Want to sound smarter than you are?

Try these three hacks.

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Dr. Marlene Caroselli's 62nd book, "Applying Mr. Albert: 365 Einstein-Inspired Brain Boosts," will be published by HRD Press later this year.


I can’t count the number of times someone has said to me, “Oh, you are so intelligent.” But…I happen to know my IQ and it’s depressingly average. What, then, is leading those who hear me reach this conclusion? I’ve concluded it’s a dependence on three easy-to-apply verbal techniques.

1) Verbal fluidity

In Milo Frank’s classic, The Thirty-Second Sell, he basically posits that we have less than a minute to impress other people. Imagine you are at a job interview and the HR person says, “Tell us about yourself.”

The way to win that job is to immediately respond. (Not hard to do if you have rehearsed the answer to this and other frequently asked questions.) Even if the question catches you off-guard, you can start with a broad statement about yourself (“I’ve always been driven by curiosity,” for example), followed by the particulars that explain the broad statement (“This has led me to a degree in engineering and the willingness to take on projects that might not appeal to others.”).

 The interviewer may quickly terminate the interview and hope for a better applicant if you hem and haw and stumble and fumble with your words. To illustrate, how long would you be interested in a candidate who sounds like this?

        “Well, I’m an engineer and…uh…it’s a hard thing to do to…uh…to…uh…define yourself in a few words, but…uh…I got my degree from Syracuse University, where… uh…there were many possible majors, but…uh…What was the question again?”

There are many ways to launch into a quick and comprehensive reply–to virtually any question. One is to restate in your own words the thrust of the question. You learned how to do this in high school English classes, but you basically buy yourself a little time by framing your remarks in a few key words in from the very beginning.  You can talk about yourself with a chronological reference, for example: “From an early age, I’ve liked using science and math to solve problems. This interest led to my enrolling in Syracuse to pursue a mechanical engineer degree.”

The higher the position for which you are applying or in which you currently serve, the greater the need for verbal fluidity. Keep in mind what James Hayes, former head of the American Management Association, had to say about making, clear, concise, and quickly-responsive statement: “Leaders who are inarticulate make us all uneasy.”

2) Use of quotations

Quotations work for you in a number of ways. They suggest you are well-read. They reflect your ability to remember and to incorporate the recalled observation into a discussion in a meaningful way. And, when used appropriately, they serve a political or persuasive purpose….namely, they imply your thinking is aligned with the thinking of the brilliant person who made the observation in the first place.

Keep a few quotes at the forefront of your brain and add a new one each month. Some that have generic adaptability might be Mother Teresa’s “We can do no great things–only small things with great love.”  Or, the quote by Mark van Doren that encourages us to evaluate and respect the input of everyone in a meeting: “Bring ideas in and entertain them royally. One of them may be the king.”

3)  Devise original, captivating phrases

Let’s go back to that interview situation for a moment. Think about the interest an interviewer would have in the candidate who recites his or her resume versus the candidate who says the following when asked to “tell us about yourself.”  

             “If you really want to know who I am, I should tell you I’m a non-conforming conformist. By that I mean I will conform to whatever policies or procedures the company has established for its employees, of course. But if I am ever asked to do something illegal or something that runs contrary to industry standards, I will not conform.”

Create an interesting self-description of your own. Have it ready for the many situations–well beyond interviews–in which you are asked to introduce yourself.

And, if you are a player of words, try to fashion a metaphor for the topic under discussion. To illustrate, if you are participating in an exchange of views that is growing contentious, you might say, “We need a bridge that will help us incorporate both sides of this topic.”


In a winning bit of self-deprecation, Franklin Roosevelt once admitted, “I’m not the smartest fellow in the world, but I can sure pick smart colleagues.” Remember that your colleagues need not be human beings. They can be verbal companions who will make you sound smarter than you might actually be.

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