Making Introductions, Part 1: Shaking Hands

Making Introductions, Part 1: Shaking Hands


“From small beginnings come great things.”

– American proverb

First impressions matter.  The gateway to many compelling conversations remains the greeting. As the proverb says, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

However, breaking the ice can often be an awkward, even  difficult task. For shy international students, greeting and meeting strangers in English can be particularly uncomfortable. How can we help reduce our students’ anxiety about meeting native speakers? I suggest we start with a smile and a handshake.  Let us lead by example.

For better or for worse, many Americans believe that how you shake hands shows your character. Therefore, a firm handshake is often the key to make a positive first impression in English. Here are some do’s and don’ts to share with your class to ensure a smooth introduction:

How to handshake:

  1. During the greeting, make eye contact with your acquaintance and smile while extending your right hand at waist level with your thumb up and palm flat.
  2. Grasp the other person’s hand using a firm grip, palm on palm, withyour thumb pointed at a 45° angle.
  3. Keep in mind that handshakes are firm, brief, and confident.
  4. Introduce yourself. “I’m Susan” or “Jack”.
  5. Say “How do you do?” or “Good to meet you”


Things to avoid:

  • Shaking the hand (up and down) more than three times. You want to keep it short and firm.
  • Applying so much pressure in the squeeze that there is pain on the other person’s face.
  • Applying too little pressure – you don’t want your hands to be like a dead fish.


Learning by doing

Why not have students practice handshakes in our English classes?

I have also found it helpful to have students practice by greeting their classmates. Significantly less intimidating than starting off with a complete stranger, this exercise also helps to forge classroom bonds, which generally makes English class a more enjoyable experience. Alternatively, if your classroom is culturally diverse you can use this as an opportunity for discussion on different greeting customs around the world.

What do you do back home?

I often have my students partner up and address how different groups of people typically greet each other in their respective home countries, using the following prompts as needed:

▪      How do adult men greet each other?

▪      How do adult men greet adult women?

▪      How do adult men greet younger people (teenagers or children)?

▪      How do adult women greet each other?

▪      How do adult women greet younger people (teenagers or children)?

▪      How do teenage boys greet each other?

▪      How do teenage boys greet teenage girls?

▪      How do teenage girls greet each other?

▪      How do teachers greet students?

▪      How do store clerks greet their customers?

How do you approach the subject of greetings in the classroom? What are your preferred methods for making meaningful first impressions?

This blog post features content from the second edition of Compelling Conversations – Vietnam, which will be released this fall! Check out our featured sample chapter, Delicious Choices, here. For more information on this and other titles, click here to download the Chimayo Press Fall 2016 catalog.

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About the Author

Eric H. Roth teaches international graduate students the pleasures and perils of academic writing and public speaking in English at the University of Southern California (USC). He also consults English language schools on communicative methods to effectively teach English. Roth co-authored Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics in 2006 to help English language learners increase their English fluency. Recommended by English Teaching Professional magazine, the advanced ESL textbook has been used in over 50 countries in English classrooms and conversation clubs. Easy English Times, an adult literacy newspaper, has published a monthly column, “Instant Conversation Activities,” based on the book since 2008. The first specific version for a particular country, Vietnam, was published in 2011. Compelling American Conversations came out in 2012, and Compelling Conversations – Japan arrived in 2015. Eric enjoys sharing reflections, resources, and teaching tips on this #ESL #EFL #ELT blog.

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