The other day, I shook the hand of a client. I had worked with this client over the last year and a half, but our interactions had been entirely virtual up to this point. When he went to shake my hand, I somehow forgot everything I learned from my father since I was a child about the need for a firm handshake. And, for the first time since I was a teenager, I offered a weak grip. The importance of handshakes is often overblown, and some may argue that handshake culture is a bizarre derivative of toxic masculinity. Still, no matter how one feels about this topic, it did not feel good to give this client a weak grip. I immediately made light of the situation and “fixed” my handshake as the client was leaving. But I realised something important: I was totally out of practice when it came to handshakes. It got me thinking: what other social skills of mine have grown rusty?
Training and Retraining
Hardly anyone is a natural when it comes to the many requirements of modern business. At some point or another, businesspeople have to work on specific aspects of their craft. For some people, they have to learn how to give presentations. Others must learn how to schmooze with clients or potential clients. In an ideal world, everybody would be in positions that are best suited to their natural strengths. The schmoozer would simply have to schmooze; the gifted orator would be the one to step up onto the stage for the big presentation. But that is not how things always pan out. Indeed, being a modern businessperson often requires wearing several different hats at different stages of our careers.
The handshake was an easy fix, something I could change from one second to another. But what about presentations? I used to give in-person presentations at least 4 or 5 times a month; I have given very few in the last year, and not to large groups. That said, I did give online presentations to much larger groups than I was accustomed to pre-pandemic. Will my newfound comfort in front of large audiences translate to live presentations? I hate to say it, but after my handshake experience, my confidence is shaken. I feel that I will have to relearn several of the skills that I had considered stable parts of my business repertoire. These are skills that I had worked so hard to master.
Forcing my hand
But then again, isn’t this forced development a good thing? For one, the fact that I know how hard I need to work gives me a distinct advantage over those who do not have the time or energy to re-hone their diminished skills. Moreover, if I look at my newfound skills, such as video conferences/presentations, I think I am underestimating how relevant those skills will be. Even though many of us live in regions where COVID is under control, the ease of video presentations over in-person meetings has made them a more desirable option. Our COVID adjustments do not seem to have been temporary, but we need to work hard to ensure that any crisis of confidence is similarly fleeting.