How to Be Smarter Than You Look

So there you are, at a networking event or a business meeting, eying a couple across the room. He has a gym-perfect physique, a crisp designer suit, and carefully manicured hands. She has a few extra pounds, a button missing on her blouse, and a hairstyle that hasn’t changed since sometime in the 1980s.

Which of the two is smarter?

The bad news: We are judged by our appearance.
The good news: We are respected for our brains.

Looking smart feels great, is great—but being smart is the icing on the cake.

These five simple practices will boost your “smart” rating:

  1. Boost Your Vocabulary: Crack open that dusty dictionary or thesaurus. Commit to learning and using one new word each day. Bookmark in your browser, or sign up for their “word a day” emails. Learn correct pronunciations, spelling, and context.
  2. Ask Questions: Benjamin Franklin said, “Humility makes great men twice honorable.” Focusing the conversation on what the other person knows and asking respectful questions achieves two things: It gives you an opportunity to learn even when you think you already know it all, and it engages the other person in their favorite topic—themselves.
  3. Read Good Books: If time is an issue, carry a book or e-Reader with you—read a few paragraphs or pages while you’re in the waiting room. Commit to reading two or three pages each day, or listen to books on tape. Buy magazines on topics with which you are not familiar—it will help you broaden your knowledge.
  4. Speak Simply: Increasing your vocabulary amplifies your ability to communicate, but obscure words, jumbo words or industry lingo confuse the conversation. Sadly, most American adults read at an 8th grade level. Use simple, ordinary words, and gauge your word choices on the “pomposity factor.” Never use a three syllable word when a two syllable word will do, and never use a two syllable word when a single syllable word gets your point across.
  5. Listen More than you Speak: William Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” No one likes a conversation hog. Practice your listening skills, speak simply and concisely, and understand your role in the theater of the moment.

Being smart is the icing on the cake!


What She Really Meant to Say

What do you suppose Meg Whitman, CEO of eBay, really meant when she said she was “encouraged by the fundamentals that underlie usage growth on the net”?

A)  She believes eBay is more popular than ever
B)  She’s glad Internet technology is growing
C)  She’s happy more people are using the net

In keeping with Ms. Whitman’s language choices, I have to say that I am discouraged by the fundamentals that underlie usage of obscure communications in business. That is, I’m sad that so many business people are more concerned with sounding intellectual than they are with communicating clearly.

Simplicity is the name of the game in getting your message across, and in the end, it’s not what you say that matters. What your client or prospect hears is the critical factor.

Five Guidelines for Clear Messaging:

  1. Avoid words that require a dictionary for interpretation. Few people will bother to look them up.
  2. Use short sentences. Try to keep each sentence under 20 words. Break longer thoughts into multiple sentences.
  3. Make your message relevant. If what you say doesn’t matter to your intended audience, you will not be heard.
  4. Find a clear, concise message and stick with it.
  5. Do not assume your reader thinks and believes as you do.

In the end, language is a tool used to inform and enlighten. The simple choice between one word and another really does make a difference in how your message is understood.

As Dr. Frank Luntz says in his book Words that Work, we need to make people the center of our communication, not the target.