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7 Ways You Can Fake Looking Smart in a Meeting

All you need is one thing to say, and the right way to say it.


First of all, speak up

Whether you’re in a one-on-one job interview or a company-wide town hall, the most important thing you can do in any meeting is make yourself heard. This fact alone can be daunting for an introvert—luckily, introverts naturally excel in preparation. No matter your personality, use this to your advantage: Know what you want to talk about before the meeting starts. If you’re attending an interview, review the original job posting take advantage of the whole Google-full of information about the company you’re interested in. If you’re attending a staff meeting, chances are you will know the agenda at least 72 hours in advance. Do your research and write down some key points in advance. And if you’re curious, here are the 7 best jobs for introverts.


Banish pauses

Confidence is as perceptible in your voice as it is in your body language. As you have probably noticed form watching any panel show, political event, 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, and if you are unconvinced by your own ideas, why should the rest of the room be convinced? Psychology Today 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.” The uptake: If you already know what you want to say in the meeting, it never hurts to rehearse a few times. Here are magic phrases every public speaker should know.


Eschew obfuscation

Wait, what? Cashew vacation? What does that—oh, sod it. Big, five-dollar words may be associated with intelligence on the SATs, but in real life a vocabulary studded with fancy words often comes off as show-offy, evasive, or simply trying too hard to impress. In fact, one study cited in Applied Cognitive Psychology found a negative relationship between complexity of writing and judged intelligence: the smarter a writer tried to sound, they less intelligent they were perceived. So, how do you eschew obfuscation? Speak clearly. Speak directly. Leave the dictionary at your desk. Here are 11 words job interviewers love to hear.


Strike a power pose

Here’s a telling bit of business science: Researchers at the MIT Media Lab concluded that they could accurately predict the outcome of any negotiation, sales call, or business pitch 87 percent of the time without listening to a word of content. The only language they care about? Body language. How open or closed your posture is conveys how open or closed you are to the physical, mental, and emotional advances of others—and that openness can convey confidence. To project confidence in your meeting, adapt an open, expansive pose (this also works if you’re trying to attract someone’s eye.)  Don’t slouch or cross your arms at the table. Sit up straight, leave your arms widely spread on the table or at your sides. If you’re worried about projecting confidence on the spot, prime yourself with one of these confidence-boosting poses in the bathroom beforehand.

iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

Sit centrally

Where’s the best seat at the conference table? Wherever you can make yourself heard. In that sense there is no “right” place to sit, but there are wrong ones. For example, never sit along the wall of the room, removed from the table, if you intend to participate—this is what editor Geoffrey James calls “the peanut gallery,” usually reserved for non-participants who arrive to the meeting late or plan to leave early. While you’re at it, try not to sit directly opposite the boss (usually at the hed or foot of the table) as this conveys a subconscious challenge to their authority in the meeting. For a small psychological advantage, sit at the side of the table, in the middle of the row. Not only is the center a strategic place to lean and and make yourself heard across the room, but studies of TV game shows like The Weakest Link show that many people are influenced by a “center bias,” believing that “important people sit in the middle.” Analysis of footage showed that contestants standing in the middle of the crowd were more likely to win the game than those at the extremes.


When in doubt, restate key points

Active listening can save an awkward conversation, and it can save your face in a meeting, too. Due to 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 coworkers deliver. Near the end of the meeting, restate these ideas in a concise, matter-of-fact way. Even when giving credit to your coworkers, you will look smarter.


Think about your favorite professor

Think about the smartest person you know—it could be a mentor, your kung-fu sensei, a former teacher, or even your dear old mom. Now, no more than 10 minutes before your meeting, write down a list of all the positive qualities you think of when you imagine that person. Numerous studies show that “priming” your brain by thinking of the positive attributes in others will subconsciously make you more likely to embody those traits (beware: it works for negative qualities, too). One study found that subjects who thought about a stereotypical college professor before taking a general knowledge test performed significantly better than subjects who thought of a stereotypical soccer hooligan. In another experiment by MIT and NYU found that participants who first made a list of their favorite superhero’s qualities were far more likely to sign up for community service than those who did not. Prime your brain for success, and you shall know it.