This piece is the first in a new series we are doing on practical skills that all entrepreneurs need to know. And to start, we are addressing the first thing you will probably do with a mentor, cofounder, or investor: the handshake.

For some of you, this may seem like a no-brainer. You probably think, “I know how to give a handshake. I’ve been successfully shaking people’s hands for my whole life.” For some of you that may be true. But every single one of us over here on the 3 Day Startup team has been on the receiving end of a bad handshake. We may have even given one or two before.

And, there’s a good chance both of those statements are true for you as well.

It never hurts to be conscious of and confident in what you do.

That’s as true for a handshake as it is for a big investor pitch.

The importance of a good handshake was really driven home for us when  Bob Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet and founder of 3com, delivered a mini-handshake workshop at the 3DS program he recently co-facilitated with our CEO, Cam Houser.

Bob Metcalfe Handshake

During this workshop, Metcalfe shook the hand of every single participant and helped them practice and think about a handshake as a useful and beneficial tool.

Metcalfe –– an entrepreneur with both a tech-background and ample sales experience –– believes that it is important for aspiring entrepreneurs to not only understand technology, but to also develop strong social and interpersonal skills. And for them to be confident in applying them.

We at 3 Day Startup couldn’t agree more. So here are some tips to take your first steps towards developing and perfecting that interpersonal side with a good, solid handshake.

How to give the perfect handshake

Now, you may think that you already have this down. But there are some boxes you want to be aware of and make sure you tick the next time you shake someone’s hand.

  • Always be assertive – Confidently extend your hand and don’t be afraid to initiate the handshake
  • Be firm, but not too firm – You want to make sure that you firmly connect with the other person’s hand, but don’t make it painful (that’s one of our Cardinal Handshake sins)
  • Make eye contact – A lot of young, aspiring entrepreneurs make the mistake of looking down at their shoes and avoiding eye contact with the person whose hand they are shaking. Don’t make this mistake.
  • Shake their whole hand – Occasionally we are all on the receiving end of a handshake where someone has essentially only shaken our fingers. This is awkward. Do not do this.

Most of these tips come down to practice, being confident, and being aware of what you’re doing. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to making a great first impression and mastering your first practical entrepreneurship skill.

But to illustrate these even further (and to have a little fun) we present you…

The Cardinal Handshake Sins

Now that we’ve told you what to do, we also want to call out and identify the most egregious “bad handshake” offenses.

You may have found yourself guilty of giving one of these. And you’ve almost certainly found yourself on the receiving end of one of these.

They are extremely common and extremely avoidable. Sometimes you might be guilty of giving one out of laziness, out of excitement, or out of insecurity. But start spotting these behaviors when you give handshakes and ask yourself: do I fit one of these categories?

Category 1: The Dead Fish Handshake

One of the most common handshake mistakes, the Dead Fish Handshake is passive, limp, and awkward for the other party. It is usually given when the offender lacks confidence or isn’t prepared for the handshake. But it is easy enough to fix. With a firm, confidently outstretched hand you can avoid being a dead fish and having the bad first impression that comes with it.

Category 2: The Over-Aggressive Yank Handshake

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the over-aggressive, yanking handshake. People typically commit this sin when they are over-enthusiastic, nervous, or because they think that the stronger the handshake the better. And while we are big proponents of a strong handshake, pulling at another person’s arm when you shake their hand is never a good look. Again, for our perfect handshake, we want you to be firm, but not too firm. There’s a person attached to that hand, and you’re goal isn’t to hurt them or make them uncomfortable.

Category 3: The Too-Close Handshake

Much like the over-aggressive handshake, the too close handshake is sometimes a power-move, sometimes well-intentioned, but almost always ends with making the other person feel awkward. Especially if you are shaking their hand after meeting them for the first time, try not to cross any boundaries or make them feel uncomfortable.

Category 4: The Hugshake

This awkward situation has probably happened to you before. Sometimes it’s not always clear if the other person is going for a handshake or a hug. Don’t be afraid to take initiative and firmly and clearly extend your hand for a handshake so you can avoid this little dance.

Category 5: The Eyes-Down Handshake

Again, this category is particularly common in young entrepreneurs who are nervous or intimidated by the person whose hand they are shaking. But it’s important to look them in the eye and be sure of yourself. Handshakes are often a first indicator of trust, which makes good eye contact all the more important.

All it takes is practice.

Giving one bad handshake doesn’t mean you’re doomed for the rest of your life. But be self-aware and purposeful in how you shake someone’s hand because it’s often the first impression you make. A great handshake can make a big difference.

So practice, think about the handshake as a valuable skill, and you are well on your way to perfecting it.

Contact us today and bring a 3 Day Startup program to your university or community. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to learn more about upcoming events and receive notifications for more blogs like this to help you on your entrepreneurial journey. 

Have another idea for a practical skill all entrepreneurs should know? Let us know in the comments!