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Gene Simmons Taught Me The Value Of A Good Handshake

10/27/2015 05:16 EDT | Updated 10/27/2016 05:12 EDT
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A cropped photo of business colleagues shaking hands outdoors. Tattooed businessman greeting female colleague. Male executive is with animal and text tattoo on hand.

As a civilization, we've relied on body language for thousands of years to communicate with others without having to speak a single word. These gestures can drastically impact the way that others perceive our self-confidence, overall capabilities and even if we possess certain leadership qualities. This was proven to be true for me when I was given the once in a lifetime opportunity to meet rock and roll legend Gene Simmons of KISS.

In "The Centre" of it All

To put this into context, the form of cerebral palsy (CP) I have is called "spastic triplegia." In short, it is brain damage that affects my ability to walk and the dexterity in my muscles -- in my case, my two legs and my right arm. For the first 18 years of my life, I received physiotherapy to strength train my body from an organization called The Centre for Child Development (The Centre).

In 2012, The Centre opened a new department of services under the name Sophie's Place (named after Gene Simmon's daughter, Sophie.) As an ambassador and former client of The Centre, I was asked to come out to the ribbon cutting and was told that it was all to be featured on an episode of Gene Simmons: Family Jewels. I couldn't have been more thrilled for the opportunity.

Not only did I enjoy that show, but from everything I knew about Gene Simmons, aside from being a rock god, he was also quite a businessman. I had just started my business a month prior and knew that if there was anyone who could give me advice on building a brand, it would be Gene. After filming my scene with Sophie, I took a deep breath and said "I know you probably get this a lot, but I just started my business as a speaker and I'd love your dad's feedback and advice. Do you think he'd ever have time to chat with me?" She responded: "How about right now?" and the next thing I knew, she was walking me past security to the green room.

Shake It Off

Sophie opened the door to the green room and there across from me was Gene. I must have had a complete look of shock on my face and then I hear "Hey dad, this is Marco. He just started his business and is an aspiring speaker. He wanted to ask you a few things." And with that, Sophie walked out of the room and closed the door. After a few moments of being in awe of the situation, Gene gestured me over. What a thought would be a 2 minute conversation ended up being closer to 45 minutes. We talked about everything from logo design to brand positioning and trademark registration.

Ironically, the most valuable piece of insight I received was at the end of our conversation. I stuck out my right hand (the one affected by my CP) to shake Gene's. He reached out, placed his palm in mine and shot me a glance that I'll never forget. "That was a terrible handshake" he said, and so I responded with the most logical rebuttal "That's because my right hand is affected by my disability." Without skipping a beat Gene said, "That doesn't matter, and it won't matter to people when they first meet you. Your handshake says a lot."

From there, Gene went on to explain that when going in for a handshake, it is important to make sure that the web between my thumb and index finger, fit perfectly with that of the person whose hand I'm shaking. This is not something I'd spent a lot of time thinking about before. He went on to say how something as simple as a handshake can affect the likelihood of someone closing a deal or even entertaining the idea of spending more than five minutes with me.

Leadership in the Palm of Your Hand

Since that day, I've become obsessed with body language. In reading the book Body Language - How to Read Others' Thoughts by Their Gestures by Allan Pease, I've learned that there's a lot more psychology behind shaking someone's hand than one might assume. My favourite takeaway from this is that having the upper hand is actually in reference to a person placing their hand above the person whose hand their shaking, giving them the dominant position -- the literal"upper hand."

Because of that last interaction with Gene, a portion of the content I present on is based around body language and the psychology behind the different types of handshakes. This proved to me that no matter how successful we are in life, when you take away all the awards, recognition, money, or even fame, what makes us equals is that first five seconds you get when shaking someone's hand.

So, the next time you go to extend your hand to someone else's, make it count. Those four fingers and a thumb are saying so much more than your mouth ever will.

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