Adapting with the times: handshake alternatives

MICE experts share their thoughts on how to greet each other at meetings

Nouveau ways of greeting each other. Credit: Yon Loo Lin School of Medicine

SINGAPORE - The push to adapt our societal greeting practices in the wake of COVID-19's spread has prompted many to provide handshake alternatives. MICE experts shared their thoughts on how to replace handshakes and what they think is the more appropriate thing to do when we greet each other at meetings.

Ms Kathy O'Brien, MD, Red Shoe Communications, said: "Hello' is a crucial moment for a meeting planner.  First impressions are formed, the tone is set. Here's a good way to make the other person feel safe: Stop at arm's length; align your shoulders to the other person's; offer a bright smile and greeting; and make a slight bow.

"If even a modest bow is just too formal for you, stand straight and tall and focus on that warm smile. You'll send a welcoming message while making the other person feel safe.  

"If it's someone you know well, offer 'the elbow' or 'the footshake' and giggle about it together. Most important of all: focus your attention on the other person, and adapt to him or her. Set the tone for a good meeting."

International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) CEO, Mr Martin Boyle, said: " If people are having a more formal meeting in a closed environment, I think it is more appropriate to just be open with the person you are greeting by informing them that you respect their health and wellbeing and, as such, would prefer to avoid the handshake or kiss as opposed to assuming that they will understand the 'foot shake' or 'elbow touch' right away.  

"If in a group setting or gathering, perhaps (meeting planners should) even go so far as having posters up at registration or front doors of a meeting venue with graphics and information. Keep things as simple and easy for everyone to adhere to. Back to the good 'ol wave and smile, I think is always appropriate and universally understood," said Mr Boyle.

Ms Catherine Chaulet, president & CEO of Global DMC Partners, said it was the time for bad habits to be changed. "Clearly, the less we touch, the less exposed to the virus we may be. My advice to MICE industry professionals would be to focus on washing hands diligently and regularly, and just as importantly - not touch one's face. For those who bite their nails, it is a good time to change this habit."

She said meeting planners can initiate creative and fun ways of communicating how greetings could be done. "The rule here is to communicate in advance that this is how you plan to greet to prevent any awkward moment. It is time to lighten the mood while introducing fun ways to better protect ourselves," she said. Some of her suggestions include the Star Trek greeting (Vulcan salute), scout greeting, curtsy or the hand-on-the-heart way.

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