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Tips for sounding smarter with minimal effort
1. Plan Ahead
Whether you are in a private conversation or at a company-wide town hall, the most important thing you can do is make yourself heard, loud and clear. This can be daunting for an introvert—and for the rest of us. The key is preparation. If you’re interviewing for a job, review the posting and take advantage of the whole googleplex of information about your prospective company. If you’re attending a staff meeting, check the agenda. Going on a date? Plan some talking points, even if they’re just about favourite TV shows or movies. Feeling prepared will put you at ease and boost your confidence.
It sounds simple, but listening is a major key to appearing intelligent. Don’t feel the need to comment on every single thing people say; chime in on topics you’re knowledgeable about and ask thoughtful questions about ones you’re not. Chances are the person you’re talking to will be more than happy to answer, never realizing you’re out of the loop.
If someone looks at you while you are talking, you are more likely to think he or she is smart. “Good eye contact means the other person is responsive to what you are doing or saying,” says Bogdan Wojciszke, a professor of social psychology at the University of Social Sciences and Hu-manities in Poland. “If he is not responsive, this means that either you are dull or he is dumb. With such a choice, most of us prefer to think that he is dumb.” Researchers at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, USA, found that conversationalists who maintained eye contact scored higher on IQ tests than those who avoided someone’s gaze.
4. Stand Tall
What you’re saying is important, but your body language also speaks volumes to your credibility. If you’re slumping, you’re communicating a lack of confidence not only in yourself but also in what you’re saying. On the other end of the spectrum, standing rigidly straight makes you seem nervous and uncomfortable. Shoot for something in the middle.
5. Strike a Power Pose
How open or closed your posture is conveys how open or closed you are to the physical, mental and emotional advances of oth-ers. Openness can convey confidence. To project self-assurance in a meeting, adapt an open, expansive pose. Sit up straight and leave your arms widely spread on the table or at your sides. (This also works if you are trying to attract someone’s eye.) If you are worried about projecting confidence, run through a couple of power poses—such as standing with your hands on your hips or using them to lean on your desk—in private beforehand.
6. Cut back on crutch words
Certain words and vocal tendencies are like tics: They’re hard to get rid of and sometimes we do them without even noticing. Words such as “like” and “um” make you sound unsure of yourself–as do things like uptalk, that inflection where you end your sentence in a higher tone like you’re asking a question?
7. Eliminate Pauses
Confidence is as perceptible in your voice as it is in your body language. As you have probably noticed from watching any political panel show or business meeting with multiple speakers, the ‘winner’ of the talk is usually the person who speaks most energetically and fluidly. Too many pauses make you sound unsure of yourself. If you are unconvinced by your own ideas, why should the rest of the room be convinced? Theoretical physicist Leonard Mlodinow points out the impact of this bias: “If two speakers utter exactly the same words but one speaks a little faster and louder and with fewer pauses and greater variation in volume, that speaker will be judged to be more energetic, knowledgeable and intelligent.”
8. Read More
Duh, right? But seriously, reading is arguably the most effective way to sound smarter. We’re not saying you have to tackle the unabridged works of Tolstoy, but try to read one long-form article every week: They’re usually rather in-depth, so you’ll come away with a good grasp on an interesting topic. You could also subscribe to an email newsletter that sends you a daily list of important stories summarized in just a few lines.
9. Restate Others’ Smart Points
Because of one of those unfair-but-true mental quirks, the person in a meeting who simply summarizes the good points made by everyone else will often be better remembered than the people who came up with the ideas in the first place. If you are struggling to get a word in at your next staff gathering, take notes on the best comments your co-workers deliver. Near the end of the meeting, restate these ideas in a concise, matter-of-fact way. Even when giving credit to your co-workers, you will sound smarter.
10. Take control
You’re at a dinner party, and the woman you’re talking to brings up her work in, ack, nuclear astrophysics, we think? Instead of trying to fake your way through a conversation, try to subtly switch gears to something you’re more comfortable with. (“Nuclear astrophysics? Cool, that’s what my freshman roommate studied, but now she’s a SoulCycle instructor. Have you ever tried Soul?”)
11. Tell Some Jokes
Women find men they overhear telling funny jokes to be smarter and more attractive than those heard talking about mundane topics. Other studies have shown that funny women similarly appear smarter to others. There may be some validity to this, because a certain level of intellect is required to consistently make clever remarks. According to an article published in The Conversation by Lowri Dowthwaite, lecturer in Psychological Interventions, University of Central Lancashire, UK, evolutionary psychologists describe humour as a “heritable trait” that signals mental fitness and intellectual agility to prospective mates. In studies of attractiveness, both men and women rate funny people as more attractive, and cite having a good sense of humour as being one of the most important traits in a long-term partner. So you can use humour as a hard-to-fake cue to your intelligence. Just don’t forget the punchline!
12. Don’t use SAT words
Using big, intimidating words doesn’t make you sound smarter; it just makes you sound like you’re trying way too hard. It’s akin to when you wrote essays in college and used every inconsequential and superfluous filler word to occupy the vast expanse of unfilled page before of you. (See what we did there?) Instead, use clear, direct words and make your point. It’s far less pretentious, and the people you’re addressing will actually understand what you’re saying.