Master the handshake
Almost every professional interaction begins with a handshake, and a good one can help you make a positive first impression, whether you're meeting a potential employer or a new colleague.
Avoid vigorous arm rattling, a double-handed upper-arm grip or a wince-inducing squeeze, which will make for a bumpy beginning. Instead, aim for a firm handshake and pair it with a pleasant smile and good eye contact. You'll communicate both friendliness and self-confidence. A proper handshake lasts about three seconds -- two or three pumps -- starting and stopping crisply.
To hug or not to hug is becoming a common question in the workplace, especially in offices that have a casual atmosphere. But it's still best to play it safe by favoring handshakes over hugs when in business settings.
Hugging is often considered an intimate gesture, and not everyone may welcome it. While a quick hug may be appropriate or instinctive in some situations -- when you run into a close business associate unexpectedly, for example, or after your best friend in the company receives a promotion -- it's generally best to err on the side of caution when you're not sure of an "open-armed" welcome.
Sidestep space invaders tactfully
Do you dread meeting with colleagues or clients who are "huggers"? One technique for protecting your personal space is to extend your hand early to indicate you'd prefer a handshake.
Of course, some hugs are impossible to dodge without embarrassing the other person. As manners guru Peggy Post notes: "Sometimes you can't avoid the contact, and it's best to grin and bear it; backing away a bit once the person has released you should signal your feelings."
Introduce in the right order
If you're meeting with a group, be courteous by introducing yourself to new contacts before exchanging pleasantries with those you already know. Also, always introduce junior-ranking employees to senior-level people, mentioning the person of higher rank first ("Director John Doe, I'd like you to meet our new intern Carl Coffeefetcher.").
Win the name game
Have you ever been introduced to someone at a busy networking event only to forget his name five seconds later? You're not alone. To commit the name to memory and guard against goofs, restate the person's name ("I'm so pleased to meet you, Charles.").
To help others remember your name, speak slowly and clearly. If you're at a conference where a name tag has been provided, stick it near your right shoulder; when you shake people's hands, their eyes will go directly to the tag.
Show you're interested
Knowing how to make a perfect introduction does little if you're not adept at the chitchat that typically follows. Have ready some standard topics that anyone can relate to -- weather, traffic and weekend plans are perennial winners.
Also pay sincere attention to what the other person is saying, and make sure your body language reflects your interest. You're not sending signs of engagement if you're compulsively checking your smartphone, looking at your watch or scanning the room for others to talk with.
Finally, be mindful that appropriate business greetings vary significantly from country to country. A series of cheek kisses is common in some nations, while bowing is customary in others. Nuances abound. In Japan, for instance, it's considered impolite to immediately put a person's business card in your pocket without first studying it.
Before heading into a meeting with international colleagues or embarking on a trip abroad, research the prevailing greeting culture so you don't inadvertently commit a faux pas.
The bottom line: Whether you're meeting business contacts from across town or the other side of the globe, use good judgment and do your best to make them feel respected and comfortable in your presence.