Model UN Skills in the News: The Art of the Handshake

by Aaron K on February 16, 2017

Earlier this week on Monday, February 13th the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the White House to discuss the strategic relationship between the United States and Canada.

If you haven’t followed the story, here’s a 90 second summary of the meeting that will catch you up to speed thanks to CBC News:

A series of pictures inside the White House received a lot of attention from News Outlets and several pictures and videos went viral on Social Media.

This post will take a closer look at the interesting story behind this picture in particular: 

Image uploaded from iOS

To shake or not to shake? That is Trudeau’s question.

It’s important for us to back up for a moment and give this picture some historical context in order to understand its significance.

First of all, Donald Trump has been known to aggressively shake hands. He has done this in the past by pulling people towards himself and/or putting them off-balance. In terms of social dynamics, the purpose for these aggressive greetings is for Donald Trump to assert his dominance. In theory, this could give himself an upper hand in conversations and negotiations with world leaders. However, this power dynamic is arguably more important to the public because we as humans are naturally inclined to form quick and lasting first impressions. This is especially true when watching world leaders interact because average citizens are only watching the news. Of course, this is just a theory, but you should scroll through a few of the examples below for greater context on Trump’s aggressive handshake style so you can draw your own conclusion.

Example 1:

Example 2:

Example 3:


However, to provide an alternative perspective to the aforementioned theory, it is possible that Donald Trump may just thoroughly enjoy an extremely firm handshake.

Let’s fast-forward now to the first handshake between Justin Trudeau and the recently inaugurated President:

Now here’s a closer look from a different camera angle:


If you rewatch the gif, it looks like Justin Trudeau is using his left arm to brace for Donald Trump’s handshake.

You can see Justin Trudeau held his cool when meeting President Trump and even had an upper hand. Looking more closely, Donald Trump is being pulled toward Justin Trudeau!

Here’s an interesting fun fact, Justin Trudeau is pretty strong:


Justin Trudeau seen showing off his yoga skills by preforming a planche

But it’s debatable whether or not Justin Trudeau is as strong as the USA’s Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan:

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It’s good to know that a country’s leaders are staying in shape

Anyway, let’s fast-forward back to the photoshoot in the White House! Remember this?

Image uploaded from iOS

As readers and viewers of this news story, we can see why this picture ended up going viral!

Maybe a picture is worth one thousand words?

So one conclusion we can draw from this is that Justin Trudeau hesitated to shake Donald Trump’s hand here for a good reason. Based off of the initial handshake outside of the White House we can assume that Justin Trudeau and his Administration researched Donald Trump’s handshake style and informed him how to best approach the situation. That’s some serious research and social dynamics in action!

But wait, “Why should I care about these seemingly innocent handshakes between world leaders?” That’s a great question!

Western culture has a long tradition of handshakes impacting first impressions. Shaking hands can be considered a customary form of greeting someone as well as a way to indicate an agreement has been made. In this real world example, Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump are both representing their respective Countries in a public spotlight. In Model UN students representing countries shake hands all the time; however, delegates, chairs, and educators are not necessarily consciously aware of the importance that comes from paying attention to the body language and other non-verbal cues associated with something as seemingly innocuous as a handshake.

With all of that being said, Justin Trudeau hasn’t always been the best at handshakes; he’s learned a lot over the years.

President Obama shares an awkward handshake with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto - Imgur

President Obama shares an awkward handshake with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto

So how can you apply this information at your next MUN conference?

When shaking hands everyone has a different style but here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Have a firm handshake but also allow for both individuals to be on equal footing — the goal shouldn’t be to knock someone off balance.
  2. No two handshakes are the same and some it’s  necessary to improvise if the situation asks for it — check out the example gif below.
  3. Great handshakes comes across as relaxed and natural — this may take some practice so go out and shake some hands!

We can all take a page from Snoop Dogg’s Playbook:

The Snoop D.O. double G makes improvisation look easy

You should come prepared when shaking hands with people, be willing to improvise, and practice until your handshakes come across as natural and relaxed. Combining these tips together will put you on your way to having a world class handshake!

Stay tuned for more Model UN Skills in the News and email with any questions, topic suggestions, or guest post ideas. 

  • Elijah

    In regards with you guys saying rankings arent wanted by big schools let me remind you that most of the delgates and delegations who you interact with are always leaning to what you may want ti hear. There some delgations who say their to the delgate fance just for the sheer pupose of increasingly their liklyness to recieve a dlegatoon award. I you want to hear this they say this if you want to here that theybsay that. I’ve spoken to multiple top schools who strive on ranking. Gulf coast ect. Small schools I’ve spoken to dont care that much, but in honesty there are variations of things people will say to get on BestDelegate’s good side because of your orestige and hold on the system. Though I agree rankings in anything encourages competivity, but without competivity in speech debate science fair model un ect these things would lose their prestige and attendance at conferences.

    • akal

      Hello Elijah!

      Thank you for your comment. It’s quite interesting to get the community’s take on our rankings as a motivational tool for the community as well as its drawbacks. We’re always trying to incorporate the community’s feedback so I have a couple of questions for you. If you or anyone else is interested in sharing additional feedback, please feel free to respond or send me a personal email to

      1. In terms of your feedback on Best Delegate being a platform for the community, do you feel like this article on social dynamics and handshakes will have a positive or negative impact on the Model UN community?

      2. What can we as an organization do in order to use the University and High School rankings as a way to high light success and the hard work of teams while reducing the negative impact you’re suggesting the rankings have?

      3. What else can we as an organization do to engage and create discussions with the greater Model UN community in a way that reduces the negative aspects of competition and instead allows us to high light the hard work of Model UN teams everywhere?

      • Elijah

        I think it will have a positive affect on a lot of people and a lot of schools use this website for training, but a big thing is articles from college and high school mun shouldn’t be combined becuase less would read it also at conferences they should shout out @bestdelegetae instagram and have seperate high school and college instagram becuase most high school delegates don’t care what going on in the college seasonbecause its not relevant to them yet. They want to stay on top whats happening in their spheres. If more high school student knew about best delegeate instagran and social media it would be more mainstreamp You could but gifs and other funny stuff and news on it. Making this website really the hub of Model un would be extremely beneficial not just in trainig but in articles and having a great community. You meet a lot of people at conferences it would be cool to see them here to. On the instragm you could include funny gifs and links to this places articles.
        On rankings I just went to a confercene where we had like 17 directivels in the first seession and they came in saying i know you guys want your points but you need merges we look at other stuff for winning like sponsers. The comptevivae nature of indivuuual awards makes targeting a huge thing and rankings highlt focused on. In honesty think keeping rankings as a 1-25 in order would be fine as long as each school is helping each other in community as in sharing training tactics and such. If comradery is already there compteition would only increase that comradery and educational mission i know you guys strive on getting, but rankings cant be shown unless these top schools are already working with eachother which can be reached with the social media angagment and formed community. Ranking by number should be realeased wen the community is strengthening each other already and tearing each other down. Sorry for the long response and errors typing fast.

        • Elijah


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