Handshakes and Greetings

This is one of our absolute favorite icebreaker activities.  Handshakes are quite simply a great way to mix and greet folks. They are fun, engaging, and get folks talking and laughing.  The more your participants interact and get to know each other, the stronger their relationships will be.  

Type of Initiative: Icebreaker, Processing and reviewing activity

Props Needed:  none

Group Size:  10–100

Directions: Invite your participants to find a partner.  Introduce one of the handshakes that follows and ask a question you would like your participants to share with one another.  Questions can vary from lighthearted to more serious.

  •  Discuss the best meal you have ever had.
  • The furthest I have been from this location is…
  • Three things we have in common are…
  • Tell your partner about a good book you have read recently.
  • Discuss with your partner your typical response to a conflict.

After a few minutes of discussion, tell your participants to remember who their partner is and tell them, “See ya later alligator!”  or "Adios Amigos!" and find a NEW partner.  Do about four to five different handshakes with different partners.

For each handshake, you will need a new partner.  We like to share a story about places we’ve lived and handshakes we’ve learned while living in various places.  Here are a few of our favorites:

Oregon lumberjack handshake—begin by giving a thumbs up with your left hand; your partner will grab your thumb and duplicate the sign and so on and so on until all four hands are in use. Now utilizing the same movement as a single jack lumber saw move back and forth saying each others names in a deep, lumberjack voice (Michelle, Mike, Michelle, Mike … said in a deep lumberjack voice).

Vermont dairy farmer—with a partner, decide who will be the cow and who will the farmer.  Now, for the hand motions, the “cow” will need to lace their fingers together with their thumbs pointing up and as far apart as possible…invert your hands so that the thumbs now point down creating the utters of the cow.  Now, farmer, you will need to milk the cow and share your name at the same time. Since turn about is fair play, be sure to switch roles and give the cow a chance to be the farmer and vice versa.

South Carolina bass fisherman—move toward your partner as if you were going to shake hands in a typical fashion, but continue moving your hand until you reach the forearm. Gently slap your hand against your partner’s forearm, duplicating the sound of a bass hitting the bottom of a tin boat.

Crush’s greeting (from Finding Nemo)—begin with a gentle, backhand high five, followed by a noggin’ knock. To safely do the noggin knock, hold your hand backside against your own forehead and gently slap hands together with another person’s head while quoting the movie by saying “Dude.”

Cappuccino handshake—hold your coffee in your left hand, high five with your right hand, and then reach down and shake ankles with your right hand … all without spilling your coffee!

Crab handshake—half squat and shake hands through your legs

Texas handshake—reach across with your right hand, grab hold, and skip around in a circle while exclaiming, “Yee-Haw!”

Sumo handshake—stomp in a Sumo stance towards your partner and spar with one another!

Come up with your own creative handshake…..maybe one for your school mascot, state bird, or other fun action that is unique to your group.

Variation: At the end of each handshake ask the group to answer a question, share something about themselves, or say good bye in another language.

After you have about four to five different handshake partners do a “Handshake Frenzy."  Call out each of the handshakes one at a time and have participants quickly greet their 'bass fisherman' handshake partner.  Then after 20 seconds, or long enough that everyone has successfully found their partner and  completed their handshake,, call out another handshake.  Continue until all handshakes have been called out.

Debriefing Topics:

Handshakes are great to use as an opener but also as a processing tool.  You can keep these same partners throughout the program or length of time the group is together.  Use them as partnering tools for discussion questions.  Maybe your participants will partner up with folks they usually wouldn’t partner with and create a new friend out of their salmon handshake partner.

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