It doesn’t matter if you are in university or working, there will come a time that you regret the words that came out of your mouth. I’ve been there, you’ve been there and even the president has been there. There is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s human nature. I mean, there’s nothing we can do about it, right? Wrong! We actually have complete control of what we say and how we are perceived. If you wonder how to start sounding smarter, I’ve got you. I’m not a pro at all of these tips just yet, but they are qualities that I admire in my colleagues and boss.
Think before you speak
Rule numero uno for anyone who wants to sound smarter is to actually think about what you are saying before you say it. Unless you are on a game show and need to speak before the timer buzzes, you don’t need to play ‘Need for Speed’ with your words. I have met some very intelligent people that can come up with very smart responses in the blink of an eye. However, those are the exception, not the rule. The majority of people who speak before thinking just sound uneducated. Or they end up changing their views/words when challenged.
Another interesting thing to note is that taking an extra few moments before speaking allows your EQ to kick in. Those extra few seconds will allow you to process the tone, body language, and hidden messages of your audience. One thing I love to do is to ask questions before responding when I am still trying to decipher the hidden message or tone. Simple questions like “what do you mean?” or “in what sense?” work wonders. They also afford you some more time to think up a good response!
Do you want to sound smarter? Then, don’t be that guy who just blurts out whatever word vomit is brewing in his larynx!
Use smarter vocabulary
This is a no-brainer when it comes to sounding smarter but many people do fall short. Realising just how informal your vocabulary is can be the difference you need to elevate your conversational skills. I personally used to use words like “stuff”, “you know”, “kinda”, etc. Pair that with my baby face, and no one would take me seriously in the corporate space. Strangely enough, when you add fluff words, stutter, or use very basic vocabulary, it immediately comes off as less professional. It doesn’t matter if you are speaking about quantum physics or the Big Bang theory, saying something like “the big gas ball thingy” will make you seem less smart.
When it comes to conveying a message or explaining a point, speaking slowly ensures that your audience will actually process the information. We have been trained to get to the point and to use elevator pitches, but like everything, there is a time and place for that. Just to note, speaking slowly doesn’t mean fluffing out your message or mimicking a mammoth. Just slow it down a little.
Speaking slowly makes one sound smarter for another reason; your words sound intentional. Don’t believe me? Listen to one of Obama’s speeches. Pausing at the right time ensures that emphasis is placed on the right information. The other important thing about speaking slowly is that it allows less room for filler words, mumbling, and repeating yourself to get the message across. Thanks to my anxiety, I am known to spit out a chapter in one breath, so do as I say, not as I do.
Keep your message short and concise
If you are human, you make mistakes. But if you are a smart human, you learn from said mistakes. One of my biggest errors in the corporate world is to over-explain myself, which leads to rambling, and ultimately praying that God would somehow hand me a remote to rewind time. Rambling just ends in confusion and a reduction in your perceived intelligence. If you are concise, your message will come across the first time, you don’t need to repeat it ten times. Well, you should if your audience is a bunch of toddlers.
We tend to second guess what we say if people do not react in a certain way, but that shouldn’t be the case. If you are not sure if the message was well-received, ask that. Curious to know if you have lost them? Ask questions. What took me ages to understand is that people understand things differently depending on what lessons they were exposed to. Pausing and asking questions or confirming that your message is clear can lead to a debate, but rambling just annoys the listener.
Watch your tone
Yeah, yeah of course you know not to mumble or to shout. That is not where I was going with this at all. When it comes to sounding smarter, being aware of the tone of your message is crucial. For example. you’re in a meeting and you disagree with what your boss is saying so you say “no, that’s not right.” This can come across as aggressive and disrespectful compared to “that’s interesting. I was actually thinking about it from this angle… “.
Sounds diplomatic? It is, but it is also a nice way to shimmy into your point of view without belittling anyone. It also shows that you have your own views in addition – not opposed – to what has been said.
We also need to consider pronunciation and enunciation. Of course, we each have different accents depending on where we grew up but that’s ok. Accents usually aren’t the problem, pronunciation is. The main reason behind this is because it is harder to understand the underlying message if people are trying to decrypt the speaker’s words.
The next important thing is how you actually say the words – enunciation. In writing, we use commas, exclamation marks, question marks, etc. But when speaking, we actually need to be cognisant of which words need emphasis and where we should pause in addition to using the right words.
Do all of that, and you will sound like Einstein’s heir.