1. Speak confidently
No matter how intelligent you are, people will have a tough time taking you seriously if you sound unsure of yourself. Speak with authority. That doesn’t mean you need to boast or even talk loudly, it just means that you need to exude conviction. If you believe 100 percent in what you’re saying, then your audience will know that your ideas are at least worth considering.
2. Speak well
Of course, speaking confidently – even intelligently! – won’t help much if your language skills are terrible. Eliminate all instances of “like,” “um,” or “$&#*#^!” when speaking formally. You should also check your grammar when speaking – your own friends might not notice, but clients and job interviewers will shiver when you say “could of” instead of “could have,” or “close the light” instead of “turn off the light.”
3. Know when to shut up
At the same time, you’ve got to know when to stay on the down-low. Experts can sniff out a try-hard faster than bloodhounds can sniff out drugs in a suitcase. If you’re surrounded by people who are more qualified, experienced, or knowledgeable than you, take it as an opportunity keep quiet and learn from them. Instead of trying to take charge of the conversation, listen intently for the right moment to contribute. When you speak, ask questions. Give your opinion if they ask for it, but don’t argue, and whatever you do, don’t run your mouth for the sake of “playing devil’s advocate.”
4. Be gracious when people call you out
Once in awhile, you’ll converse with someone who not only shoots down your opinion, but who is actually right. Infuriating, ain’t it? But the more you try to argue or act huffy, the dumber you’re going to look. Keep in mind that intelligence is more than just book smarts – it’s also wrapped up in how well you understand people and how smoothly you can respond to awkward situations (in other words, EQ). When you’ve been beaten, you’ve simply got to eat humble pie, say “touché”, and change the subject.
5. Laugh at yourself
Did you accidentally forget the name of the Prime Minister? Did you ask if Bangkok were the capital of Taiwan? Do you fail at counting change or remembering your own office zip code? Then laugh. The more defensive you get about your shortcomings, the less competent you’re going to appear. Someone who tries so hard to prove themselves is surely compensating for something. If you can acknowledge your deficiencies while showing that you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’ll demonstrate a level of self-awareness that connotes insight – and by extension, intelligence.
6. Avoid compensating with big words
It’s great that you’ve subscribed to a “word of the day” email, but sticking awkwardly archaic vocabulary in casual conversation will make you look pretentious (again, you’ve got to abide by the cardinal rule of looking smart: don’t try too hard). The same goes for random foreign words or in faking an accent. Thesaurus-worthy vocab, French idioms, and a British accent only work for people whose ideas speak for themselves.
7. Talk about things that you’re interested or knowledgeable in
So many people would rather talk about “smart” topics like politics and science, rather than the things they really like, as they believe that their topics of choice are too shallow for conversation. They forget that you always sound smarter as an expert in your field than as a wannabe in another one. Frame your interests, regardless of how frivolous they are, in an intelligent question. (There’s a big difference between “OMG Twilight is the best book ever!” and “Is Twilight really a metaphor for abstinence?”) Instead of scrambling for an opinion in something you have zero knowledge about, or worse, making up some fake facts, create opportunities to talk about things that you’re actually qualified to talk about. It’s not like medical professionals, economists, and journalists only talk about their profession all day long. Everyone has their own hobbies and silly passions. Be a friend and figure out what those are.
8. Don’t brag
Statements like “I don’t read anything written after 1960,” “I judge anyone who gets their news from Twitter,” and “I only listen to classical music” won’t make you look smart, they’ll make you look like a world-class d-bag. Soon, you won’t even have the opportunity to show off how smart you are because people will go out of their way to avoid you. Instead of making grand statements about how awesome you are, use your passions to strike up actual conversations with people. Unless you take an interest in the lives of others, they aren’t going to give a hoot about yours. But beware of using their interests and tastes as an opportunity to flaunt yours. Pretend that you’re a jazz enthusiast. If your colleague says that Super Junior is her favourite artiste, resist the urge to argue that K-Pop’s musicality is so pedestrian. If you want to take the conversation up to an intelligent level, ask a “why” or “how” question. Admit that you don’t know much about Korean boy bands, and ask why she thinks they’ve become so popular in recent years.
9. Don’t bully people who are smarter than you
On that same note, don’t despise others for knowing about something that you don’t. That means you shouldn’t call your colleagues nerds for liking old movies, and that you shouldn’t say things like “I have a social life, I’m too busy for books” when your friends start talking about the latest Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. You’ll only reveal yourself as a bitter, insecure newb. So instead, be curious. Ask which anime they would recommend to someone who has never watched a black and white film. Ask what the latest Pulitzer winner in fiction is about. Don’t be afraid that they’ll look down on you for being out of the loop. Chances are, they already know.
10. Develop a highbrow taste in books, music, movies, and shows
Intelligent people judge each other by their taste. Train yourself to sustain an appetite for sophistication. Watch all the romantic soap operas you want, but make sure you have a cache of highbrow books, albums, movies, and shows to draw upon when you need to look smart. Read something by Charles Dickens. Get into an indie band. Watch all of this year’s Oscar contenders. Rent Casablanca. This will show that you’re intellectually curious, if not an intellectual. And when you’re not honing your tastes, sharpen your mind. Skim the newspaper (and by newspaper, we mean a legitimate publication, not the tabloids). Be prepared to talk about at least one current event a week. Soon enough, these “highbrow” tastes will become your own.
11. Learn to love knowledge for its own sake
The mark of an intelligent person lies in a love of knowledge for its own sake, and not just as a means to get ahead or to put others down. It might take a while, but you should learn to love politics because it’s interesting, not because it’s your duty to know what’s going on in the government. You should learn to love reading because it’s not, not just because books are good for you. Keep in mind that being smart isn’t about knowing everything there is to know, but about staying eternally curious. As the late Steve Jobs so famously said, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” There will always be something left for you to learn. (And on that note, having a couple of good quotes memorised won’t hurt either.)
11 ways to pretend that you’re smarter than you really are
11 ways to pretend that you’re smarter than you really are