shy, nervous and even untrustworthy. Avoiding eye contact is behavior typically seen in someone who has done something wrong and feels ashamed of guilty.

Looking the person in the eyes shows that you are engaging them. It shows that you are interested in this meeting and you are glad to see them. Always make sure you look a person in the eyes when you shake their hand, no matter how busy or brief the handshake might be.

Step 2: Use a Good, Firm Grip

The key element of a good handshake is a firm grip. A soft grip doesn’t speak very good things and sometimes people will take it to mean that you are weak of character or not really interested in the person with whom you are shaking hands.

A firm grip, on the other hand, shows confidence, strength and enthusiasm. Is shows you are keen to get involved with the person and you are firmly committed to being there. Be careful not to go overboard though, a bone crushing grip can appear extremely arrogant.

Here's an excellent list of 10 really bad handshake styles. In the next panel there is a detailed discussion of how to establish a firm grip.


Step 3: Don't Be Too Hasty

A handshake should be inviting but not rushed. When you rush a handshake you inevitably get caught in that embarrassingly halfhearted position where neither person is really gripping properly. When you go in for a handshake offer your hand with your fingers straight and your thumb high and make sure you do not grip until the person’s thumb is firmly locked next to yours.

You should also not be too hasty in letting go. Germ freaks like Donald Trump often let go quickly and it is seen by many people as a big insult. If you can’t even shake my hand how can we develop a trusting relationship? Make sure you hold on for long enough to show the person that you are excited to meet them.

Step 4: Don't Shake Too Much

I know it is called a handshake but the term is a little bit misleading. One of the worst handshakes you can get is the one where the person shakes your arm like they are trying to tear it off. Not a good idea. Perhaps think of it more as a handgrip instead of a handshake. It is fine to do two or three small shakes but that is enough. Too much shaking can convey over-excitment and in some cases it gives the impression that you are desperate. You never want to be portraying yourself as desperate, even if you are. Make sure you don’t overdo the shaking.


Step 5: Use Your Left Hand Correctly

JFK thought the best place for the left hand was cupped under the shaking hands. However, this might not always be appropriate. The JFK cupped left hand is really quite an intimate grip. It is something you would do to someone you really admire or an old business friend that you haven’t seen in years. JFK correctly used it on foreign leaders, party donors, etc.

Personally, however, I do not think the double handed shake is always appropriate. For example, I would never use the JFK double shake when introducing myself for the first time to a new client who was older than me. It can come across as a little enthusiastic.

But you should use the left hand. Humans are intimate beings and (with a few rare exceptions) love to be physically interacted with. When I meet a new client I give a firm shake with my right hand and use the left hand to touch them on the shoulder or elbow region. If you are shaking hands to say goodbye to someone you can use your left hand to pat them on the upper back as they walk away. This physical details are extremely important.

But sometimes the “correct” use of the left hand is not to use it at all. You will find yourself in certain situations where it might not be appropriate to do anything other than give a quick shake with your right hand. Make sure you use your own intelligence to determine the best use of the left hand. One place where the JFK shake is really very good is when you have just reached and agreement or a deal with a person and you want to express your happiness.

Step 6: Repeat Their Name and Introduce Yourself

Remember, the act of shaking hands is more than just the two hands meeting. It involves eye contact, shoulder touching, a firm grip, and many other factors. One thing you should never forget to do when shaking someone’s hand is use your speech in conjunction with the handshake.

The handshake is also the central element of an introduction. It does not exist in a vacuum. Here's a video I found that talks about the key elements of an introduction although you might think at first glance to look for advice from from Hazely's School of Refinement and Modeling....

The most important speech to remember when shaking hands is the person’s name. ALWAYS call them by their name and never use lazy substitutes like “mate”, “brother” or “dude”. People love to hear their own name. When you shake a person’s hand and greet them by their name you are effectively saying “you are important enough to me that I bothered to remember your name”. Using a word like “mate” shows you don’t really care.

Pay attention to their names and remember them as if your life depends on it.  In particular avoid the use of bestowing nicknames such as mate, dude, brother or anything else. If the person you are introducing yourself to has a preferred form of address they will let you know.

You can take this theory one step further and remember a fact about the person’s life. So if, for instance, in your research you have found some common interests on facebook or linkedIn you can share that.

