How to Sound Smart
In order to sound smart, you'll need to be aware of how you present yourself. Develop a confident attitude, knowledge of grammar, and articulate speech, and people will take you seriously. At that point, it's up to you to show what you know.
Holding an Intelligent Conversation
Practice smooth, clear speech.Enunciate each word so people can understand you easily. Practice talking at a steady conversational pace, making each sound distinct and clear.
- Tongue twisters are a good way to practice enunciation. Try repeating "See these thick trees, a tricky thicket indeed." keeping each sound distinct.
- Try eating peanut butter, then practice saying ordinary sentences. The increased stickiness in your mouth forces you to concentrate on your pronunciation.
Stop using meaningless words and sounds.Even presidents and public figures often sprinkle their speech with wells, ums, ers, likes, and you-knows, but you can do better. These words slow down the conversation and make you appear hesitant or uncertain. Practice thinking of the whole sentence before you open your mouth, then say it at an even, conversational pace without pausing or using these "filler sounds."
- Keep a jar in your home, and drop a coin into it every time you use one of these words. Let other members of your household trade this money in for favors — for example, they can return from the jar and make you cook dinner.
Use specific vocabulary.There's no need to pick up five-dollar words that no one uses in everyday speech. Instead, think of vague words that you overuse, and come up with more specific, useful terms. Here are a few common examples:
- Instead of "good," "cool," or "awesome," describe the situation more accurately. Talk about a "relaxing day," a "thrilling vacation," or a "friendly, hard-working person."
- Instead of "crappy," "awful," or "terrible," consider whether you mean "exhausted," "depressing," or "revolting."
- Don't just say "I loved that movie!" or "I hate this weather." Express an actual opinion, such as "The jokes and action sequences were perfectly paced. They kept me laughing and excited the whole time."
Contributes opinions as well as facts.Clearly, knowledge of a topic helps you converse in an intelligent way, but don't go overboard and memorize encyclopedia articles. When you learn a new fact, ask yourself these questions so you can build off of it, instead of just repeating it:
- Why is this fact relevant? Should people change their behavior or opinions after hearing it? (For example, does new witness testimony in a court case affect the popular narrative about what happened?)
- Is there solid evidence for this fact, and was it collected by an unbiased source? Is there a different conclusion you could reach from that evidence? (For instance, why is GMO food considered dangerous? Is there any evidence, and who collected it?)
- Are there related, unanswered questions you think should be explored?
Listen and ask questions.Don't try to dominate the conversation or show off your intelligence. Demonstrate your curiosity and interest in other topics by letting other people speak, and asking specific questions that show you were listening and thinking about the topic.
- Use specific, honest questions, not just "Why?" or "How?" For instance, say "I don't know much about welding, but it sounds interesting. What's the last job you worked on?"
Don't try to bluff your way through a topic.Some people try to project confidence and invent facts and opinions on the spot, even if they've never heard of the topic before. This is a high-risk tactic, since listeners will often respond with irritation instead of admiration. Asking questions and learning from more knowledgeable people will let you contribute more to the conversation.
- If someone asks you a question you don't know the answer to, say "I don't know, but I can find out and get back to you."
- If no one in the conversation knows about the topic, you can try an educated guess, but be honest. For instance, say "I haven't been following this topic in the news, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Senator's talk about political reform disappears after he's re-elected."
Tailor your jokes to your audience.When talking to strangers, stick to lighthearted, inoffensive jokes, or avoid them entirely. When talking to friends, try to learn what type of humor they appreciate. Some people think puns are witty and entertaining, while others can't stand them.
Use proper grammar when appropriate.It's not always necessary to be a stickler for grammar, especially among people who use slang and non-standard dialects. You should still learn the rules of grammar so you can make a better impression in job interviews, public presentations, and other situations where traditional, "proper" language is expected. Visit these articles to learn more:
Adopt a confident posture.If you want to be taken seriously, confidence is just as important as intelligence. Keep your chin up, and stand up straight with your shoulders back. Maintain eye contact with the person you're talking to, or look from face to face when presenting to a group.
Avoid sabotaging your own argument.Many people with low self-esteem or fear of public speaking will undermine themselves by adding "I don't know," "I guess," "I think," "I'm not sure," or "maybe" to their sentences. Cut these out of your speech, and you and your audience will both have more confidence in what you're saying.
Use active sentences.Active sentences sound more confident than passive sentences, especially when you use the word "I." For example, instead of "The email will be sent out tonight," say "I will send the email tonight."
Use friendly body language.Smile while you listen or talk to someone, when appropriate. Use an occasional hand gesture, shrug, or head movement to show that you're paying attention.
- Try not to fidget, shift from one foot to the other, or tap your fingers. If you can't shake the habit completely, switch to something less noticeable, like wiggling your toes inside your shoe.
Dress well.People often judge you based on outward appearance before you even start talking. Wear presentable clothing and pay attention to personal hygiene, especially when you're preparing for an important event.
- Glasses are stereotypically associated with intelligence. Wear them instead of contacts if this is the look you want to present. Note that wearing "vanity glasses" with no prescription can backfire around people who know you don't need them.
Follow the news.Stay up to date on current events, since these are a common topic of conversation. Use a variety of news sources to get a more accurate, nuanced understanding.
- If you want to impress and befriend people outside of your usual range, don't limit yourself to what you personally find interesting. It doesn't take much time to read one article a day on politics, sports, science, or popular culture.
Read a wide range of books.While films and other media are useful resources too, books are excellent at improving your vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and critical thinking. Read a variety of fiction and nonfiction books about topics you're interested in. Pause when you find something interesting and think about your response to it.
Improve your vocabulary.While you're reading, write down words you don't know and look them up later in a dictionary. You can also subscribe to a "Word of the Day" mailing list or app. Try searching for Word of the Day from Oxford Dictionaries, Word Smith, or Dictionary.com.
Focus on a hobby or passion.It's much easier to learn about a topic you're passionate about. This doesn't have to be an academic topic or specialized field of knowledge, although it can be. Pick something you enjoy doing in your spare time, and try to learn as much as you can on the topic.
- You can find blogs on almost any topic. Read through the archives, then ask the author for more recommendations.
- When delivering a presentation, the question and answer session afterwards is a great way to demonstrate your depth of knowledge. Give a practice presentation to friends and family, and ask them to try to stump you with questions related to your topic. Look up the answers to any you miss, so you're prepared for the actual presentation.
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