You could say something like "I was researching the company on linkedIn and noticed that there is a Bob Doe who belongs to my "Common Special Interest" group, is that you?

On second and subsequent introductions try to keep track of something you can mention. Try to avoid sounding like a stalker however if its a shared interest following up can be a positive step.

If, for example, the person mentions they got a new car that the person just bought a new Mercedes Benz you can shake their hand and say something like, “Great to see you again John. How’s that Mercedes treating you?”. This is a fantastic way to show you are interested.

When you use your speech in conjunction with the handshake you are interacting with the person physically, verbally and emotionally. A triple header handshake like this leaves an impression.

Step 7: Ending the Handshake

A business handshake should be brief and to the point. Consider a handshake a short “sound bite” greeting, not a lengthy engagement. Holding on for more than three or four seconds can make other people feel uncomfortable
If you shake from the shoulder, using your upper arm instead of just your forearm, you risk jolting your handshake partner. The idea is to connect, not be overbearing.

Hold the handshake for about one second and then release while continuing the introduction.

Do not release too quickly or act as though you are avoiding contact which can be offensive to many people. And do not use a hand sanitizer in the presence of your potential boss or co-worker.....

The next step contains an excellent guide to shaking hands for women....

Step 8: Melissa Kirsch - the Girls Guide to Shaking Hands

How to shake hands

How's your handshake? Firm and confident, or not so much? Melissa Kirsch, author of The Girl's Guide to Absolutely Everything, demonstrates how to shake hands.



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    18 Discussions


    7 years ago on Step 2

    Leave it to fox to do a special on incorrect handshakes


    8 years ago on Step 5

    another thing to keep in mind is that the left hand is used for different thngs in some countries. I was told in less developed countries, the left hand and the water bowl is used instead of toilet paper. So, sometimes avoiding left hand contact is a good idea.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Will I get shot if I learn how to shake hands like jfk? I'm sorry I had to..... Hahahaha lol. Sorry if anyone finds this offensive


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    i lol at this. -- lol. -- i lol'd harder with obama being pictured within a JFK thingy. -- LOL.


    These are all from public embed codes from public YouTube posts. This feature can be disabled by authors who do not wish their YouTube broadcasts to provide embedded capability. Click on the videos to follow through to the authors Youtube page.


    The point is, members are supposed to show their own,original work when at all possible.

    How hard would it have been to show these techniques in stills or a video of your own?


    This ain't the patent office....this is a site about disseminating information.... It is an original work that aggregates the results of significant experience and research then packages and presents it in a way that is greater than the sum of the parts. Unlike the physical world in the information world it is the aggregation and presentation of information rather than the content itself that differentiates originality. Otherwise neither Google nor Yahoo can meet the definition of "original" although each clearly is.

    The search engines (and presumably their underlying algorithms, what with the shroud of secrecy surrounding such things...) are original. The results they serve, however, are not "original" to Google or Yahoo.

    Original doesn't mean nobodyever had an idea like it, but it does mean that at least some part of it is unique to the creator.

    Why yes, I am playing with the rich editor again...


    This isn't Google, or Yahoo.

    This is Instructables, and there are terms you should have read when you signed up, and a guide you should have read when you wrote the text.

    I say again: How hard would it have been to show these techniques in stills or a video of your own? After all, if you aren't going to go to put in the effort to do this properly, when should anybody pay attention?

    There's really no good way to deal with this. In the final section she recommends that one just disengage. It might be awkward but it about the only alternative I can think of. It's possible that the old "left hand cup" could be brought into play. By taking control with both hands a similar enthusiasm can be expressed and you can disengage.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I have two problems with this video. First, she tells you not to use the fingertip handshake, which is absolutely correct, but I noticed the first time through that when she first greeted her friend, David, that's exactly the handshake she used. Second, a female image consultant should know how to do makeup better than this woman does. If I was going to hire an image consultant, met her for the first time, and she gave me the fingertip handshake, I'd find someone else. Her visual image is off putting, and her handshake was weak.

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I agree it has many drawbacks. That's why I included so many videos with overlapping content. There are nuances to be picked up from each one. If I find a better feature video I will replace it.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    you where great to put up this illbilly! body language speaks the truth...